Armed, Extremely Dangerous, And On The Road

A former Ohio State football player, Will Smith, was killed in an apparent “road rage” incident last night in New Orleans.  Shortly before midnight Smith’s car was rear-ended by another vehicle, and the driver of the vehicle shot Smith multiple times and shot Smith’s wife as well.  Smith was pronounced dead at the scene, and the driver of the other car was charged with second-degree murder.

025c7293182a50bcc0f8e68d8fc47838It’s one of those senseless deaths that make you shake your head.  Of course, I heard about it only because the victim was a great defensive line star at OSU and one of the players that helped the Buckeyes win the 2003 National Championship.  But lots of people who aren’t pro athletes are victimized by “road rage.”  Statistics are hard to come by, but one recent report indicated that 1,500 people each year are hurt or killed in road rage incidents — and the number appears to be increasing.  If you’ve been out on the roads lately, you probably won’t find that difficult to believe.

Reports indicate that road rage incidents often start with something small, like a bad driving maneuver, or tailgating, or giving someone the finger, but they for some reason escalate to the point where cars are chasing each other at high rates of speed through rush-hour traffic, trying to run each other off the road, or following each other until one car stops and a physical confrontation occurs.  Who knows what set off the shooter in the Will Smith incident — but a simple rear-ending fender bender wouldn’t cause a rational, sober person to start spraying bullets.

It’s frightening to think that there are people so filled with anger just below the surface that one traffic incident or rude gesture could cause them to become so unhinged that they are willing to murder a complete stranger.  When you add loaded firearms to the mix, it becomes an even more terrifying scenario.

The lesson is clear — if you see someone driving aggressively, get out of the way.  Avoid eye contact or any form of provocation.  The old ’60s-era driving slogan has an even more pointed meaning these days:  Watch out for the other guy.

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Back, Safe And Sound

Yesterday we drove from Columbia, Missouri to Columbus, Ohio.  It’s a straight shot on I-70, and it was one of those journeys that offer the best and worst that the American interstate highway system has to offer.

At first we rolled through the Missouri and Illinois countryside on a sunny Sunday morning.  We racked up the miles and made good time on good roads, listening to the radio and marveling at the freedom of a fun weekend road trip.

DSC04124Then, as traffic picked up, we encountered the road rage crew — hyper-aggressive drivers who can’t stand to wait in the passing lane with everyone else.  If you drive, you know the type.  You first notice them in the rear-view mirror, darting back and forth through the traffic as they come barreling up.  Then they are upon you, passing cars on the right, stupidly flirting with a semi or two, squeezing into a too-small space in the passing lane left by a driver who still adheres to the quaint notion of maintaining an assured clear distance, and leaving the brake lights of law-abiding motorists flashing in their wake.  If they have to wait to pass, they show their impatience by swinging out to the left of the passing lane to see what is keeping them from driving 90.  I always feel safer when the ragers pass by without incident.

At the Indiana-Ohio border we caught up with the western edge of a slow-moving storm.  On a desolate stretch of road, traffic just stopped for no apparent reason.  We were out in the middle of nowhere in the blackness, the rain pelting down and the traffic inching forward, not knowing whether we were dealing with an accident or a road closure.  It was raining so hard that even putting the windshield wipers on rapid speed provided little visibility relief.  There was nothing to do but grit your teeth, stay alert to the traffic flow, and plow through the storm.  After traffic finally picked up again about 20 miles and an hour or so later, we had to deal with interstate truckers driving faster than conditions warranted to make up for lost time and coating our car with road water in the process.

The day ended with a drive down an unlighted country road in the downpour on our way to pick up Penny and Kasey from the kennel.  When we finally pulled into our garage, our dry and snug little house never looked so good.

What To Do With A Road Rage Warning?

The most recent edition of This Week New Albany — our local suburban newspaper — has a story about a road rage incident in our community and a warning from the police.

The incident involved two cars stopped at an intersection.  The drivers exchanged words — the police don’t know exactly what was said — then one of the drivers showed the other a gun.  When the threatened driver backed up, the driver with the gun leaned out of his car window and fired a shot.  Fortunately, he missed.

The article states that the police “cautioned people to be aware of letting verbal altercations escalate.”  No kidding!  But isn’t the big challenge of a road rage incident that you are dealing with a driver who is enraged and not thinking clearly?  No rational person would respond to any comment by a stranger in a nearby car by firing a shot.  How can you possibly predict whether the person who cut you off, or who you honked your horn at because he hasn’t moved after the light turns green, has just lost his job, broken up with his girlfriend, or experienced some other action that has driven him over the edge of reason?

I don’t argue with other drivers, and I try to avoid eye contact with people I think are driving erratically.  However, you can’t drive safely without interacting to some extent with other cars — and their potentially unbalanced drivers.  You just have to keep your fingers crossed and hope that you don’t run across someone who has lost it, is armed, and is ready to act out his frustrations.

Road Rage

Today my boring drive to work in the morning became more exciting than I would have wished. It was about 7:15 a.m., and I was heading west on I-670 and nearing downtown. Traffic was moderately heavy on the three-lane highway. I was in the far left lane when I saw sudden movement in my rear-view mirror. In a flash, a car going much faster than the general traffic flow darted out from behind a car in the lane to my right, sped up, and cut right in front of me, missing my front right bumper by inches. As my adrenalin surged and I cursed that driver I noticed another car behind me that was flashing its headlights and driving recklessly in pursuit of the first car. The two cars then chased each other down the road, swerving through the rush-hour traffic. As I approached the stop light on Third Street, I saw one of the two cars come dangerously close to the other, and then the drivers rolled down their windows and proceeded to yell at each other, their raised voices matched by angry gestures. Fortunately, both drivers stayed in their cars and the situation did not escalate; one car turned right, another went straight ahead, and that was that.

This particular instance of road rage ended without any violence, but it still was very disturbing. Angry, reckless drivers on a busy road put everyone at risk. And when I witness one of these kinds of incidents, I always think two things: first, what has caused these two people to snap; and second, what if one of them has a gun?