Road rage

I spend a lot of time on the highway. My commute to work — one way — is forty miles.

I’ve always loved to drive. I credit my driving skills to my mother, who took me into the back hills of Westminster when I was sixteen, declaring that I needed to learn to drive on snow and ice before I could drive on dry, paved roads. She demonstrated the difference between a confident, defensive driver, and an aggressive, self-absorbed one. I’ve driven a mini-van, an SUV, a 3/4 ton diesel pickup truck (towing a horse trailer behind it), a moving truck, a normal sedan, and a hatchback.

I’m pretty comfortable behind the wheel of any vehicle. I understand things like the need to go 75 mph to keep with the flow of traffic (it’s been proven that one of the greatest causes of freeway accidents is a disparity in speed), or how pounding your brakes at a tailgater is just as aggressive as tailgating itself.

Since I’m a writer, I’m also fascinated by watching people. It doesn’t take a psychologist to recognize that people act differently in their cars than they do face-to-face. It’s the perceived anonymity, like people who troll blogs on the internet and spew invectives from behind the “anonymous” commenting option. You’re there — and then you’re gone, turning a corner, exiting the freeway, changing lanes.

I’ve often thought that an effective anti-aggressive driving campaign might be commercials that show people how ridiculous their behavior might be in a different situation. Some guy in mirrored shades with a cell-phone to his ear rushing to cut off an elderly woman with his grocery cart — then giving her the finger. A woman walking through the mall, blocking the flow of shoppers, giving a glare over her shoulder and slowing down, muttering haughtily, “I’m going fast enough for me, and they’re just going to have to put up with it.”

I think what annoys me most about aggressive drivers is that their actions are entirely selfish. They are declaring their self-importance on the highway — and you’d damned well better get out of their way. But what scares me is the people who flat out refuse. The people who refuse to get out of the fast lane because they have a god-given right to be there. Or because they feel they need to teach these aggressive drivers a “lesson.”

Look, if some guy comes racing up behind me, I get the hell out of his way. If a truck is barreling down the highway, I don’t change lanes to get in front of it. That anonymity and self-centered behavior works both ways — they’re not personally attacking me, so I really don’t have cause to get defensive and block the highway because I’ve been affronted.

Don’t get me wrong: I do. I get just as pissed off at aggressive drivers as the next guy. I know I’m not alone, because I see it every day. There are news reports about aggressive driving escalating to violence and even murder. Two men pulled off the highway once to argue. One guy started yelling, probably feeling pretty self-righteous. The other guy calmly walked to his trunk, pulled out a crossbow, and shot him in the chest. Another man committed suicide on the DC beltway — in the middle of morning rush hour traffic. He shot himself in the head in the middle of the freeway. Clearly, he had other issues, but there’s no discounting the amount of stress that dealing with our so-called “anonymous” selfish behavior has on others.

We make our own stress in these situations. It’s not personal. And if you let those drivers go, the anger goes with them.

Around that corner, off that exit ramp, out of sight.

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