My long-term career is in what’s commonly known as advanced or defensive driver education. I’ve worked with many thousands of drivers of all ages for more than 24 years to increase driving safety and reduce crash risk.
Road rage is commonly discussed during the programs I run in schools and workplaces all over Australia. There’s much that can be done to reduce it, and my work involves advising drivers both on how to avoid being a victim of it, and how to avoid getting stressed enough to perpetrate it. Road rage is an interesting and common psychological phenomenon and everyone can – with a few simple strategies – reduce their chances of getting involved.
Road rage is stupid, and sometimes dangerous. Many of us have been a victim and know how scary it can be. However, the perpetrators of road rage are – while almost certainly suffering from anger management issues and shouldn’t be in charge of 2 tonnes of metal and rubber – almost never deliberate murderers.
This is in stark contrast to the alleged killer of 24 year old Tara Brown, Lionel Patea. On Wednesday he allegedly deliberately ran the mother of his young daughter off the road in Queensland, then bashed her while she was trapped in the car. Most of us would see such an act as murder, or attempted murder.
So to hear almost every major television channels and many newspaper and radio reports all around Australia discuss this savage event as a “road rage” incident is enough to cause me extreme rage myself. Road rage is NOT family violence. Road rage is NOT deliberate murder. To even use the words in the same sentence as what happened to Tara is an absolute travesty.
Why do the media do this? Is it deliberate misogyny, an unconscious or subconscious act on the part of the people (apparently mostly men) who put together the news reports to downplay the actions of another man? A consequence of the “not all men” syndrome, where men feel the need to jump to the defence of other males, even those crazy enough to deliberately run a woman’s car off the road and bludgeon her to death with a steel bar while she’s trapped in the wreckage? If women ran news rooms, would this language get through to our TV screens and onto our newsprint? I genuinely doubt it.
When we describe attempted murder and murder as “road rage” and “domestic violence” rather than what it actually is, we minimise the experience of the victim and excuse the perpetrator of full responsibility, all in the same breath. I still remember how earnestly we discussed the importance of changing our terminology over young men being hit in random violence attacks from “one-punch attacks” to “coward punches”. Much of the media still uses the latter description, in an attempt to make the behaviour sound as abhorrent as it is. So why do the same media persist in using gentler words such as “road rage” when they clearly understand the power of language and the ideas they portray?
I hate to come to the conclusion that women’s deaths, particularly those committed by current or former partners, aren’t as important as other violent attacks. Every time a woman dies at the hands of a person known to her the language seems gentler than the situation demands. It’s got to stop.
I beg the media – please, change your language. Language is powerful. Language affects people, particularly young people. Language prevents people thinking about Tara Brown as a person, a woman, a human being worthy of kindness and respect, rather than just a partner or ex-partner involved in an unseemly incident with an ex-partner. It’s only a short jump from there to believing she must have “asked for it” or, even worse, that she should have somehow known when she got into a relationship with him that it would turn bad and he would kill her. I can almost hear the “why didn’t she leave” brigade. Well, in Tara’s situation she did leave, and he followed her and killed her.
This isn’t road rage. It’s violent, disgusting, terror-filled, unforgiveable, cold-blooded murder. Don’t water it down. Don’t let the thousands of young drivers I teach confuse road rage with killing.
Call it what it is. For Tara’s sake. Call it murder.