YOU are late. The traffic is solid. It's the end of a highly stressful week. You've moved ten centimetres in the last 15 minutes. And, just as the traffic starts to get going, some idiot pulls out in front of you and you have to stamp on your brakes. Quite naturally, like increasing numbers of Hong Kong motorists, your first instinct is to leap out of your car and vent your frustration by putting him straight. 'I often see people at each others' throats,' says Lam Tai-yip, a taxi driver. 'One Friday night in Pokfulam, the traffic was moving like a snail and the two cars in front of me were getting very silly, fighting over the same patch of road. The car behind nearly rammed the one in front which wouldn't let him pass. 'Then, all of a sudden, they both slammed on their brakes, the two guys got out and, wham, they started hitting each other. They didn't look like thugs, one of them was in a suit. They kept going at it and became entangled like boxers and then they both fell in a ditch. And they just kept at it.' This week the case came to court of a minibus driver, Chan Ping-keung, who claims an attack provoked by his driving was so severe, he was blinded in one eye and sustained multiple chop wounds. Chan says two men pulled up beside his bus in a car on Castle Peak Road in July, 1994 and started swearing at him for driving carelessly and hit him in the face. Four other men joined in and beat Chan up so severely he needed emergency hospital treatment and can no longer work. Such incidents may be extreme but 'road rage' is not unusual in Hong Kong. Police and driving associations are finding enraged motorists are attacking each other not just verbally but with their fists. In the United States, road rage has led motorists to shoot each other. In Britain recently, an exasperated driver attacked another motorist with an axe. Last year, a survey by the British Automobile Association (AA) found 90 per cent of drivers had, at some point, either acted out of road rage or had been victims of it. There is no mystery about the causes of such anger; throughout the motoring world, road rage is blamed on stress. If Hong Kong is the world's most stressful city, it may seem like a small miracle that motorists have not taken to shooting each other . . . yet. If the stress of living here is not enough to drive motorists to violence, there is also the fact that Hong Kong has the highest density of traffic to road space of any place on earth, with around 300 vehicles per kilometre of road. If all the cars in Hong Kong were out on the road at the same time, bumper to bumper, for every one kilometre of road, there would be just 100 metres of road free. 'It's all too easy to become enraged by other drivers in this small, compressed city,' says psychiatrist Dr William Green. 'Each tiny expression of rage is magnified, unlike in Britain or the States where there's enough space to let things go. 'The number one cause of anger on the road in Hong Kong is when motorists don't let other people in front of them move, even when it would help the traffic move more smoothly. It's a cultural thing. We're all so cooped up, we guard our space.' A Kowloon police officer says too much stress and too little space can easily lead to violence. 'In districts like Tsim Sha Tsui, Mongkok and Yau Ma Tei, there are a lot of fights,' he says. 'But it's mainly confined to the younger guys who have had a few drinks. 'If someone cuts in front of them, they get angry and chase that vehicle and try to cut back in front of it. Sometimes there is a direct confrontation but they don't use guns, and knives are rare, although we have seen them grab whatever they can find in the car like a spanner or a crowbar.' Kendy Chan Kin-chung, chief executive of the Hong Kong Automobile Association (HKAA), says more minor manifestations of road rage have become a fact of driving life in Hong Kong. 'We get quite a lot of calls about aggressive behaviour,' he says. 'People are getting very nervous.' Chan says drivers frequently complain of being sworn at and intimidated. 'We've had calls from people who say another motorist has deliberately brushed their cars in an attempt to drive them off the road.' A common cause of confrontation is the accident. No matter how minor the incident, few Hong Kong motorists fail to treat an accident as a major event. Emily does not consider herself a violent person. But last year, when the mother of twins was involved in a minor accident in traffic outside the Cross Harbour Tunnel, she surprised herself. 'The woman behind just drove into the back of me,' she says. 'It wasn't a big bump, there was no damage, but the twins started screaming. I leapt out of the car and started banging my fist on her car window, screaming at her. 'She looked terrified. I think she was German, so thankfully couldn't understand my Cantonese. I don't know what came over me. I've never felt so angry.' Like many Hong Kong motorists, Mary, an Australian, admits to being terrified of getting into an accident. 'At home, people just accept what has happened and exchange insurance documents,' she says. 'Here you are likely to come to blows.' Dr Green says there is a straightforward explanation for this. 