Romesh Ranganathan: even the loveliest people get road rage – my mum included

I find it baffling how much of a war zone the road is. In life, we mostly manage to walk around interacting with each other fairly politely. But as soon as we get into our cars, we morph into something out of Mad Max. We drive around waiting to be slighted by another driver, so we can scream in outrage and pound our horns at the injustice of somebody failing to see we were waiting for that parking space, actually.

Even my mum, a lovely woman everywhere but behind the wheel, recently asked me how to properly do the wanker hand gesture, as she “needed it for driving”. She asked as though it were part of the Highway Code.

If I sound indignant, it’s because I was recently a victim of road rage. I was behind a van on a rural road when the driver indicated and pulled over to the side. I thought it was a pretty weird thing to do, but as I have a fear of anyone driving a van, I simply moved out to pass him without comment. At this point it became clear why he had pulled over: a truck was coming the other way, whoops.

The van driver responded to my mistake as if I had committed a war crime. He chased after me and started beeping his horn, flashing his lights and gesturing in a way that suggested he’d been taking tips from my mum. He continued for more than 10 minutes until I had to, thankfully, turn off; at which point he stepped it up, as a form of aggressive goodbye.

He assumed that I had overtaken him out of opportunism. I would have loved to have set him straight but I don’t know the hand gesture for “I’m really sorry, I didn’t see you’d pulled over for the truck, I made a mistake.”

My fear of vans had been instilled a few months earlier. I had pulled up behind a van at a red traffic light. When the light went green, the van didn’t move. I assumed that he hadn’t seen it and so gave him a toot. The problem being there is no nuance in a car horn. My toot was a “Hey, mate, just letting you know the light has changed, just in case you hadn’t noticed!” toot. But he heard: “The light has changed and you’re a moron, and I think your family are scum and I wish misfortune on all of you and your future generations.”

The van moved on and then pulled up alongside me at the next lights. He signalled for me to put my window down. “What the fuck do you think you were doing, mate?” he screamed. He couldn’t get his van to start – why was I trying to make his life more difficult? I tried to explain this wasn’t the case, but he wasn’t having it. He suggested we both pull over and sort this out physically. I politely made the point that having a fight because I’d beeped him at a traffic light would be insane.

At this point, I’d like to make a plea for drivers to just get along and love each other but, yesterday, a man in front was indecisive about which lane to take – and I nearly followed him home.


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