The smartest fighter is the one who avoids the fight in the first place. When it comes to handling “road rage” incidents, the same rule holds. It’s just not worth making your point about a bad lane change when the consequences could escalate into a shoulder shootout.
Here are some tips to help avoid getting drawn into a road rage situation in the first place – and for defusing tension if one develops despite your best intentions:
First and foremost, be a courteous driver
That means not cutting into line (or cutting anyone off) as well as allowing other drivers to merge. Also, it’s good policy to let let faster-moving cars to get by you – even if they are going over the posted speed limit. Even if they’re speeding and you’re doing the limit, it’s courteous as well as safer for you and everyone else to simply yield, move right, and let faster-moving cars pass.
If the car ahead slows down abruptly, you could and probably will rear-end him. Even if there’s no accident, riding close to another car’s bumper is a hostile act that can quickly get out of hand. Always give the car ahead at least a car length’s space; preferably two (or even three). Crowding other drivers will only make them nervous – or angry. You might tempt someone to slam on their brakes – to “teach you a lesson.” If there’s an accident, you will probably be ticketed for following too closely.
Do not glare at other drivers or make rude gestures
You have no way of knowing whether the other motorist you’re making faces at is near the end of his rope on this particular day – and just looking for someone to go off on. He may have just been fired, or his wife flew the coop – and he’s not about to take any guff from you. Even if another driver does something obnoxious, it’s better just to let it go. If you are a woman or have kids with you, avoiding angry, potentially violent male road-ragers is especially crucial.
Avoid mean-spirited actions
For example, darting in to an open parking spot that another driver was obviously waiting for. This is a great way to get a tire iron shampoo. Also: Don’t block driveways or double park your car. And obviously, using a handicapped spot if you’re not actually handicapped is a major breach of etiquette.
In the event you do something dumb behind the wheel – but not deliberately aggressive – such as inadvertently pulling out in front of someone you didn’t see and almost causing an accident, or jump your turn at a four-way intersection because you weren’t paying attention – the thing to do is immediately signal your apologies to other motorists with a smile and “oops, I’m sorry!” hand gesture than lets them know you know you made a mistake. Don’t bully on through and act as though nothing is wrong. Do the right thing and the problem almost always goes away.
How to deal with another driver’s road rage
If you find yourself in a situation where another motorist is clearly angry with you – rightly or not – and seems intent on following you, or acting aggressively, don’t allow yourself to be caught up in the game.
- If a guy rolls down his window and starts cursing at you, do not respond.
- Keep your window rolled up – and avoid eye contact.
- Get moving – and get away – as soon as you can.
- Never, ever get out of your car to “discuss” things with another motorist. We live in a crazy age, and you could find yourself looking down the barrel of a gun. Or facing some loon with a baseball bat.
- Just drive on. In the event you get followed, don’t drive home – or stop your car.
- Find a cop and get his attention – or use your cell phone to dial 911.
- If possible, let your harasser see you talking on the phone; that’s often enough to make him break off.
- If no cop is around and you are frightened by someone attempting to follow you, stay on well-traveled roads. Avoid pulling off onto a side street.
- If you can find a busy shopping center parking lot or similar public place where people are milling about – go there and see if the person follows you. If he does, honk your horn repeatedly to attract the attention of passers-by and – hopefully – security patrols. It’s not likely you pursuer will stick with you.
- If you can, jot down the plate number of the car, as well as the make, model and color.
- File a police report – if the encounter seemed serious enough to warrant that.
But whatever you do, don’t be tempted to play “Mad Max.” Leave that to Mel Gibson. Arrive home – and arrive alive.
This is a guest post by automotive columnist Eric Peters, check him out on the web at www.ericpetersautos.com.