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Cavemen behind the wheel – more fact than fiction

This week, the police have gone public about an incident which happened on the side of the M62 motorway near Greater Manchester on 9th November. Two vehicles had an accident – not an uncommon occurrence. However, the level of violence which then ensued, does make this a bit different.

It starts off amicably enough, with CCTV footage showing the two drivers apparently exchanging details, but it then broke into a fight (literally on the hard shoulder of the M62). Before it was over, the driver of a flatbed truck had forcefully reversed his vehicle into the front of the lorry, and then got out and used a shovel to break the glass windows of the cab in an effort to get to the two occupants who had got back in for their own safety. Those who have seen the footage will doubtless have been affected by the speed, scale and severity of the attack, all of which is totally out of proportion to the original incident which triggered it.

So, what kind of animal was this who was behind the wheel of the flatbed truck? Well, the honest answer, is he may not be so very different from the rest of us.

You see, as human beings, we are very sophisticated, and well adapted animals. That said, we are completely ill-equipped for the lives that we lead today. This case is one extreme example of this disparity at work.

Due to the fact that it takes human beings so very long to raise the next generation, our evolutionary development is in fact very very slow. So, to repeat a phrase I use in my presentations, we are essentially running on caveman software. Our bodies and their natural functions/responses/settings, are more suited to life 30,000 years ago, than our lives today.

Road rage is one example of where this backfires on us completely. When we are in a stressful situation, our body releases chemicals within the brain which trigger changes throughout our body. These changes effectively prioritise the resources the body has, into the most efficient way of relieving the stress – usually a flight-or-flight response. So, blood takes vital oxygen to our muscles so they can work fast, it heightens your senses so you are more alert and it shuts down things like digestion and creative thinking which are not relevant or necessary at that time. There, in a nutshell is why we feel panicky, get clammy hands, a dry mouth and a sick feeling in our stomach if we are in a stressful situation. Totally counter-productive if we are going to give a presentation or attend an interview etc!

More seriously, put us behind the wheel of a car in this state, and we are like a timebomb. If we are stuck in a traffic jam, our bodies are prepared for physical action – fight or flight – but we are going nowhere. Our brain wants us to ‘DO SOMETHING’ but we are restrained. Literally, in the case of a seatbelt! Add into the mix the fact then when we drive, we feel as though the vehicle is our sanctuary, our little bit of the universe, OUR territory. How are you going to react when someone violates it?

So, I can see how this awful incident happened. In no way am I saying it is acceptable, but I understand that in that moment, the truck driver’s brain was sending out full on caveman response messages. So he responded like a thug. A Neanderthal.

What I am saying though, is that this happens more often than we would like. This incident only hit the headlines as the police cannot trace the driver (I know, don’t go there!).

Until we upgrade our caveman software, we all rely on our ability to override it in times of stress. But this is easier said than done.

This guy clearly could not…how often can you?