I’ve been thinking about road rage a lot lately with all of my commuting to work. I know my wife thinks I’m particularly edgy behind the wheel and I’ve been putting a lot of energy into consciously changing that. I recognize that I am the kind of driver that thinks everyone needs to pay attention, move along quickly and don’t do stupid things. I tend to think that drivers slower than me as “annoying, stupid festers” and those faster than me are “maniacs.” Yes, I know. I need to work on this.
Sometimes, I think it’s necessary to remember how preciously life really is and how we need to look at the inside of our own cars, including the precious cargo we’re carrying around, to remind ourselves that every other car has precious cargo too and we all want to get home in one piece.
About a month or so ago, I had an “incident” that really shook me – maybe it shook me more than I would have been because my kids were with me.
I was driving on a one-lane road that entered a business district and turned into 2 lanes. I needed to get into the right lane, as did the guy behind me. I saw that he was going to try to gun it to fly past me and not let me over. I put my signal on and did the same thing he did, get into the right lane at the earliest opportunity. I knew I may have interrupted his plan to be a major jackwagon, but I didn’t expect what happened next.
He went ballistic. Like a lunatic. I didn’t cut him off and I certainly didn’t do anything abnormal but he was pissed. As I looked into my rearview mirror, I could see him tailgating, going bonkers, possibly yelling, etc. Instead of potentially having this guy behind me for the next several miles, I decided to get out of his way and moved into the unoccupied (left turn only) lane so he could go around me and move along to his most important destination. He pulled up beside me, rolled down his window, screamed like I’d run over his dog, used both hands to flick me off and came to a complete stop. Traffic was starting to form behind us and my kids were noticing this chaos.
“Mommy, what is that guy waving at us?”
I stayed calm and simply pointed at the open road in front of him, mouthing and saying out loud “go ahead, buddy, the road is all yours.” When he finally moved on, the traffic behind him allowed me to get back into the correct lane. As soon as I did so, he slammed on his brakes, trying to get me to rear-end him (I guess) as he continued to honk, shout, flick me off, etc. I stopped and waited. He started again, I started again. He slammed on his brakes again.
I had a split second where I thought about hitting him. If the cops came and cited me for following too close, I’d press charges for road rage, etc. But my kids were in the car and I had no idea what this guy was capable of. I just wanted him to go on his way. Why wasn’t he just moving along?
After some time, and some angry honks from all of the traffic behind us, he finally sped off. I didn’t get his plate #. I didn’t snap a picture of anything and I spent the next 30 minutes driving home trying to shake it off.
I pride myself on being an alert driver. I don’t cause “near misses” and I anticipate what people are going to do. I can especially spot an a##hole from a mile away. Yet, there I was, driving my kids home from a charity pancake breakfast, having a nice Sunday morning and we run into this guy. And all I could think about was what I could have done differently to avoid the entire situation.
It scared me. Mostly because I didn’t know what was about to happen. I’ve had some minor issues on my commute where someone will cut me off because they didn’t see me or cut something close and probably just made a bad judgment call, where I’d be able to react to avoid a collision. In some of these moments, you get an apologetic wave. One guy gave me an “ok” then a thumbs up after he egregiously cut me off. No words, no honking, no threats, no chasing down or causing a scene.
What was this guy’s deal that Sunday morning? Was he pissed off that he was stuck behind a line of cars coming up a 1-lane road and just got mad at me because I was the car directly in front of him? Did he have something against minivans? Did he hate blue cars? Or kids? Or lesbian family stickers?
Did he just have a fight with his girlfriend? Or just lose his job? I don’t know. But I know that I can’t take for granted that everyone behind the wheel out there isn’t raging about something, related to driving or totally unrelated to it.
Why are we so angry behind the wheel? For me, I would get instinctively and immediately pissed off because my response was grounded in the “are you kidding me? You think you can almost cause an accident and hurt someone else because YOU are so important right now?” Or maybe “what gives you the right to drive like a total jerk? If we all drove like you, there would be chaos everywhere!”
What we seem to forget a lot when we do get behind the wheel and criticize people’s driving, or judgment, is that there are other human beings in those cars. Those are lives at the wheel and maybe sitting in the passenger seats, maybe there are children in the car.
Here are 10 tips from roadrager.com that I am trying to etch into my brain:
1. Don’t retaliate. Never take the other driver personally, he/she is only reacting on a road rage instinct.
2. Don’t make eye contact with an angry driver.
3. Before you react to anything that is done to you please ask yourself, “Is getting back at that jerk worth my life?”
4. Be polite and courteous, even when others are not.
5. Always ask yourself: “Could the other driver have possibly made a mistake?”
6. If you are harassed by another driver and being followed, do not go home. Go to the nearest police detachment.
7. Slow down and relax!
8. Never underestimate other drivers’ capacity for mayhem.
9. Reduce your driving stress by allowing enough time to get where you are going. Know the roads that are under construction and listen to weather reports that may cause traffic delays. Practice patience and keep your cool.
And # 10 – the most important thing to remember: