Road rage is a serious problem. When it gets out of control, drivers wreck and they shoot and sometimes they kill.
Here are some thoughts about how to cool the rage and manage another person’s rage.
1. Admit that driving is scary
There were 33,561 driving fatalities in the United States in 2012.
To that, add the serious injuries and the economic cost of accidents, including lawsuits and insurance rates and a lost ability to get to work, and it’s dangerous out there.
Why? Let’s look at the speeds that humans are built to handle.
Usain Bolt is the fastest human in the world. In 2009, he ran 100 meters in 9.58 seconds for an average speed of 27.44 miles per hour.
Geoffrey Mutai holds the marathon record, running the 2011 Boston Marathon in 2 hours, 3 minutes for an average speed of 12.7 MPH.
For you, a brisk walking speed is 3 MPH. On a hike, it’s more like 2 MPH.
Those are human speeds, for which our perception and reflexes are wired. We can handle bodies and machines that travel at speeds like those.
By contrast, the factory model of the Toyota Camry, a mid-size sedan that is probably the most popular car in America, has a top speed around 135 MPH.
135 MPH and it’s not even built for speed. The typical human reaction time is 1.5 seconds. In that time, you will travel 132 feet if you are driving 60 MPH. At 75, a more typical highway speed, you will travel 165 feet in 1.5 seconds.
At the Camry’s top speed, 1.5 seconds means 297 feet, or 99 yards. Start at your own 1 yard-line and you’ll be at your opponent’s goalposts before you can even decide what to do. That football field isn’t your stopping distance – it’s your “Do I stop or speed up or swerve?” decision distance, before you actually do anything.
Years ago, this Examiner got a Geo Metro to 80 MPH on the Schuylkill Expressway. Those 3 cylinders were whining like a tired and hungry 3 year-old, but even that tiny, underpowered car went that fast.
To those inhuman speeds add the distractions of phones and radios and food and the road is scary and dangerous place.
The point is that even our routine, typical machines move us faster than we can safely manage. We don’t have the vision or reflexes or attention or predictable behavior that are necessary for the speeds that we travel.
Fear turns into anger in an instant.
2. You can’t make up the time
We think that we can leave late and then make up the time by speeding and blowing stop signs.
The math is all wrong. We can’t do it.
A 20-mile trip at 45 MPH, for the moment assuming no stops and a speed limit of 45, will take 26 minutes, 40 seconds. If you have to slow to 40 MPH for the whole trip then it will take you 30 minutes.
If you get stuck behind a cautious or lost driver, maybe a tourist – what some call a “touron,” who is driving 35 MPH in a 45 MPH limit zone over 20 miles then the trip will take you 34 minutes, 17 seconds.
In other words, driving 35 MPH in a 45 MPH zone for 20 miles extends the trip by less than 8 minutes.
At 5 MPH above the limit, 50 MPH, those 20 miles will take you 24 minutes. If you can drive 55 MPH, the trip still takes 21 minutes, 49 seconds.
Here’s where we add a traffic light. A traffic light may be red for anything from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Add three red lights and you will be late even at 10 MPH over the limit, if you left 26 minutes before you needed to arrive.
The point is that you can’t make up the time on the vast majority of your trips, which are the shorter trips with a fixed arrival time – work, school, appointments. If you leave more than 5 minutes late then, no matter how you drive, you’re going to arrive late.
If it seems like the goal of this article is to get you thinking, you’re right. Thinking, rather than feeling.
That’s the kicker about road rage. We don’t feel it while we’re maneuvering to prevent a crash. We don’t feel anything at all.
After the near-miss, when the facts of what just happened register, we feel the fear and then the anger. We could celebrate the combination of our own good driving and good fortune and reliable machinery that saved our lives – we could be happy and we could celebrate – but instead, we’re angry because of what almost-but-didn’t-happen.
3. The other driver might be a good person
So you’re being tailgated and the other driver is honking and flashing his lights and clearly wants you out of his way. It’s normal for us to ascribe motive, as though we could know why he’s doing this, but we don’t know.
What if he is tailgating and speeding on the way to the hospital, because he’s having a heart attack? To say goodbye to a dying parent? To save a sick child?
Are you going to ride your brakes, make him slow down, enforce the law even though you are not police? Do you want to be the reason why he doesn’t get there in time?
What point are you making, what rule are you enforcing, that you are willing to defend to the grieving family? Go ahead and tell them that he should not have been driving that fast so you taught him a lesson.
What if he is distracted because he just lost his job, or was served divorce papers? He’s not self-centered, not careless. He’s just having a bad day and how else can he get where he needs to be?
His driving is creating danger for you and that is scary and fear is self-centered, self-protective, but it’s not personal. You just happen to be driving the car that just happens to be in his way.
Let it go. You don’t know what’s happening in that other car and it’s not your problem, so be grateful and get out of his way.
4. The other driver might be a dangerous person
The guy behind you gesturing and flashing his lights could be intoxicated, violent, or delusional. He might be armed and on his way to commit a murder, so what’s one more? You don’t know, and why would you want to find out? Let him go.
5. Survive another’s rage
So you’ve been calm and safe, but what if you make a mistake or find yourself stuck ahead of a driver who wants to go much faster than you? What if you are the subject of the gestures and rage?
Here are a few survival tips
– Don’t look at the other driver
– Don’t honk or gesture back
– Find a safe place to pull over. You’re looking for enough room to stop and other persons around.
– If he follows you, DO NOT get out of your car.
– If he gets out of his car, that’s the time to drive away.
– Call 911 while driving – yes, do this – and get the police on the way or find out where you can meet an officer.
– If all of that fails, drive to the nearest big-name convenience store or all-night diner, any business that stays open all of the time. They always have customers and are usually good with security measures, including cameras.
– Don’t drive to the nearest police station unless the incident is during regular weekday business hours. Many small departments are not staffed 24/7.