It is not even summer yet and Delhi's drivers are already raging in anger. Last Monday, a scratch on a car cost a man his life in Central Delhi's Turkman Gate.
Shahnawaz's motorcycle had grazed an i20, which led to an argument with the two men sitting in the car. A fistfight followed. As his young sons watched in horror , three more men joined in. By the time the children could get help, the men had fled and their father was lying bloodied on the road. He was dead by the time they got him to the hospital.
The Delhi police chief called it a case of 'road rage' , a media construct borrowed from the United States (apparently, first used by a Californian news channel to describe a string of freeway shootings in 1987). In India, road rage is not a legal offence but police, for their convenience, maintain a log of traffic-related assaults. The cases are, however, registered under assault, grievous attack and murder.
Last year, Delhi saw at least one road rage case every fourth day. Ninety-three cases of road rage were reported till November 30 in 2014, an 80% jump since 2013. Many of these cases were assaults. Some were gruesome murders such as the killing of two brothers on the city's outskirts in Bawana in February last year. Irritated that their pick-up truck was blocking his way, the driver of a car killed them shooting point blank.
According to police records, of all murders reported, at least 20% are on instant provocation, such as a South Delhi vendor killing a customer who refused to pay Rs. 20 for a soft drink and a rickshaw puller killing another for a portion of chicken curry.
Why are we on such a short fuse? Therapists call it the Intermittent Explosive Disorder, characterised by extreme expression of anger. Academics blame the alienation of the citizens in a soulless city and the natural aggression inbuilt in the so-called north Indian culture. Others find fault with the potholed, congested and noisy roads, even Delhi's extreme summer.
But, as I argued in this space earlier , people who behave badly on roads are usually people who behave badly everywhere else--those who elbow other passengers in buses and the metro; rush the elderly on escalators in shopping malls, jump queues and block stairs. And they are the ones always looking for a fight.
Baseball is not a popular game anywhere in India. But most sports stores in Delhi stock and sell baseball bats because it is the bully's favourite combat weapon on the road. Carried under car seats, it is used freely to intimidate, smash windscreens or just thrash people on minor provocation ranging from a car-scraping to someone asking for right of way.
Delhi needs better roads and traffic conditions. But these are civic necessities and will not counter road rage which is a law and order issue. Prompt action against every violation of traffic rules and stringent punishment for repeat offenders is the only way to rein in those bullies.
In New South Wales, Australia, any person chasing or intimidating another motorist or road user can be charged with predatory driving that may land the offender in jail for up to five years, fined AU$100,000, and be disqualified from driving regardless of whether or not the road bully meant to physically harm the victim.
Rarely is anyone fined in Delhi for offences such as lane jumping, aggressive honking or jaywalking. Many get away with speeding and drunk driving. The sporadic traffic drives have little impact because the penalties are too low to be a deterrent.
With higher penalties, we also need strict enforcement. Remember how even Delhi fell in line for two weeks in October 2010 when we hosted the Commonwealth Games -- jumping lanes attracted a fine of R2,000 and traffic cops meant business.
Governments willing, Delhiites will behave and our roads will be safer.
(The views expressed are personal. Please tweet to her @shivaniss62. )