Provocative, isn’t it? But, if you think about – really think about it – you’ll see it’s not far from the truth.
Or, as Mark Shaw, president of AAA Southern New England, put it recently: “We all need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are that ‘other guy.'” In this instance, the “other guy” being the “road-rager.”
There are many crises gripping the country right now: the economy is tanking, housing is hosed, new-car sales are in left field and the stock market is like a yo-yo. With all of this stress, it is little wonder that there are people out there who are taking it out not only on their cars, but the drivers around them.
Sociologists can and have debated the problem of road rage and some have likened it to mass alienation and division because cars, at once, give a driver a sense of personal space that is not to be violated and drivers believe they can do whatever they want to do in this hunk of rolling space. They can speed; change lanes abruptly; run red lights, and take chances that they normally would not take, especially if there is someone else in the car with them.
A famed study, conducted by a group of sociologists, looked at the problem of “road rage and this was the conclusion that was reached by the sociologists who found that the concept of a car as personal space had become quite engrained in our national thinking. Think about it for a moment and you can see that this is true!! How many times have you been driving along, minding your own business, maybe just looking at other drivers, only to see someone putting makeup because cars are, after all, an extension of your lavatory? Or, how about the drivers, who, for one reason or another, think nothing of reading a document as they drive, because cars, are, after all, extensions of their office space.
It’s getting to the point where folks feel like they can do just about anything they feel like doing behind the wheels because this is their personal space and if you invade that space you are violating some unwritten code or other about space. And because you have violated that “space” they have the right to get back at you.
Thus we have “road rage” incidents where, folks race others up the highway, zipping between lanes with little regard for the people in between – you and me – or where folks just have to beat that yellow light because it is their right to do so. It’s not a red light, is it; so getting their rolling personal space through the light is okay.
This is truly an epidemic problem, points out Mark Shaw, president of AAA Southern New England. In the last 15 years, he noted recently, there have been 40,000 car-related fatalities per year. Put in total, this means that 600,000 folks have lost their lives due to auto accidents.
“The numbers are staggering, but somehow there is a lack or urgency when it comes to improving traffic safety,” he noted. “Thousands of people die on our roads each year and many in crashes involving unsafe behaviors completely under a driver’s control.
The AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety identified speeding as a factor in nearly one in three fatal crashes. Speed is something definitely within the control of the driver because if you back down a bit, you’ll be lots safer.
Let’s look at it this way, say you are cruising at 65 mph and someone comes along enters your “personal space” and does something you don’t like. Usually, hormones take over at this point and the usual reaction is that you just have to show the other driver what you’re made of. This can lead to racing, abrupt lane changing and other behaviors that not only put you at risk, but anyone within 150 yards of you and the other driver. It’s at a time like this that you should walk away, but most people don’t. They rise to this occasion by pushing the accelerator down and moving out.
That many people really can’t handle speed – as studies have shown – doesn’t mean they won’t speed and there comes a point where a front end gets a little squirrely and the driver panics, leading to a crash and injury or worse.
The AAA research group noted that as many as 56 percent of fatal crashes involved speeding, failing to yield the right of way, improper passing or following and improper lane changing. They also found that there was illegal driving on the road’s shoulder and racing.
“Any one of these actions committed deliberately out of impatience or hostility,” Shaw notes, would be considered aggressive driving (“road rage”). This is undoubtedly a traffic safety concern, as these are driving behaviors in which the average motor occasionally, or perhaps even frequently engages.”
Road rage poses a risk to everyone, he notes, because it can make us the victim or aggressor. All it takes is a little edginess to swing from one side to the other.
This national epidemic of speed, if you will, is not something that is isolated or limited to a certain segment of the population. You can either be its victim or its collaborator and you never really will know when this particular green-eyed monster will raise its ugly specter in your rearview. It might be someone who’s following too closely or someone who has cut you off or it might be someone who has beaten you through a light and, of course, you just can’t let that happen, right?
Or, as Shaw notes, “Average Americans are engaging in aggressive diving and many of us frequently engage in behaviors most likely to contribute to fatal accidents.” You can’t put it much more bluntly than that when the leader of one of the country’s larger AAA groups puts it that way and has evidence to back it up.
He also has a solid piece of advice. It’s time we took a good look at ourselves in the mirror to decide whether we want this roadway carnage to continue or to step out of the way and become part of the solution, not the problem.
“We all need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are that ‘other guy’ – the guy who causes the incident or are we the cure?
There is an upside to this, though, and that is that we have the power to correct this problem by just slowing down, taking a little more time and having more patience. Leaving for work a little earlier in the morning; allowing more time to get to that meeting will mean you don’t have to race to get to your destination.
This is a problem that only be solved in two ways: first, by small steps on the part of all drivers and second by larger steps on the part of all drivers as a whole who will have to realize that they are not only the problem, but also the cure.