In a different event, Gerardo Arguello and Norman Segundo used their minivan to chase down Ryan McCaffery, another motorist, and then beat him savagely with a baseball bat. McCaffery’s “crime?” He pulled in ahead of Arguello and Segundo on an on-ramp. Arguello and Segundo probably lost about 30 meters of road space; for that, they have rendered a father of two unable to earn a living, and nearly made a widow of his wife.
WHAT would make someone DO something like this? How could anyone want to take a father away from two children for the sake of a few seconds on a highway?
I am glad that helmet cams and cell phones are making it really hard for people to get away with this kind of senseless road rage. I feel like it detracts from our common humanity that these kinds of things even HAPPEN.
Sadly, road rage is very common. Even more sadly, It seems that it is just an extreme version of what happens to most of us when we get behind the wheel of a car. The nicest person in the world can become hostile while driving. As early as 1902, Otto Bierbaum wrote about how shocked he was by the road rage he experienced during a road trip:
“Never in my life have I been cursed at so frequently as on my automobile trip in the year 1902 … not to mention all the wordless curses: shaking fists, stuck-out tongues, bared behinds and others besides.”
And this was when speed limits had just been raised from 4 miles per hour to 14 miles per hour! And Britain had just abolished a law that had every car being preceded by a man carrying a red flag to warn other road users on horses, bikes or their own two feet.
There seems to just be something about being in a car that strips away our humanity. Certainly I have found myself feeling ashamed by my OWN behavior when I am driving a car. In no time at all I find myself cursing about the stupidity of other drivers.
I fear my children learned to swear while being driven around by me.
And other drivers do the same to me. Sometimes they honk loudly if I take a second too long to pull off from a light.
Yet if I am in a supermarket and pause longingly in front of the ice-cream fridge, other people will say, “Excuse me,” rather than knock me to the ground, or attack me with baseball bats (fortunately). And even though I may get irritated if someone chooses the center of an aisle in Costco to stop and have a think, I will just politely go around the person, rather than attempt to beat the impolite shopper to death with a baseball bat (which is why I am still free to write a blog, rather than locked up in maximum security).
As reader Janine commented in a previous post, “I seem to remember an ICBC commercial from a few years ago showing pedestrians tailgating one another with the tag line something like: “You wouldn’t walk like this – so why drive like this?”
Let’s face it, every Saturday would see a massacre in Costco if people in stores displayed the same kind of road rage that people exhibit in cars. So why is it so different when we are driving than when we are shopping?
Reader Alex P commented in a previous post: “I found it quite interesting to read in the book “Traffic: Why we Drive the Way we Do” how drivers of top-down convertibles are less likely to rage.”
So perhaps, it just comes down to cowardliness? Do people just behave badly when they are cloaked in the protection of a car?
But that does not explain it. Most people are NOT evil, psychopathic bullies, just waiting for anonymity so that they can kill people. So what happens when we are driving? This cartoon captures the abrupt Jekyll and Hyde transformation that afflicts so many people while driving.
Illustration from The Factual Opinion
It seems that in traffic, we struggle to maintain our basic humanity. Perhaps it is because when we are in traffic, we are deprived of something important that makes us human: the power of speech (rich torrents of foul abuse notwithstanding).
By contrast, during a recent bike ride, I had to brake sharply when a cyclist in front of me stopped suddenly in a traffic circle. I had a flash of anger, wondering what she was doing. Then I saw she was waving a car to go ahead of her. Before my anger could move from my brain to my mouth, the cyclist noticed me an inch behind her rear wheel, and flashed me a big smile:
“He looked like he was in a hurry, so I thought I’d let him go ahead.”
“No problem,” I said, returning the smile.
This cyclist had irritated me for a second, but then she dissolved my anger with her words. Plus, we had smiled at each other. Some researchers think that people cannot read each other’s emotions over a distance of more than three meters, and that this may be what causes road rage. In any event, this brief conversation turned the event into a friendly human encounter – rather than making the 6’oclock news as yet another senseless example of road rage.
If we had been in cars, would I have become so insanely angry that I would have chased her down and tried to beat her to death with a baseball bat? Or knocked her off her bike, then jumped out of my car to pound her with my fists while she was lying on the ground?
Obviously not, because I am mainly sane, and I do try to be a decent human being – but I might very well have honked rudely.
ALL motorists are prevented from effective communication by their isolated mode of transport – 5 tons or more of steel. Maybe that’s why all motorists get mad from time to time – and some take it way too far.
Perhaps we need to re-examine a way of life that forces most people to spend more time in isolation in traffic jams than with their family, and that seems to bring out the very worst side of people – road rage that makes most of us rude and hostile, and turns some people into dangerous, psychopathic criminals?
Here is a video about a different way of dealing with road rage:
That’s cute, but I don’t think it would fix the overall problem of road rage.
In my opinion, the problem could be overcome by limiting inner city travel to bicycles, foot traffic, horses, and buses – all of which provide an opportunity for real human communication, whether verbal and non-verbal.
All I know for sure is that I am SICK of road rage. Being in a car should NOT give a person license to behave like a psychopath! Get over it. Don’t be a coward hiding behind 5 tons of steel – be a human being!
What do you think? You can comment below if you are logged into Facebook, Yahoo, or Hotmail, or if you have an email address.
(I originally published an earlier version of this post in the Vancouver Observer.)
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