Road Rage
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Road RAGE title

Road Rage--A Deadly Threat on the Highway


Managing Editor

A friend was driving home one afternoon in the right lane of a New Mexico highway when a young driver sped past, swerved to the right-hand lane, cut my friend off, then turned onto an exit. My friend, being naturally angered by the other driver, honked his horn, made a rude gesture, then drove off. That should have been the end of it--but it wasn't. Two days later, my friend was going down the same highway when the same vehicle pulled up next to him in the left lane. However, this time the driver wasn't alone. In the passenger seat was another man who pulled out a 9mm automatic pistol, cocked it, pointed at my friend, then made the same rude gesture. Fortunately, no shots were fired, and the two men drove off. But it very easily could have ended otherwise.

Bloody car picture

Bloody car picture

The driver of this car was killed by a shot fired through his rear window during an argument with another driver.


The day before this story was written, my wife pulled into the right lane of that same highway from a side street and was rapidly overtaken by a speeding motorist. The motorist pulled into the left lane, paralleled my wife's car, then swerved to the right in an attempt to sideswipe her and force her off the road. This incident reinforced, in a personal way, the fact that road rage can happen anywhere, anytime, and to anyone.

What Is Road Rage?

According to a study published last summer by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, aggressive driving--or what some people call "road rage"--is defined as "An incident in which an angry or impatient motorist or passenger intentionally injures or kills another motorist, passenger, or pedestrian, or attempts to injure or kill another motorist, passenger, or pedestrian, in response to a traffic dispute, altercation, or grievance." The definition also includes incidents where "an angry or vengeful motorist drives his or her vehicle into a building or other structure or property."

How Bad Is the Problem?

On average, at least 1,500 people are killed or injured annually as a result of highway violence. One of the three reports used for the Foundation's study showed a steady increase in the number of incidents over recent years. For instance, in 1990, there were 1,129 reported incidents of aggressive driving. The following year, this rose to 1,207 incidents, while in 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1995, the figures were 1,478, 1,555, 1,660, and 1,708, respectively. And the company which compiled these figures, Louis Mizell, Inc. of Bethesda, Maryland, admits these totals--based upon police reports and news media stories--are just the tip of the iceberg. The vast majority of road rage "attempts" are never reported. And these figures don't include other forms of highway crime such as violent car-jackings, drunk driving, random snipings, thrill shootings, highway armed robberies, hit-and-runs, and objects thrown from overpasses.

Who Commits Road Rage?

According to the Foundation's study, "There is no one profile of the so-called aggressive driver. Although the majority of perpetrators are between the ages of 18 and 26, Mizell and Company recorded hundreds of cases where the perpetrator was 26 to 50 years old." The study went on to say, "However, as might be expected, the majority of the perpetrators were young, relatively poorly educated males who have criminal records, histories of violence, and drug and alcohol problems. Many of these individuals have recently suffered an emotional or professional setback, such as losing a job or girlfriend, going through a divorce, or having suffered an injury or accident.

However, it would be too easy to lump all aggressive drivers into that one description. The study also noted that "hundreds of aggressive drivers--motorists who have snapped and committed terrible violence--are successful men and women with no known histories of crime, violence, or drug and alcohol abuse."

What Prompts Road Rage?

Minor fender-benders, such as the story above, often lead to acts of violence. In their report, Mizell and Company found each of the following reasons was involved in at least 25 reported acts of road rage.

"It was an argument over a parking space..."

"He cut me off."

"She wouldn't let me pass."

A driver was shot to death "because he hit my car."

"Nobody gives ME the finger..."

A shooting occurred because one motorist was "playing his radio too loud."

"The b-----d kept honking and honking his horn..."

"He/she was driving too slowly."

"He wouldn't turn off his high beams."

"They kept tailgating me..."

A driver was chased down and shot to death after fleeing the scene of a hit-and-run minor collision.

A fatal crash occurred because another driver kept "braking and accelerating, braking, and speeding up."

"She kept crossing the lanes without signaling--maybe I overreacted, but I taught her a lesson."

"I never would have shot him if he hadn't rear-ended me."

"Every time the light turned green, he just sat there. I sat through three green lights."

A fatal dispute erupted over which car had right-of-way.

A driver accused of murder said, "He couldn't care less about the rest of us--he just kept blocking traffic."

A teenager charged with murdering a passenger in another vehicle said simply, "We was dissed (disrespected)."

