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Road Rage: Blame it on Adrenaline?

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"He's heading south from Rodeo cross road. He just ignored the red light. The car's a dark blue 1989 Toyota. I need back up. Over," Brad, a street police officer yelled over his car radio. He had been trailing the culprit's car for the last ten minutes. Cold sweat trickled down his forehead. His eyes smarted from the mixture of his tears and perspiration. The salt and acid gradually blurred his vision. His common sense told him to slow down and let his colleagues continue the pursuit. But he could see the car ahead of him accelerating; creating thin wisps of smoke shaped like a mocking clown. He felt a fresh rush of sugar and oxygen enters his body - heightening his senses. So Brad drove faster and faster. He manoeuvred at every blind curve with distinct precision. Then ahead he spotted the flashing red lights of pursuit vehicles. Five fellow officers were out of their cars - beating, kicking and shoving the outlaw to the hot asphalt. Instantly Brad felt exhausted. His heart was pounding. His head reeled with headache and nausea.

This was a familiar car chase scene in L.A. that I watched on the BBC the other night. No, he was not under the influence of drugs. That was just the work of our mate adrenaline.

In a lot of countries, traffic violence has come under heavy scrutiny. The brutalities vary from collisions between cars, vehicles and pedestrians to physical abuse between civilians and police officers. And people are pointing their fingers at adrenaline. Ignoring reasons such as inadequate education, lack of family values or plain immorality; no - it's a lot easier to blame the micro gland - producer of the good old 'get up and go' hormone. Hey, we'd never asked Mister Adrenal Gland to be stuck in there! This helpless scenario does eliminate a little guilt and responsibility over the ongoing traffic wars in this world.

There is one adrenaline control treatment centre for blue uniformed traffic officers in the United States. I'd say that we need more. Why? Because it is imperative for those people 'in power' to keep their hormone fluctuations under control - brimming at a safe level at least. Having such an image and authority; those raging, irritating policemen with their loaded weapons (creepy things that go 'bang!' in the night?) would be the last people you'll want to patrol your neighbourhood. Or even worse, these people may take their rage home and victimise their families.

Indonesians are known for suppressing their emotions. This calm, polite persona is projected throughout the country. But this image will be instantly shattered when you experience your first dose of traffic madness. It's amazing! The people you see on the streets usually fall into two categories: either the pollution or lack of nutrition during childhood has either damaged their adrenaline gland altogether or their bodies appear to be running on adrenaline and not much else. Emotionless chaos!

The noisy orange street bugs, bajaj, motorcyclists, buses and even the hundreds of multi-thousand dollar vehicles driven by arrogant and ignorant drivers cramp every street in Jakarta. God knows how on earth these people could attain their driving licences, as sometimes you cannot find any difference between them and a flock of lost sheep.

A few typical situations: an overweight guy wearing a flawless Giorgio Armani suit stops his brand new Mercedes Benz in the middle of a busy road to have an argument with an ojek driver who apparently scratched his car. He doesn't care about the massive rush hour traffic jam he ignites; no - it's a face thing. If he has enough power to buy the luxury car then he must be important enough to make other people suffer. Second example; people who cut across three lanes on a main road after a blind curve just so they can access the toll road a few metres closer. Thirdly, bus drivers who seem to consider every person standing on the street-side as an unofficial bus stop; which could happen every five meters. Another common obstacle is when a dozen police officers block the highway to let the VIP of the day through uninterrupted so they are not late for their dinner.

These inconveniences add to the piling frustrations, coffee and nicotine, after working the whole day for a bitchy boss. Fuelled by the carbon monoxide-infused air from the AC and the insults from the street boys if you don't buy their colourful dusters or squeaky 'tweety'. Not to mention, the screech performed by Guns and Roses from the car stereo. All of these factors prevent Mr. Hormones from sitting calmly.

What about the police officers? They are incredibly calm. They greet you politely and ask for your licence every time you violate their street signs like 'Forbidden from 6.30 am - 11.15 am, unless during holidays (including Saturday) and other important events or emergency'; which is partly written in micro fonts. Bravo! The only hormone-controlled bunch!

When there is a confrontation between road users, it will more than likely develop into a street brawl, or worse the famous 'politically driven riots'. People from all around shamelessly join in the brawl. They find it as an excuse to let out their own bafflement.

Is all the cursing, curled up toes, and middle finger creativity really worth it? Would you let those street thugs ruin the rest of your day? Would you let down your lovely family who is sweetly sitting at home waiting for you to be the victim of your adrenaline fired aggressiveness from the trip?

It's common knowledge that adrenaline intensifies emotions, which range from exhilaration to anger, depending on your state of mind and the surrounding situation. If the atmosphere is irritating, you will likely feel anger, whereas if everything is positive, you will likely feel happy.

So it is up to our self-control whether we let our hormones dominate our emotion or not. We are able to manipulate our surroundings to be more supportive as well if we want to. Soft background music, urge the street patrols to wear clown outfits instead of those dull brown uniforms (as if it'd make any difference!), or have your vibrating mobile phone close at hand would certainly help.

Maybe we should ask the government to put the development of adrenaline control treatment centres into their future state budget? Not so much for the police force, but more likely for the common road users. It's your call. Do you have sufficient self-control?

Edited version first published in The Jakarta Post

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