We Need To Put the Brakes on Road Rage
Updated: May 17
By John Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.
It was a simple mistake. I suddenly realized I needed to be in the turning lane to make a right. So, sensing an opening in the line of traffic next to me, I moved over … and cut a guy off.
He was furious.
As he followed me closely for the next couple of miles, I could see him jawing and gesturing at me. Now he also seemed to be torqued off because I was driving at slightly above the speed limit and he couldn’t get around me as we were in a single lane where passing was forbidden.
For the next half hour, no matter where I went, he stayed right on my tail. I even made a few random turns just to be sure he was actually following me. He was. I knew because I sped up and managed to briefly ditch him only to have him suddenly reappear at an intersection I was approaching.
Back on my tail he went.
I was about to drive to a police station when he finally gave up. Why, I don’t know. But hardly a day goes by when I am not tailgated by an agitated driver. People have always driven like maniacs, but there seem to be more nuts out there with an added edge to them these days. Indeed, statistics back up the sense that road rage, like unbridled anger on planes and in other public places, is distressingly common.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 80 percent of the motorists it surveyed reported experiencing at least one recent rage incident. And America’s proliferation of guns only increases the danger.
Last year was the worst on record for road rage shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive, with more than 700 that killed or wounded more than 500 people.
I’m a conservative driver because my personal driving record can affect my job piloting a school bus. It amazes me how many drivers will cut into the oncoming lane, often crossing a double yellow line, and roar by me only to immediately swerve in behind the vehicle ahead of me. Then the game starts again, with the speed racer trying to get around that motorist.
I confess that I chortle with great satisfaction when an impatient driver remains stuck for miles in the spot immediately ahead of me at the same speed I was going. However, my blood simmers when I’m harassed by a tailgater, a near daily occurrence, often in the dark on slick pavement, with deer likely to bolt out into my path.
I know I should just let the tailgater by and pay them no mind, but I’m sorely tempted to frustrate them by not letting them pass.
Not only are they in a drooling rush to get wherever they’re going, the slightest perceived provocation will almost surely unleash a torrent of obscene words and gestures or worse.
The most breathtaking (not literally, thank heaven) act I’ve witnessed was on a stretch of Route 9G, a rural road in New York’s Dutchess County where I live and work.
A slow-moving car with its hazard lights blinking was leading a line of traffic at about 10 miles under the speed limit. This was intolerable for the guy behind the distressed car, so he swerved to the left and braved oncoming traffic in order to linger alongside the creeping vehicle while giving the finger. But that wasn’t enough.
The angry guy then ducked back behind the blinking car, cut onto the shoulder (which was fortunately paved), pulled alongside, and stuck his arm out the window with middle finger upraised.
But wait, there’s more.
Angry guy then roared out in front of slow-moving car, slowed down, and blocked it. Now both drivers were gesticulating wildly.
It’s a miracle there wasn’t a collision at some point.
I attribute this madness to our society’s inability to handle life stress, which has been made worse by the pandemic’s uncertainties and dangers. We’re also conditioned to want instant results and gratification, and to have our own way. We’ve lost the ability to be patient and let little things slide. And it doesn’t help that we live in such a fraught political environment. A bumper sticker, decal or flag can invite all kinds of abuse.
Behind the wheel of my school bus, I see alarming stuff every day including flagrant speeding and motorcyclists recklessly popping wheelies in traffic. Drivers run the flashing red lights and extended stop signs on my bus, endangering kids who are getting off or crossing the street. Parents, too, are in jeopardy. (Mounted cameras now automatically report each offense, which carries a $300 fine and five points on your license. A similar program in Suffolk County, Long Island, hauled in $12 million in fines in eight months!)
Being caught behind a school bus making frequent stops is aggravating enough, but many people don’t seem to understand that I’m not trying to delay them. I’m trying to pick up, drop off and transport children as safely as possible. Still, if I have to pause to answer a question or hand a kid a mask (some still ask for them), I get words or the bird from steamed motorists.
I’m a pretty mellow soul (friends and family feel compelled to check for a pulse) who is usually slow to anger. But the ire that can consume us when we’re behind a wheel is contagious. Maybe it’s because we are not face-to-face with the objects of our displeasure.
The thing about rage is once it’s unleashed, you never quite know where it will take you and those around you. So far, I’ve been lucky on the road and in life. I’ve never paid a steep, long-lasting price for losing my cool though I certainly have made bad matters worse. I always feel embarrassed after blowing a gasket.
So is it really worth risking your life and the lives of others to get somewhere as quickly as possible? To paraphrase The Good Book, for what shall it profit a man if he shall gain 15 feet or 15 minutes and lose his own license? Or a couple of hundred bucks? Or both? Or maybe even his freedom or his life?
John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website Celestialchuckle.com (https://celestialchuckle.com) with the meter running.