In a country famous for good manners, drivers are giving in to "road rage," a growing phenomenon that led to a fatal stabbing this week.
Aggressive driving had already been blamed for several deaths in Britain. The latest victim, a 21-year-old man, was slain Sunday after an argument with a motorist.As more cars roll onto the streets and roads become busier, British drivers are becoming ruder and more aggressive, said Richard Woods, spokesman for the Royal Automobile Club. Based on anecdotal evidence, Woods said, violence on the roads seems to be increasing.
Surveys show nearly 90 percent of British motorists have experienced threatening or abusive behavior from other drivers.
"It's labeled `road rage,' but frustration with other drivers has been around as long as cars have been on the roads," he said.
The British news media has picked up on the phrase "road rage," which they attribute to California media during a spate of freeway shootings in the 1980s.
As many as four deaths in Britain have been blamed on "road rage." One man had a heart attack after a van driver shouted abusive language. A teenager died when her father's car was forced off the road.
And on Sunday, Stephen Cameron, 21, was fatally stabbed by the driver of a Land-Rover on a highway south of London.
Two tabloid newspapers, the Sun and the Mirror, have offered rewards worth $15,000 for information leading to the killer's conviction. The killer has not been caught or even identified.
Police said Cameron was out buying bagels with his girlfriend, who was driving their small van, when the Land-Rover cut across the van's path at a traffic light. Cameron shook his head, apparently angering the driver of the Land-Rover.
That driver jumped out of his car and shouted abuse at Cameron and his girlfriend. Cameron got out of the car and was stabbed through the heart, police said.
Conrad King, an adviser to the Royal Automobile Club, said "road rage" was caused by a "Stone Age" mentality that takes over when some people get behind the steering wheel.
"When you get into a car, it is the start of process of de-humanization," he said. "The actual design of the car, the feeling of safety, security and power it gives you is almost like strapping on armor."
Once driving, King said, people use the wrong parts of their brain to cope with stress.
"The cognitive part of brain that deals with logical thinking and reasoning does not need to be occupied," King said. "It will keep itself amused. What that means is that more primitive parts of brains that deal with survival will have more control over behavior than they do in normal situations."
In spite of "road rage," Britain's roads remain the safest in Europe, judging by driving statistics released by the Department of Transport.