|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.
The driver of this car was killed by a shot
fired through his rear window during an argument with another
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
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
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
"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
A shooting occurred because one motorist
was "playing his radio too loud."
"The b-----d kept honking and honking
"He/she was driving too slowly."
"He wouldn't turn off his high
"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
"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
A driver accused of murder said, "He
couldn't care less about the rest of us--he just kept blocking
A teenager charged with murdering a
passenger in another vehicle said simply, "We was dissed
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
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
"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
Information for this story was provided
courtesy of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
THINGS NOT TO DO ON THE HIGHWAY
* 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
* 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
* 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