Have you ever gotten so annoyed at another driver you honked your horn? Flipped the bird? Shaken your fist?
You might want to reconsider doing those things. While they may seem harmless and even feel necessary, they can provoke certain people into rage. An enraged driver can be a dangerous driver.
Consider Martin S.’s case. Late last month, an SUV cut him off near a busy intersection in Las Vegas. He got angry and honked his horn. This prompted the SUV driver to stop. According to witnesses, a passenger from the SUV hopped out and threw a beer can at Martin’s vehicle. Martin then got out of his vehicle and argued with the passenger.
The SUV’s driver ran Martin down, critically injuring him. His wife of 52 years was in the car and had to watch as her husband was mowed down.
Enraged drivers are always dangerous, but officials say that road rage incidents have spiked during the pandemic. This is likely because many people are stressed out and their tempers flare more easily.
“People are getting shot. People are getting hurt,” said one officer from North Carolina. “It’s just not worth it.”
A lot of these incidents involve guns
Many people are in minor incidents that prompt them to honk or shake a fist. Usually, nothing more serious comes of such a gesture. But it’s becoming more common for drivers to respond more aggressively.
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, an average of 42 people were shot and killed each month in 2020 – double the average from four years ago. If that trend continues, there could be over 500 deaths or injuries in 2021 that involve guns. So far this year, someone has been shot and either killed or injured in a road rage event every 18 hours.
“The pandemic has brought all sorts of new stressors into our lives. And gun sales have surged,” notes Everytown’s research director.
Yet people are beaten, stabbed and run over, too.
Most road rage incidents start with something minor
There are two main ways a dangerous road rage incident starts. One is a minor fender-bender where the drivers get out of the car. They may argue over who was at fault, and this argument can escalate into something physical.
The other way is when someone drives aggressively. For example, an aggressive driver may cut people off, tailgate or weave through traffic, jockeying for position. When another driver responds with a shaken fist or honked horn, the aggressive driver may not be able to let it pass. Some drivers have thrown objects, sideswiped cars, rammed another vehicle head-on or even forced another vehicle off the road.
What can you do to stay safe?
Highway safety advocates say the key is to reduce aggressive driving and increase driver courtesy. Do your best to drive safely and follow all traffic laws so as not to be viewed as an aggressor. If someone cuts you off or does something else that annoys you, don’t ramp up the situation with rude gestures or long horn blasts.
Some people simply have trouble controlling their impulses. That could be truer than ever during the pandemic, when more people are under greater stress than they once were.
While driving, make it a strict policy not to engage with other drivers. If you are in a wreck and must stop and engage with the other motorist, remain in your vehicle a moment to calm down. Be polite, even if you don’t feel polite. Try to de-escalate the situation. If you feel threatened, return to your car.
“Every citizen has a choice,” one officer points out. “If someone cuts them off, then they can call an emergency number and not engage.”