Road Traffic: How to Interact Appropriately
Ralf Risser, university lecturer in research for traffic planning and managing director of Factum Traffic and Social Analysis, discusses potential conflict situations in road traffic and gives some helpful tips about traffic communication.
Wherever There Are Two or More People Together…
… there is inevitably also the potential for less friendly contact as well as positive points of contact. This is certainly also the case for road traffic. This ranges from silent annoyance to light swearing to loud outbreaks of rage. However, it does not always need to be this way. If you examine the situation in more detail, it is clear that by making a few conscious decisions, we can deal with traffic much more easily. A first important step is to gain a better understanding of emotionally charged traffic situations. Conflict-laden starting points can occur in different ways, as Ralf Risser explains:
“First, it is important to distinguish between a traffic conflict and a social conflict in relation to road traffic.” In the case of a traffic conflict, Risser says it always relates to a near accident. For example, Mr X and Ms Y are each involved in a traffic jam. They could simply continue on their way without any contact with one another. Then, all of a sudden, Mr X commits a traffic violation, and if Ms Y does not break sharply or swerve quickly out of the way, there will be a collision.
In the case of a social conflict in road traffic, on the other hand, there is tension between road users without there necessarily being an acute risk of accident. One such example: road user A pulls out in front of road user B and forces B to continue waiting. “The concerned party will be angry and may swear and complain. But there is no actual risk of accident during this entire situation,” Risser explains.
These types of social conflicts in road traffic situations are not altogether trivial, however. After all, there is the risk of an unpleasant escalation. From expert interviews, we know that road users often exhibit a certain “sensitivity” for their vehicle – a fear of incurring damage to one’s possession (such as scratches or dents). These types of incidents hurt in the truest sense of the word – the vehicle is often regarded as a “second skin”. The reactions can then be understandably strong. Traffic communication between road users is an issue that should be taken seriously and is often the subject of public discussion. Risser advises that the images portrayed in public should be treated cautiously.
Traffic Communication: When Two People Quarrel…
… the third one rejoices?
This statement can also be applied to road traffic. Risser says that traffic world can be viewed as a type of territory. A space occupied by different groups of road users. If one group wants to defend their territory and be the “ruler” of the traffic situation, they may sometimes wish to create discord among other users.
This “often leads to general attribution of problems. Certain groups are portrayed as ruffians who do not observe rules and ignore all obligations.”
One thing is important to remember: “Things are not always black and white. For example, pedestrians are not always in the right, and moped riders are not always in the wrong. The same applies the other way around. There are exemplary people and rule breakers in every group.”
An increased awareness not to resort to pigeon-holing groups of people and pointing the finger can be a further important step towards adopting a constructive and respectful approach to other road users.
Tips for Damage Limitation: When Involved in a Conflict Situation…
…what are the ways out?
Take the following situation as an example. Mr and Ms X yell at another road user, as they believe this road user has gone without right of way and caused them to stop.
In this situation, Risser advises: “You should not be drawn into conflict if there is another option. If you do get carried away, then some form of argument is inevitable. Particularly, if you have a tendency towards impulsive counter-reactions. The negative energy should be put to one side in order to avoid escalating the situation. However, there are also situations from which it is not so easy to withdraw. Direct confrontation with the other road user is then unavoidable.
In this case, skilled communication is of the utmost importance. This can be very challenging, particularly if you are feeling worked up and annoyed.
On the subject of de-escalation, Ralf Risser highlights the following points:
- Take a deep breath and first calm down. Do not get involved in the situation when feeling angry.
- Smile and adopt a friendly approach. “It is important not to grin broadly, but just offer a genuine, friendly smile. By grinning, the other person may feel that you are making fun of them and may then get riled up and feel even more provoked.”
- Remain calm and relaxed while communicating.
- Try to remain polite at all times.
- Try to take a neutral position.
If you consider these points in emotional situations, it can help to de-escalate the conflict. Or it may even lead to constructive communication. An understanding of these types of strategies is a further step towards respectful dealings with one another. However, this involves a longer learning process. Adhering to all of these points in an actual conflict situation is not easy, particularly if you are worked up at the time.
How to Be Happy: To Avoid Arguments in the First Place…
…you can adopt strategies for general prevention and reduction of conflict in road traffic situations. “Science presents a very useful approach here. It would also be a good way to raise awareness among the general public of the following point. Not every reaction on the part of another road user is necessarily intended in a malicious way,” says Risser. Often, we are unsure how to judge the reactions of our fellow people on the roads. In our uncertainty, we tend to “automatically assume the worst intentions on the part of the other person. This negative tendency presupposes that the other person’s behaviour is wrong, stupid or malicious.” With this type of negative tendency, conflict is then more likely to occur.
However, it does not need to be this way. We don’t need to view everything based on this negative tendency. This thought should also be promoted to the public in campaigns. If you make a conscious decision against this negative defensive position, then you are giving yourself and the other person an opportunity. An opportunity to learn how to adapt your behaviour, spare your nerves and continue on a positive path through your day.
A further step towards a constructive traffic environment can also be taken through a simple and pivotal individual decision. “We should always consider how traffic violations come about. For our own safety and out of respect for other road users. Just because certain road users may find themselves in an inferior position or feel inferior, they should not be driven to carry out an unfair action on the road. Even as the weaker party, they can be fair.” This does not just relate to actual violations, but also to types of behaviour, which may be legal, but are lacking in respect and fairness. For example, Ms A overtakes Mr B passing too close to the side of his vehicle, but within the rules of the road. From her own experience, however, she knows that this is an unpleasant situation for Mr B, Ms A must now decide if she will just respect the rules or if she will also show a little respect for Mr B.
“If you make a decision to behave not only in accordance with the rules, but also to show respect and fairness towards other road users, then you will raise your own self-confidence in doing so,” says Risser.
If you want to improve the world, the most logical and efficient step is often to begin with one’s self. Every trip in the right direction begins with the first step.
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