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June 26, 2012

My Point Is...Road rage, or bad driving

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Every year we hear stories of road rage, some of us even experiencing it personally. It’s a common occurrence in this hustle-bustle age where traveling is a part of nearly everyone’s lifestyle.

Just a glimpse at the traffic flow along Interstate 75 through London is proof. Tourism officials estimate 36,000 vehicles pass through London via the Interstate every 24 hours. During the summer vacation season, those numbers are probably higher and possibly drop during the winter season, exempting the holiday season travelers.

With so many vehicles on the road with drivers ranging from experienced and inexperienced, intoxicated and sober, and the vehicles themselves differentiating from large semi-trucks to motorcycles, why there are increased rates in accidents is really no wonder.

Nor are the rates of road rage.

Last week, I had to fight my instincts and display extreme self-control when a semi-truck and trailer edged into my lane along the Interstate. First of all, the truck began maneuvering into my lane before ever giving a signal of the driver’s intentions. I know this as a fact because I always pay attention when I approach a vehicle bigger than my van and/or one with blue lights attached.

Seeing what was about to happen, I immediately slammed my brakes, allowing the semi to switch lanes. I tried to rationalize that perhaps I was in a blind spot of the semi driver, although the experience left me somewhat jittery deep inside my stomach and my heart sped up just as fast as I had just slowed down.

The road rage came when the semi-truck, once fully in the lane I was driving in, almost immediately pulled back into the lane it had been in — as if the driver was intentionally trying to either hit me or slow me down. (I was actually doing the speed limit at the time.)

Accelerating back up to 70 mph which I was maintaining before the truck pulled in front of me, I quickly passed the semi, laying down on my horn as I sped by the offender. I told my ‘co-pilot’ — granddaughter Hannah — to stick her hand out the window and wave at him as we went by, strictly defining ‘wave’ rather than using an obscene gesture that my inward rage instructed me to do.

The semi-truck driver probably never heard my horn as I passed his vehicle, drowned out by the roar of other trucks in front and beside it. He probably never noticed Hannah waving out the window. But I realized during this situation that the impression I made on Hannah was one that could affect her attitude when she experiences similar situations. Flipping the semi-driver an obscene gesture could mold her attitude toward her fellow drivers in the future.

I once heard a horror story of a man who ‘cut off’ another driver, resulting in the two men pulling off the road and engaging in a verbal argument that became physical and then fatal. When words escalated to a physical altercation, the man being threatened with physical attack defended himself by pulling a gun from his car and shooting the other man, fatally wounding him and causing his death.

Anyone who gets behind the wheel of a vehicle of any size has a responsibility to drive defensively. That’s a no-brainer. It’s human nature to react, sometimes negatively, when dangerous situations occur. It’s normal to be scared and even angry when these situations happen. But it is a demonstration of maturity and responsibility to turn that negative experience into a lesson of self-control and a demonstration of always being aware of your surroundings to avoid potential accidents.

So, if I cut you off as you’re changing lanes or if I nearly back into you as we’re both pulling out of a parking spot, just remember that those with you could be affected by the way we act and react to these situations. Rage inspires rage and angry words and gestures can result in dangerous or deadly situations.

Drive safely and always wear your seat belt. And make sure you pay your insurance, just in case the inevitable happens.

njohnson@sentinel-echo.com

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