Safety is our first and #1 need and when our safety switch is flipped, even mild-mannered individuals behind the wheel of an automobile are capable of becoming stark-raving lunatics. Road rage is serious business. Road rage is an expression of chronic cultural stress acted out in dangerous ways. Unless we are driving a Smart Car or a Prius, an automobile can make us feel powerful. The power of the engine somehow travels up the steering column into the hands grasping the wheel.
In addition, conscious or unconscious meaning exists between an owner and his/her automobile. An automobile for many persons may be a status symbol. It may be an expression of how I see myself. In my son’s late adolescence, he spent a small fortune on his truck, lowering the chassis, chrome rims, big tires, neon lighting, and stereo systems with speakers powerful enough to bring down small airplanes. In and out of his subculture, his truck screamed like a strutting peacock, “NOTICE ME.” An automobile can be seen as an extension and expression of my own identity, depending on the make, model, and the price tag. An automobile also provides us with an entitled place where we believe we are supposed to feel safe. We tend to believe we are supposed to feel safe in “our own space,” which especially includes our automobiles.
The activation of the rage sensor occurs when a fellow motorist rides too closely to our bumper, cuts us off, or gives the one-finger salute. When this happens at interstate speeds of 70 miles per hour or higher, the immediate reaction of anger, or “rage”, is because our need for safety has been disrupted and destabilized by the blatant injustice or incompetence of another driver.
Free-floating anger is chronic anger looking for a target to attack. Persons carrying free-floating anger are like thunderclouds ready to discharge lightning bolts. Road rage is often an incident from a random encounter. Someone you do not knowbecomes the target for all the free-floating anger and anxiety going on in your life. With a constant state of chronic stress, anxiety, and anger floating around, a sudden threat to safety is escalated by the heightened reaction of a driver or passenger with his/her finger on the trigger of an automatic weapon or the vehicle itself becoming a 3000-pound battering ram. Violence, if not diffused, will always escalate.
So what should you do if you find yourself the target of a road rage incident?
1) Assess the threat. Is this someone who is three lanes over giving you the finger because they don’t like your FSU sticker on your car or someone in the parking lot who has stalked up behind you carrying a loaded 9mm threatening to shoot you if you don’t give them your keys? If it is not an immediate threat don’t give it any of your energy.
2) Do not escalate. Don’t return the one finger salute.
3) Don’t get into a shouting match. Verbal violence always precedes physical violence. Remember, there are any number of people carrying loaded weapons in their cars. Don’t let a shouting match turn into a shooting match.
4) If possible, head for a place that is well lit and populated. If necessary, get out of the car and head inside the Travel Mart, Gas Station, or Restaurant.
5) Report aggressive drivers. If you are being tailgated or if other drivers are making threats call 911. Better yet, have someone else in the car make the call. Try not to appear ruffled or intimidated. Be casual. Note the make and color of the car and the tag number if you can get it.