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Ever been stuck in slow-moving traffic only to be honked at by the driver behind you? Image Credit: Arshad Ali/Gulf News

Ever been stuck in slow-moving traffic only to be honked at by the driver behind you? Or been driving in the fast lane, and the driver behind you keeps flashing their lights at you to move out of the way? Why do some people bully on the roads even though they may not necessarily break traffic rules or drive rashly?

The UAE has named 2019 as the Year of Tolerance. To mark this milestone, Gulf News has launched a campaign to highlight the many faces of this virtue of Tolerance. One place where lack of tolerance is often observed, is on the roads. We spoke to two road-bullies and psychologists to understand the reason behind this intolerance on roads.

My way or the highway

She may not be a road bully all the time, but UAE expat Charlotte Dias (name changed upon request) admits that she has knowingly engaged in bullying on the road.

Also read: There is no such thing as the fast lane, say experts

She said: “It’s usually when I am getting late to work or for an appointment, and I see drivers in front of me who are in the fast lane but don’t drive at top speed when someone behind them is obviously hurrying. It’s called the fast lane for a reason.” The 38-year-old added: “I lose my calm when the driver in front does not give way, if he or she does not want to drive fast, he or she should move to a slower lane. I don’t do it all the time, but I admit, I have been a bully many a times.”

The reasons for honking

Charlotte said she avoids honking at people usually, however, she said: “If I feel someone is holding up the traffic and causing a tailback, I honk. I do so to let them know that some people are in urgent need to get out of the long queue. So, whoever is creating the problem solves it quicker.”

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Another thing she admits to have done is not letting people off easily if they annoy her by cutting in front of her. She said: “I am not a bad driver, I have not got many traffic fines. But, when I am on the road and someone cuts in, without indicators, it annoys me, I do not let them go easily. I honk at them and I have tried to give people a hard time for annoying me.”

Charlotte added that she understands when someone is fasting and they honk. She said: “I can only imagine if I have been fasting an entire day, and I want to get somewhere, I would lose my patience if someone in front of me would hold up the traffic. I completely understand why some people honk during Ramadan. That being said, I am not justifying road rage, I am saying, other drivers need to understand the concept of urgency and drive accordingly.”

Sudden swerving

Dubai based Denin Tom Jacob also admitted that he has resorted to road bullying. According to him, other people driving badly drive him to a point where he loses patience and starts honking.

The 27-year-old said: “One of the things that bothers me is when people fail to indicate that they are about to change a lane and turn suddenly. It makes me very angry, and I honk incessantly till I am sure they understand.”

Don’t slow me down

Jacob, who rarely gets traffic fines and calls himself a good driver, works as a market researcher in Dubai. He said: “Another thing I hate is when I am in the fast lane and the car in front slows me down. Dubai roads are packed during peak hours, and you are trying to get to a place on time. Some drivers take their own sweet time and this drives me up the wall.

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A motorist is tailgating on the inner lane of Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Road. Experts say such driving habits are a recipe for disaster. Additionally, they also warn against motorists who refuse to give way to faster vehicles. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

“I also honk and make angry gestures if I come across bad drivers who hit the brakes all of a sudden or do not keep in their lane. I flash the car lights at them or honk.”

At the traffic lights

At traffic signals, another thing that drivers do, angers Jacob: “While waiting at a traffic signal, if your car is at the front, you should be aware that all the cars behind you depend on you to move on time. If a driver in front of me at a signal is on the mobile and selfishly holding up traffic, I honk angrily. They may not feel the urgency to get home, I do.”

Jacob added that he is much calmer on Dubai roads as compared to when he was younger and before he came to the UAE. He said: “When I was younger, I used to tailgate drivers when I got mad at something they did. In my home country I have even driven ahead of people and compelled them to stop their car to give them a piece of my mind. Now, I have grown up and am more mature, so I limit it to honking mostly.”

Jacob added that he has calmed down especially after coming to the UAE since more people stick to traffic rules: “Thanks to good laws, traffic fines and strict rules in the UAE, people usually drive properly.”

What causes Ramadan road rage?

Low blood sugar, dehydration, lack of sleep and stress caused by a changed schedule - add to these peak evening traffic and you have a lethal combination on your hands.