There are many other stated reasons for violent traffic disputes. In one case, a man was attacked because he couldn't turn off the antitheft alarm in his rented Jeep. In many cases, according to the report, the reasons are simply triggers causing aggressive drivers to vent already pent-up anger. And when they did, the two most popular weapons were firearms, used in 37 percent of the incidents, while the vehicle itself was used in 35 percent of the attacks. Other weapons include fists and feet, tire irons, jack handles, baseball bats, knives, hurled object (bottles, rocks, soda cans, and coins typically thrown at the offending vehicle), and defensive sprays such as Mace™.

How to Protect Yourself

Albuquerque, like any metropolitan area with oft-crowded roadways, sees its share of road rage incidents. Lt Kyle Baxter, Criminalistics Section Commander for the Albuquerque Police Department, has investigated several incidents of highway violence in the city. Having seen the bloody aftermath when tempers rage out of control, he offers the following advice.

If someone cuts you off, tailgates you, or is otherwise rude, "The best response is to stay focused on your driving and ignore the other person's antics," he said. "If, however, they continue to follow you and harass you, drive to a police station or look for a police officer and try to get his attention. If you aren't able to do either of those things, drive to an area where there are a lot of people--like a parking lot--where you can get help. You can also call 911 if you have a cell phone. Under no circumstances, however, should you pull off the road hoping they'll just go by. It's much safer to stay mobile."

If you're at fault and aggravate another driver, Baxter advised, "A simple wave and an 'I'm sorry' to acknowledge you made a mistake is a good idea."

Not "being" the trigger that sets an aggressive driver off is, of course, the best course of action. Practicing defensive driving -- especially staying 100 percent focused on the task of driving -- is the best way to avoid inadvertently setting off an aggressive driver. And Baxter advised you keep the following in mind if you encounter an aggressive driver.

"There are a lot of unstable people out on the road, and you don't know who you're dealing with," he said. "That person could have just killed someone--we've had it happen here. That person could have a gun." He added that it's a fool's game to try to be macho, staring at the other driver and scowling to make a point. "Ask yourself if it's worth it to risk a confrontation."

Information for this story was provided courtesy of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.




* Don't block the passing lane. Stay out of the far left lane and yield to the right for any vehicle that wants to overtake you. If someone demands to pass, allow them to do so.

* Don't tailgate. Maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you. Dozens of deadly traffic altercations have occurred when one driver tailgated another.

* Use your signals. Don't switch lanes without first signaling your intentions, and then make sure you don't cut someone off when you move over. Turn your signal off after you've made the maneuver.

* Don't make rude gestures. You're playing Russian roulette if you raise a middle finger to another driver. Obscene gestures have gotten people shot, stabbed, or beaten in every state.

*Don't blow your horn in anger. Use your horn sparingly. If you must get someone's attention in a non-emergency situation, tap your horn lightly. Don't blow your horn at the driver in front of you the second the light turns green--that can set off a stressed-out driver.

* Avoid blocking the right-hand lane at an intersection. In most areas, right-hand turns are allowed after a stop at a red light. Avoid the right-hand lane if you're not turning right.

* Be considerate when parking. Don't take more than one parking space, and don't park illegally in a handicapped space. Don't allow your door to swing open and strike the vehicle next to you. Look before backing up.

* Use your headlights properly. Keep your headlights on low beam unless unlighted conditions require the use of high beams. Dim your lights for oncoming traffic. Don't retaliate to oncoming high beams with your own to "teach them a lesson." Don't approach a vehicle from behind with your high beams on, and dim your lights as soon as a passing vehicle is alongside.

* Don't block traffic. If you're pulling a trailer or driving a cumbersome vehicle that impedes traffic behind you, pull over when you have the opportunity so the motorists behind you can pass. Also, don't block the road to have a conversation with a person in another vehicle or a pedestrian on the sidewalk.

* Be careful when you use the car phone. Don't allow the phone to become a distraction--keep your eyes and attention on the road. Car phones can be great for security but bad for safety. In addition, car phone users are widely thought of as being poor drivers and constituting a road hazard. The data clearly show that aggressive drivers hate fender-benders with motorists who've been talking on a car phone.

* Don't annoy others with your car alarm. If you have an antitheft alarm in your vehicle, make sure you know how to turn it off. When buying an alarm, select one that turns off after a short period of time.

* Avoid inflammatory displays. Refrain from showing any type of bumper sticker or slogan that could be offensive.

* Avoid a stare-down. If a hostile motorist tries to pick a fight, don't make eye contact. This can be seen as a challenging gesture and may incite the other driver to violence.



This article has been copied from an existing website because all links to the page in question are no longer available and it would appear that the site has been moved or become defunct. If Mr. Elsberg wishes us to remove the article we shall do so immediately.