On Thursday, March 2nd, a usually quiet, northeast area of our Nation’s capital bore witness to a very unfortunate event. Some have called what transpired an act of road rage and others simply labeled it as a straightforward case of aggravated assault, but, regardless of the terminology, there’s no denying that the end result was nothing short of a tragedy.
In summary, a man frustrated by construction zone traffic was witnessed as getting out of his truck and proceeding to toss traffic cones out of the way—presumably to allow his vehicle passage. A member of the on-premise construction crew intervened and things quickly got out of hand: heated words turned into a punch to the head; the unruly driver was rendered unconscious, never to wake up—and a day later the incident was ruled a homicide.
While bizarre at best, this is a situation that should not be taken lightly—aggression as a part of the modern driving experience is all-too-common, and the results can often involve injury and property damage. So what causes irritation behind the wheel to escalate beyond something that’s resolvable with a shoulder shrug or a wave? How should a driver react when faced with road rage?
Ultimately, you’ll want to act in whatever way will defuse the situation the quickest. This is not the time to point out that your left turn was perfectly legal or that the other drive had no business straddling two lanes of traffic with their family camper.
Steer clear – if you sense that a confrontation might be brewing, avoidance is always the best policy. A fight takes at least two participants, and giving the angry individual a wide berth takes you out of the equation.
Adjust your attitude – just as you might twist your side mirror to get a better view of what’s occurring around you, so should you adjust your demeanor to get a better perspective on the events that are unfolding. If you detect a flaring temper nearby, it’s not going to help if you get heated as well.
Keep your hands on the wheel – sure, it’s always good advice to maintain a grip at 10 and 2 o’clock in preparation for any evasive maneuvers… but mainly it’s the best way to keep you from making any gestures that will most likely get you into hotter water. Reverse the situation; if you wouldn’t take it well, then don’t offer it to someone else.
What you will definitely want to do if an altercation occurs is to note the other driver’s license plate. Remember that many acts of road rage are considered a criminal offense and you might need to involve the police. Above all else, stay in your vehicle. You never know what someone may do in a rage—including use their car as a weapon against you. Property damage can be repaired, but your life cannot be replaced.
Both an Emory School of Law graduate and MBA graduate of Goizueta Business School at Emory, Chris Nace focuses his practice on areas of medical malpractice, drug and product liability, motor vehicle accidents, wrongful death, employment discrimination and other negligence and personal injury matters.