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Fasting puts stress on a person’s physical and psychological health. Image Credit: Stock image

Motorists in the UAE often experience a rise in reckless driving behaviour during Ramadan but incidents of road rage cannot be excused because motorists may be fasting, experts told Gulf News.

While fasting puts stress on a person’s physical and psychological health, residents need to reconnect with the spirit of the action to ensure they do not become a danger on UAE roads.

Caffeine withdrawal

Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and managing director of Lighthouse Arabia, a Dubai-based mental health and wellness clinic, said that a major factor for irritability is not being able to have tea or coffee, and for smokers to stay away from cigarettes.

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A major factor for irritability is caffeine and nicotine withdrawal.

”People can be tired, agitated and irritated due to being without food and drink, experiencing withdrawal symptoms from nicotine, caffeine and being exhausted due to disrupted sleep. Many also eat heavy meals at night and experience indigestion and don’t consciously hydrate once they end their fast so they get more and more dehydrated as the days pass. These factors, combined with the pressure of being on time for iftar, can result in people making poor judgements on the road,” she said.

People can be tired, agitated and irritated due to being without food and drink, experiencing withdrawal symptoms from nicotine, caffeine and being exhausted due to disrupted sleep.

- Dr Saliha Afridi, Dubai-based clinical psychologist

Reconnect with the purpose

Dr Mary John, a Dubai-based psychologist, told Gulf News that motorists need to ask themselves what the purpose of fasting is.

“It is to do with calming yourself down, cleaning your mind and being at peace with each other and being at peace with God. It is a positive mindset. Fasting is about self-control and learning to deal with the hunger pangs and the thirst,” she said.

It is important to remind yourself that your cognitive functions might not be at the optimal level of performance and perhaps leave a little early so that you can drive more patiently.

- Dr Mary John, Dubai-based

When motorists start reiterating the actual purpose of fasting in their mind, staying calm gets built into their personality, according to Dr John. However, the stress fasting puts on a person’s system can impair cognitive processes, spatial and speed judgement as well as lower a motorist’s reaction time. The key, then, is to be aware, and factor in these issues before you hit the roads.

“We all have different types of personalities, which form our backbone. Some are naturally hyperactive, inattentive or distractible. When we are put under stress, all these negative traits get highlighted. So, it is important to remind yourself that your cognitive functions might not be at the optimal level of performance and perhaps leave a little early so that you can drive more patiently,” Dr John said.

Sleep-deprived

Changed sleeping and eating patterns can have a direct effect on your performance on the roads. A report published in 2013 by the Emirates Driving Institute (EDI) stated that a lack of sleep can cause impaired driving performance, irritability and daytime drowsiness.

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Not sleeping enough can be dangerous, especially if you drive Image Credit: Getty

While motorists may have face stressors, like heavy traffic or long routes, it is crucial to find solutions that not only keep you away from things that might trigger bad behaviour but also simple ways that will enable you to stay calm.

Top tips to drive safe during Ramadan

These are some of the ways in which you can be a better driver while fasting, according to Dr Saliha Afridi:

  1. As you get in the car, remember why you are fasting. It isn’t to starve yourself, but instead it is to gain a sense of control and discipline. Driving calmly is one of the way you can observe how in control you feels of such feelings and thoughts.
  2. Play calming music or the Quran in the car. They will keep you in check.
  3. Focus on deep diaphragmatic breathing. It improves you energy levels, mental clarity, and mood. When you get upset, just breathe 7 times and release the anger.
  4. Try to leave earlier so you are not rushed. It could even be 15-20 minutes earlier but this way you won’t be as upset if you come across traffic.
  5. Take the less crowded roads. If you get restless and agitated in traffic, don’t drain your willpower. Instead choose a route that is calmer.

Dubai Police's Ramadan campaign

Dubai Police has introduced a ‘Ramadan without accidents’ campaign. The campaign aims to reduce fatal accidents before iftar time by distributing food boxes at vital intersections across the emirate. Three intersections have been selected in Bur Dubai and three in Deira. Every 10 days, the intersections will be changed till the entire emirate is covered.