It happens at 70 miles per hour. On the interstate you get slowed down by a tractor trailer going up hill so you merge into the center lane. Behind you a sports car speeds right up to your bumper and lays down on the horn. In the mirror you see him yelling and flipping you the bird. He shoots to the far left lane and gets window to window with you to call you all sorts of names. He’s red-faced and looks out of control. What do you do?
I’ll tell you from my personal experience how you can survive road rage when it strikes.
On the interstate in a large city I was driving along on a beautiful day. I was heading home and had two people riding with me. In front of us a complex traffic situation developed at the fault of someone else that caused me to make an evasive lane change. In doing so I cut off a small, white sedan.
While I never want cut anyone off, it was understandable because of the desperate circumstances. I cleared what could have been a deadly crash and my heart was racing. As I looked behind me in the mirror to see that everything worked out, my passenger alerted me to a large silver truck that was pulling up beside us.
As the drama unfolded at 60 mph I decided that it didn’t matter why he was angry, he just was.
As I looked over I observed a man looking down at me from behind the wheel of his quad cab Ram truck. His face was bloodshot red and his teeth were bared. It doesn't take an expert FBI profiler to understand that he was angry at me. I wondered why? I didn’t cause that problem back there. I moved to keep myself and the two people with me alive. No one got hurt. No cars were wrecked. What was this guy’s problem? Where did he come from? As the drama unfolded at 60 mph I decided that it didn’t matter why he was angry, he just was.
(Stock photo of an interstate flyover bridge similar to the one I was on.)
We both merged onto a two lane flyover bridge that connected two busy interstates. He continued to yell, point and spit in my direction. My situational awareness kicked in and I concluded several things from his truck.
The driver was caucasian, tan and older than me. The right arm that I could see was ripped, he worked out. There were POW and other pro-military stickers on his car including a white outline of an AR platform rifle. My profile led me to understand he was current or former military. This meant he was trained in combat and most likely had a gun in the truck. He kept motioning that I should pull over.
That wasn’t going to happen.
It was in the best interest of everyone that I keep going. So I kept in my lane and held my ground. I felt if I tried to blow past him it was only make him more enraged. His engine was better than mine and he most likely had a gun. I wasn’t going to win this.
Twice he tried to speed up, move over and use the back of his truck to push me off the road. That would have resulted in hitting the thin concrete barrier of the bridge. I feared that barrier wouldn’t hold in a collision and we’d break through and land on the interstate 25 feet below.
I dodged both of his attempts and sped up to keep him from getting in front of me so he couldn’t slam on breaks and stop me that way. We never made contact. I credit all my years of watching NASCAR for that strategy. But it was my intuition also. I knew how he could stop me and I instinctively knew how to keep that from happening.
"Twice he tried to speed up, move over and use the back of his truck to push me off the road."
I feared this wasn’t going to end well. What did this guy want? I had nowhere to go, we’re still on that two lane flyover bridge. Finally I looked right at him, held up my hand in a peaceful, acknowledging way and mouthed very clearly “I’m sorry.” His ripped right arm dropped at bit as if he was taken back. Then, mercifully, a car behind the truck honked his horn.
I looked down to see that we had slowed to about 45 mph and were now holding up traffic. The horn honk seemed to break the guy’s concentration. The right arm returned to the wheel and he took off. Just as quickly as it began, it ended.
He seemed only to want me to acknowledge that I was responsible for his anger. I can only surmise my quick lane change to save the lives of three people was offensive to him. He didn’t see the full picture. But I felt an apology was the only way to cool him down, and it was. I was sorry the was upset with me, but his anger was misplaced.
About a month later I read a passage from Chris Kyle’s book, “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. History”. Mr. Kyle was recounting what life was like when he would visit home:
"On the darker side, I was extremely hot-headed. I have always had a temper, even before becoming a SEAL. But it was more explosive now. If someone cut me off - not a very rare occurrence in California - I could get crazy. I might try and run them off the road, or even stop and whup their a**. I had to work on calming down."
I figured this is what happened to the gentlemen in the Ram truck. Based on my profile, he saw something he believed to be wrong and he took it upon himself to make it right. While I admire his spirit, it wasn’t the right course of action and he didn’t handle himself well. Thankfully for the both of us, I wasn’t a hot-head too.
So what can you learn from my situation?
Target vs Victim
I was a target of road rage, not a victim. A victim would have pulled over and who know what would have occurred on the side of the interstate. I chose to keep my distance and keep going. Just like you teach your children, do not submit to a bully - even at 70 mph. Even if you intentionally cut someone off while on the phone, the aggressor has no right to harm or malign you. The laws for your state still apply in road rage, it’s not the wild west.
Do NOT Reciprocate
The reason I was able to keep myself and my passengers safe was because I kept my cool. Never stoop to the level of the aggressor. As the target of road rage you have the burden of keeping yourself safe, other drivers safe and of course the hot-head. You must be the bigger person. Keep yourself calm and focus on your surroundings.
Diffuse the Situation
In my case the only real option I had was to try to diffuse the situation. I chose to hold my hand up in a nonthreatening way and mouth very deliberately “I’m sorry”. This gives the road rage driver validation of their feelings and emotions. Apologize even if you didn’t do anything wrong. Being safe is better than being right.
I was unable to get away in my situation. If diffusing the situation fails, I suggest you get away from road rage driver. Look for a heavily populated area where other people can help or at least be a witness for you. Do not speed away and try to outrun the angry driver, this will only increase the chances of someone getting hurt. If you stop and are confronted by the driver, stay in your car. Make sure when you put your car in park that the doors do not unlock. Stay inside the vehicle and call the police.
Use Situational Awareness
Thanks to my mindset I was able to keep myself and my passengers safe. My situational awareness skills worked flawlessly to give me an idea of what I should do. I was able to build ,what I believe to be, an accurate profile of the angry driver based on car stickers, physical characteristics and body language. I was aware of my surroundings and adjusted to them.
Please read my series on situation awareness for families and my article on what car stickers say about you. These skills can keep you safe.
Be the Example
If targeted for road rage with your child in the car, your priority is their protection. Keep calm, diffuse the situation and seek help if you need it. This will be a great example to your children of how to be calm in crisis. They will learn from your actions, so use your manners. Be the good example of a calm, polite driver who is above road rage.
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