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Road Rage Revisited

by Bob Hagin

April 16, 2001

Lately, we haven't heard much about Road Rage, at least not in the sensational manner we did a few years ago.

At the time, there were lurid reports of drivers running other motorists off the road over real or imagined behind-the-wheel social insults and at best, they resulted in angry words being exchanged between strangers. At worst, the vehicles crashed into each other or an innocent third party.. On-the-scene TV crews chronicled the accidents as reporters described the mayhem. Pistols were sometimes involved. A family friend had a gun waved at her one evening a few years back as she drove home from work. The incident had only involved mouthed but silent epithets, but who knows how far it could have escalated.

Most times these motorized confrontations can be avoided by a simple gesture or the avoidance of one. Common courtesies that would be extended in pedestrian traffic will sidestep angry automotive encounters, and the following are some of the rules physiology experts suggest;

APOLOGIZE FOR A DRIVING FAUX PAS - In the wild, most animals of the same species engage in "threat-stares" during confrontations. If the stares aren't broken off, the result is often a physical conflict. Unfortunately, the looks that drivers give to each other often lead to confrontations that may indeed kill. One driver inadvertently cuts off another or pulls into oncoming traffic, forcing another to swerve to avoid a collision. Maybe we ourselves make a turn without giving a signal and another driver must take evasive action because of it. That's when The Hard Look is given. Our signal for an automotive apology is one hand raised, palm up, and the shoulders shrugged with body language that says "I'm sorry." It will usually be met with a disgusted shake of the head, but the situation is thereby defused.

SAFE MERGE INTO COMMUTER HIGHWAY TRAFFIC - This is akin to reentering the race after a pitstop at the a NASCAR race at Daytona. Rather than trying to bully your way in, ride close to the shoulder for a bit. Match your entry speed to that of the flow of traffic as much as possible, then start to accelerate to that speed about 50 yards ahead of your merge position. It's best to pick a gap of no less than three car lengths - but don't count on dump truck drivers to slow down quickly if you lurch in ahead of them. They're no more anxious than you to be involved in a time-consuming fender-bender, but they have lots less maneuverability in traffic than you do and their stopping distances are obviously much longer. Pick your spot, use your left signal light and flash other drivers a pleading facial expression. Most will give you room to maneuver, but don't try it with vehicles that are rolling proof of an owner's bad attitude. Those drivers often take it as a personal affront.

RUSH HOUR TRAFFIC REDUX - Rush hour traffic is the curse of modern culture world-wide and it's the same in New York, Paris, London, Tokyo and Rome. If fate forces you into it on a regular basis, make sure your vehicle is in good running order. Breaking down during rush hour is like being wounded on the battlefield: you may not come out of the melee unscathed. Air conditioning makes slow, hot summer traffic almost bearable, so make sure that yours works by exercising it periodically in winter. Always give the other driver the right-of-way, even if he or she is wrong. Don't try to make other drivers aware of their social obligations when you're behind the wheel. The slightest fender-bender in going-home traffic will tie up the flow for hours and you'll be a very unpopular participant. Buy the best sound system possible and play the classics as you drive. University research has proven that serene music soothes the savage beast - even when the beast is in your driver's seat.

MISCELLANEOUS TIPS - When an 18-wheeler passes you on the left on the highway during the day, flash your headlights a couple of times as soon as it's safe for the big-rig driver to pull in front of you. He or she will flash the tail lights on the truck as a gesture of thanks. Don't try to block drivers who try to "take cuts" ahead of you at a toll gate. Show your magnanimity by waving them into line ahead of you and the miscreant may be appreciative and pay your toll for you - but don't count on it. Avoid talking on your cell phone when you're driving, unless it's the hands-free type. It's dangerous and Road Rage-prone drivers may take it as a show-off posture and may act accordingly, right or wrong. When the light turns green for you at an intersection, count to three, look left and right and then proceed. Road Rage drivers often consider running a red light an act of civic, social and cultural defiance.

Being a heads-up driver who gives 100-percent attention to the driving task at hand is probably the best deterrent to Road Rage. A friend who used to teach driver training to high-school students told them to drive like everyone else on the road is crazy. In watching the interaction of many drivers on the road today, that statement may very well be true.