Monday, January 2, 2017

Road Rage--An Unwilling Participant

“An 18-year-old Michigan man now faces murder charges after the 64-year-old man he’s accused of brutally beating in a road-rage assault died from his injuries on Oct. 31, 2016.”

“A 33-year-old man is facing a capital murder charge after being arrested in last week's road rage killing of a three-year-old Arkansas boy out Christmas shopping with his grandmother.”

“After an argument over a highway lane change escalated, Tony Torrez chased the pickup truck Lilly Garcia’s father was driving and fired shots at the vehicle striking Lilly in the head. Torrez pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and will serve up to 16 years in prison.”

Road rage has become a daily and potentially dangerous plague on America’s streets. Although it seldom results in anything more than traded curses and obscene gestures, it can occasionally escalate into extreme acts violence.

According to AAA, every year approximately eight million U.S. drivers engaged in extreme examples of road rage, including purposefully ramming another vehicle or getting out of the car to confront another driver. “Inconsiderate driving, bad traffic, and the daily stresses of life can transform minor frustrations into dangerous road rage,” said Jurek Grabowski, Director of Research for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Not too long ago I found myself the unwilling participant in the driver of an 18-wheeler’s road rage. My best guess is that I was in a lane he wanted and didn’t get out of his way fast enough as the road went from 4 to 2 lanes. Moments later, he is tearing down the shoulder of a 2-lane, semi-rural road at 60 mph on my right side. I sped up and passed him out of concern he was going to run into my vehicle. He proceeded to follow me for the next 20 minutes at normal speed. It was an unfamiliar road and at one point I missed a turn so I slowed to turn around—he slowed much more and fell well behind me. I turned right and then made a u-turn and stopped at a stop sign intending to return the other direction.

The driver of the 18-wheeler sped up, was driving down the shoulder once again, and from all appearances planned to broadside me. I put my car in reverse and quickly backed away from the intersection as he slammed to a stop in front of my car attempting to block the intersection. A wide-eyed passenger stared at me as the driver jumped down from the truck and started toward my vehicle (now approximately 50 yards from the intersection). The driver was gesturing wildly and both hands were visible (empty). I realized there was space at the rear of the trailer for me to re-enter the 2-lane road so I drove past the driver and the rear of the trailer and headed back the other direction. To my knowledge, he did not follow.

At no point during the incident did I gesture or do anything provocative or aggressive. I have no idea what set him off nor do I know why he was obviously still seething 20 minutes later. When he came out of the truck his hands were empty or the incident might have ended very differently.

Unfortunately, it does not look like this problem is going away any time soon. A quick internet search for shows literally dozens of road rage incidents, many ending with fights or involving firearms. Regardless of whether the fault is truly yours or not, if you find that you have agitated another driver do not react to the other driver or retaliate. This will only cause the situation to escalate and possibly spiral out of control. While it may be difficult in the heat of the moment, do not give in to feelings of anger or rage on the road. Think twice before you honk the horn or flip that finger—you never know what may set off someone in the cars around you nor how they might react. Avoid eye contact and continue to practice safe driving habits.

Getting home in one piece is more important than venting your frustration or trying to teach someone a dangerous lesson.

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