Road Rage – Dying to Prove a Point

Road Rage – Dying to Prove a Point

Nothing exposes the dark side of human nature like the uncommon sense of anonymous power derived from being at the controls of a fast-moving car. You may not be as safe as you thought you were.

Road rage may be partly media hype, partly a tongue-in cheek quip on what our world has come to. But if you happen to find yourself a witness or even a participant, it is real enough. I shudder to think of the number of times some joker in a pickup has tailgated a couple of feet behind my car, then leaned on his horn. Even getting out of his way doesn’t save me from getting the finger as he passes. Then there are those who take it upon themselves to preach as they drive. I still get riled when I’m trapped behind someone in the passing lane who deliberately keeps pace with the car to his (or her) right to make certain nobody exceeds the speed limit.

The worst example of road rage I ever witnessed occurred in Australia. I was driving north on a relatively narrow highway, two cars behind a fairly slow driver. The dips and curves following the coastline afforded precious few opportunities to pass, and I could see that the driver in front of me was getting increasingly agitated as he repeatedly pulled out over the centerline, only to retreat to his original position upon seeing an oncoming car. Finally, the traffic was clear and he made his move. However, as soon as he began to overtake the slower vehicle, the driver of that car hit the gas deliberately, matching his speed.

This went on for an uncomfortable period of time, neither giving way to the other. Suddenly, the top of a truck appeared from a dip in the road, signaling an imminent head-on collision.  By then, the two speeding cars were well ahead of me, and I could only gasp in horror at what I was about to witness. With all other options closed off, the passing driver, desperate to get over, swerved back onto our side of the road, forcing the other car onto the soft, sandy shoulder. He avoided a collision with the truck by inches. As my car caught up and passed the impeding car bogged in the sand on the side of the road, I could see the driver leaning on his horn and waving his fist as his “opponent” sped off down the highway. It seems this spewin’ whacka (Aussie slang for a very angry, bloomin’ idiot) would rather have caused the death of another human being than be passed on the road.

Who knows what put him in such a fighting mood, or why his self-image was so deeply intertwined with dominance on the road. Since then, however, I’ve gotten fleeting glimpses of him in men and women of all ages who, infused with an uncommon sense of anonymous power derived from being at the controls of a fast-moving ton and a half of steel, weave in and out of traffic like drivers in a NASCAR event.

There’s an active debate on just how to define road rage. Personally, I would include all deliberately dangerous driving. When people knowingly break laws or put other motorists in harm’s way, they’ve crossed a line that can put innocent lives at risk. On their comprehensive web site, Drs. Leon James and Diane Nahl offer a list of characteristics, arranged in order of escalating degrees of hostility, that is also an excellent yardstick to evaluate yourself on the road rage scale:

  1. Mentally condemning other drivers
  2. Verbally denigrating other drivers to a passenger in your vehicle
  3. Closing ranks to deny someone’s entering your lane because you’re frustrated or upset
  4. Giving another driver the “stink eye” to show your disapproval
  5. Speeding past another car or revving the engine as a sign of protest
  6. Preventing another driver from passing because you’re mad
  7. Tailgating to pressure a driver to go faster or get out of the way
  8. Fantasizing physical violence against another drive
  9. Honking or yelling at someone through the window to indicate displeasure
  10. Making a visible obscene gesture at another driver
  11. Using your car to retaliate by making sudden, threatening maneuvers
  12. Pursuing another car in chase because of a provocation or insult
  13. Getting out of the car and engaging in a verbal dispute, on a street or parking lot
  14. Carrying a weapon in the car in case you decide to use it in a driving incident
  15. Deliberately bumping or ramming another car in anger
  16. Trying to run another car off the road to punish the driver
  17. Getting out of the car and beating or battering someone as a result of a road exchange
  18. Trying to run someone down whose actions angered you
  19. Shooting at another car
  20. Killing someone

These are further divided into five zones of aggressiveness:

  • The Unfriendly Zone: items 1 to 3 – mental and verbal acts of unkindness towards other drivers.
  • The Hostile Zone: items 4 to 7 – visibly communicating displeasure or resentment with a desire to punish.
  • The Violent Zone: items 8 to 11 – carrying out an act of hostility, either in fantasy or deed.
  • The Lesser Mayhem Zone: items 12 to 16 – epic road rage contained within one’s personal limits.
  • The Major Mayhem Zone: items 17 to 20 – uncontained epic road rage, the stuff of newspaper stories.

Our latent hostilities, sadly, are not limited to the highway. This same test, modified to accommodate the circumstances, can be applied to most human interactions on local, national, and international levels. I wish there were a facile solution that would put an end to human aggression of all kinds. Haven’t we got a more elevated purpose for our lives? It’s definitely a work in progress. When I’ve overcome all of my own bad driving habits and learned something worth sharing, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I struggle along with the rest of humanity, attempting to become a better person, one drive at a time.

Jean-Claude Gerard Koven is a writer and speaker based in Vilcabamba, Ecuador. He was a featured weekly columnist for the UPI (United Press International) Religion and Spirituality Forum and is the author of Going Deeper: How to Make Sense of Your Life When Your Life Makes No Sense, recipient of both the Allbooks Reviews Editor’s Choice Award and the Award for the Best Metaphysical Book of the Year.

©2004 – 2021. Jean-Claude Gerard Koven / All Rights Reserved.


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