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THE SAFETY ZONE | JERRY HICKS

Don't Cross the Line of Road Rage

May 22, 2000|JERRY HICKS

A line in the California Driver Handbook offers dynamite advice, although you never see it on the written tests:

"There are certain drivers you should give a lot of room to."

Problem is, the handbook doesn't go far enough. In its list of those to give a wide berth--confused tourists, distracted drivers, those coming out of driveways--it leaves out the most important one.

Drivers consumed by road rage.

You see them all the time. Maybe you know someone who's been one of them. It doesn't take much to push some drivers to the boiling point.

"Some people just have short fuses," said Officer Brian Lian, spokesman for the California Highway Patrol's San Juan Capistrano division. "They're having a bad day, family problems; they carry it onto the road with them."

Road rage results in accidents. And not just fender benders. The Automobile Assn. of America Foundation recently completed a study of 10,000 incidents nationwide in which the police determined a violent aggressive driver (road rager) was involved. The study showed those incidents resulted in 218 deaths and 12,610 injuries.

Road rage is not a new topic. I bring it up now because I've discovered something about my own driving habits I'm not pleased about.

No, I'm not a road-rage driver. I'm almost worse: I'm one of those who reacts to them. Which means, if I don't change my habits, I may be a road-rage victim. Or someone in my vehicle will be.

The Automobile Club of Southern California offers some great advice on how to avoid being the victim of someone consumed by road rage. Frankly, they're not easy tips to follow. My natural instinct is to push back with my own anger. But I'm going to take it to heart, and I ask you to do the same.

The first advice: Don't offend.

When drivers were asked why they lost control of their tempers on the roadway, most responded that the other driver (you and me) did something to offend them. Here's how to keep from offending:

* When changing lanes, use your turn signal to let someone know you're coming. Don't cut in and force the other driver to hit the brakes.

* Don't drive slowly in the left lane. Even if you aren't violating the law, you're making someone steam. Be the kind of driver willing to move to let someone pass.

* Don't tailgate. My own response to tailgaters is to flash my emergency blinkers. It backs those drivers off immediately. But then, maybe it's making them angry too.

* Gestures. OK, I'm guilty here. Big Time. Says the Auto Club: "Almost nothing makes another driver angrier than an obscene gesture. Even harmless expressions of irritation like shaking your head can anger another driver."

Next best advice: Don't engage. One angry driver cannot start a fight unless you're willing to join in. The Auto Club gives a pretty good example: If you're thinking of retaliation, ask yourself, "Would I want to fly in an airplane whose pilot was acting like this?"

The best way to not engage is to steer clear. And avoid eye contact.

Final advice: Adjust your own attitude. Forget winning. Don't make driving a contest.

The best adjustment, the Auto Club says, is to put yourself in the other driver's shoes:

"Instead of judging the other driver, try to imagine why he or she is driving that way. Stay cool and don't take other drivers' actions personally."

*

Readers may reach Hicks by calling (714) 966-7789 or e-mail to jerry.hicks@latimes.com

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