'Cars in Hong Kong are a great status symbol. Many of us see our cars as projections of our ego. If someone hits our car, they are hitting us.' He compares Hong Kong drivers to coiled springs. 'If we can't get at the 20 other guys who have cut us up, we sure as hell will vent our spleen on the one guy who does clip us. 'Hong Kong is very different from other cultures, where such incidents might be played down. Even if we know the guy who has driven into us is completely at fault, we still need to scream at him simply because we are all so stressed.' Senior Inspector Rod Diaz (Enforcement and Control Division of Traffic Hong Kong Island) is at the sharp end of the territory's traffic problems. It's a job he describes as one of the most stressful in the force. 'It can get quite confrontational,' he says. 'Especially as Hong Kong is such a small and complicated place to enforce the traffic laws in.' The traffic police work with two clear priorities: to keep the traffic moving and prevent accidents. 'When we stop people we expect them to realise they have committed an offence and accept the consequences,' he says. 'But quite often we get abuse. It starts off with a plea for leniency: they usually give personal reasons like 'I'm late for lunch'. Or a man might say he needs to attend a business meeting, female motorists often say, 'I'm a woman with a baby, why are you doing this to me?' 'But when they realise this won't wash, some drivers become vociferous and abusive. Many of them threaten to lodge a complaint about us. It rarely gets physical; you've got to be stupid to attack an officer who is carrying a gun.' Senior Inspector Diaz argues that road rage in Hong Kong is no cause for alarm: 'There are very few instances of physical attack. There may be a bit of pushing and shoving but nothing serious. But that's not to say Hong Kong drivers are not vocal.' One of the most terrifying manifestations of road rage is tail-gating, where on an open stretch of road an angry motorist deliberately hugs your bumper at high speed in a bid to drive you out of his path. In Britain, according to the AA, 62 per cent of drivers surveyed have experienced this. In Hong Kong, open stretches of road are rare but tailgating is not. 'We hear of young guys chasing people down a three-lane highway,' says HKAA's Chan. 'They sit on the person's tail, flashing their lights. But this is more out of fun than anger.' Senior Inspector Diaz argues that people drive too close, less from a desire to intimidate but more because time is money and they want to get on. 'Also, it's so rare to get up speed in Hong Kong. People still drive as close together as if they were in a jam. They are just not used to it.' Barry, a veteran Hong Kong driver, says he has learned how to deal with tailgating. 'A lot of people get very flustered when they look in the mirror and see a car sitting right on their bumper. I don't move over. I apply the brakes and slow them right down, and, when they least expect it, I put my foot flat on the accelerator and shake them off.' Senior Inspector Diaz points out that the problems of stress and congestion are made worse by the fact that Hong Kong is such a difficult place to drive around. 'It's all so compact. If you are not in the right lane, you can easily find yourself having to commit an offence like crossing a white line, if you don't want to miss your destination,' he says. 'You should never start driving in Hong Kong until you know the roads. You have to concentrate 100 per cent to avoid having an accident.' Even so, it is the professional driver that is often the most popular target for motoring ire. 'Often members call up saying they have been bullied by bus drivers or taxi drivers who pull out in front of them,' says Chan. Senior Inspector Diaz also says it is the drivers of taxis, buses and private light vehicles who are some of the worst offenders. 'Their driving manner could be improved but they've got a job to do and don't want to be hampered by what they perceive to be petty rules.' But Ng Kwok-hung of the Hong Kong Kowloon Taxi and Lorry Owners' Association puts the other side of the argument. 'We all know how to spot the Sunday driver,' he says. 'Just because you've had a licence for several years does not mean you are a good driver if you're only out there for a few hours once a week. We all try to steer clear.' Road rage is driven by the fact that whether we are the victims or the aggressors, we all believe we are in the right when we are behind the wheel. There are few solutions beyond avoiding confrontation. Drivers are advised to stay calm, stay in their cars and swallow their pride. Frank Mckenna, professor of psychology at Britain's Reading University and an international authority on motorist psychology, has given tips on how to avoid road rage. He says it's important not to 'mis-attribute' the cause of an event. 'When something happens on the road, it's automatic to assume the other driver did it deliberately to annoy you, and you respond accordingly, cursing or calling them names. Usually, it's nothing of the sort. The person has just made a mistake and it's nothing personal against you.' He also advises motorists to adopt the 'just world theory' - the belief that people that cut you up, get too close or are aggressive tend to be the ones who end up getting hurt. 'Leave them to it and get out of their disaster zone.'