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Road Rage Is Nothing New

January 24, 1998

After allegedly taunting and bumping another driver, two women were killed when their car made a U-turn into traffice on an Interstate 5 offramp. Some people called it another example of "road rage" plaguing Southern California freeways. Why do driving's daily frustrations suddenly escalate into homicidal confrontations for some drivers? JIM BLAIR talked with a psychiatrist and a California Highway Patrol officer to find out.

SGT. ERNIE GARCIA

California Highway Patrol, Los Angeles

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Obviously, some people get angry and bothered. We have people on the road who could have a mental problem or very stressful situation. They could be underthe influence of illegal drugs or alcohol. But "road rage" is not a new phenomenon. In the past, people have gotten angry and used their cars as weapons. It isn't rampant, but it is getting more media attention, sometimes erroneously so.

Sometimes, a disagreement in a residence or a public place occurs and the people get into their vehicles. They pursue each other. A violent act may occur. The media classifies it as "road rage" and it is not. That's a terrible error.

In California, we have the lowest mileage/death rate in the nation. In 1996, we reduced fatalities to the lowest figure in 35 years--in spite of more than 19 million licensed drivers and others who have no license: 1.43 deaths per 100 million miles traveled. That was an all-time low. All the figures aren't in for 1997 yet, but they will show approximately 400 fewer deaths than 1996.

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RODERIC GORNEY, professor of psychiatry, UCLA

As a phenomenon, "road rage" is neither new nor unique but a manifestation of an accumulation of frustration from birth through adulthood called "displacedrevenge" seen commonly when people yell at their secretaries, beat their wives or, on the freeway, behave with aggressive violence. And, because we live in an intensely competitive world, there's a tremendous temptation to treat anybody who gets in our way, especially if they do something on the freeway that seems to justify being enraged at them, as a competitor--even an enemy--to be defeated.

Those who are predisposed to this behavior usually know it. They know, for example, they're likely to swear or smash something when they're frustrated and react with sudden bursts of fury when they're driving.

It's incumbent on all of us to recognize this in ourselves. We can develop a little mantra: "Slow down. Be serene. Breath deeply." Say those six words to yourself every time you get in the car and it's likely to remind your nervous system to be on guard against the danger of an eruption.

What You Should Do

The following are recommendations from the Automobile Club of Southern California, which studied more than 10,000 violent aggressive driving incidents nationwide between 1990 and 1996.

* Don't offend. Don't cut other drivers off. Don't drive slowly in the leftor passing lane. Don't tailgate. Don't make obscene gestures.

* Don't engage. Give angry drivers plenty of room. Avoid eye contact. If you're being followed get help; call police on a cell phone or drive to a populated place. Do not go home.

* Adjust your attitude. Forget winning. Put yourself in the other driver's shoes. If you think you have a problem with managing your anger get help.

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