Fight fire with water – be gracious to bad drivers

September 04, 2013

DRIVING on Singapore roads is no longer pleasurable. There are just too many reports of serious road accidents, some of them fatal.

Going by Singapore Traffic Police statistics, the total number of road accident fatalities decreased from 195 in 2011 to 169 last year. The bad news is, for the first half of this year, there were already 94 fatalities. This seems to indicate there won’t be a similar improvement this year.

Typically, road safety is managed by a combination of traffic rules education, driving licensing, road safety campaigns and enforcement including demerit points, fines and jail time. Incentives, such as looking out for courteous drivers and surprising them with small rewards, are also used.

All these work, up to a point.

Perhaps it’s time to consider new approaches. There is a need to go beyond the chance rewarding of good road safety practices. The Traffic Police indicated this year that an incentive scheme under its Safer Roads Singapore Strategy is being looked at.

Also, in-vehicle gadgets like dashboard cameras can help boost road safety awareness. Clips of tragic accident scenes have gone viral online. This year alone, cameras have vividly captured high-speed collision scenes, reckless road racing, irresponsible road hogging and senseless hit-and-run cases. To the extent that video footage can help nab and prosecute offenders, irresponsible drivers will now know unsafe behaviour is being watched.

More speed cameras may be deployed now, but they cannot do what traffic police officers can do. For instance, few road users give way to emergency vehicles. In such situations, time is of the essence. Only traffic police officers can take immediate action, and their presence makes a difference.

Monetary fines, too, may now be less effective. Since most people value their weekends, to spend quality time with their family and friends, why not – instead of imposing a fine – consider sending traffic offenders to Saturday road safety remedial classes?

A second similar offence may incur a fine as well. Such measures may work as disincentives.

But road users can surely do better than just depend on law enforcement officers to keep roads safe? I’m talking about graciousness on the road, with courtesy as the key. Being patient and respectful of other drivers, giving them space and being considerate, are themes found in road courtesy campaigns from Canada to New Zealand, and even here.

Being courteous is about personal discipline. Four-way stops at crossroads, where priority goes to the first vehicle to arrive, are common elsewhere. Try it here and there might be a jam right in the middle of the crossroads.

When a motorist does not respect road norms by cutting in and out of lanes or fails to signal, others get annoyed. This is how tit-for-tat road incidents begin.

We have to start with ourselves: Being gracious to those who are discourteous is the only way to avoid tit-for-tat reactions.

Instead of reacting in kind, we could try treating the discourteous with courtesy. The next time someone on the road is driving aggressively, cutting you off or overtaking, just let them. As long as it’s safe to do so, flash a smile and just let him or her pass.

Wouldn’t it just encourage people to behave badly all the time, you may ask? There are many reasons why some people drive aggressively. They could be experiencing a genuine emergency, having a bad day, or, perhaps, they are simply road bullies.

It’s not always easy to know which, but in all instances, graciousness is the best response.

If someone is driving while angry or agitated, encountering a friendly and courteous person can be a powerful “antidote”.

The person might be self-absorbed, distracted by negative feelings. If that negativity is met with a smile as you wave him past, it would be hard for him to remain angry or agitated. Your graciousness has a calming effect. Try it!

But what if you are facing a road bully? I’d argue that graciousness becomes even more effective. A bully seeks to draw out a response in kind from the victim. But your act of courtesy will show you refuse to be affected; you are taking away the bully’s sport. It’s no longer “fun” for him or her.

I’m not saying that as courteous motorists and road users, we must give in to others all the time. But fighting fire with fire will only set the whole world aflame, and that’s neither safe nor gracious.

However, when we meet fire with water – when we overcome our own ego and graciously do what is best for all road users, we will find the journey on our roads much smoother and safer.

I don’t mean to suggest that we encourage bad road behaviour by being kind. I believe in kindness with muscles and I certainly advocate more enforcement by the authorities. But on our part, Plato’s counsel is still valid today: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”

Being safe and being kind are not incompatible.

Dr William Wan
General Secretary
Singapore Kindness Movement

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission

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One thought on “Fight fire with water – be gracious to bad drivers”

  1. Wow this is a tough one to accept. Being nice to rude drivers. Haha Fat chance.

    Also, head on down to the link above for the best Helping Tasks!

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