ROBERTA POLING of Ellicott City recently recounted an experience she had with an aggressive driver who let himself boil over into road rage. It happened last summer.
I was waiting "at the traffic light on Little Patuxent Parkway by the [Columbia] mall entrance by Provident Bank. The through light was green when I got there, but the left-turn light was red. I guess I am used to the light going through the cycle before the left-turn light turns green, so I missed when the light turned green before the cycle," she recalled.
"The light could not have been [green for] more than a few seconds when this truck behind me just laid on his horn. Not a little beep to let me know the light had changed - he did not let up. I looked up into my rearview mirror and he was getting out of his car as I guess I did not move fast enough for him," she said. She stepped on the gas.
"As the lane turned into two lanes, he pulled in front of me and almost stopped. I was headed to the bank, and he also turned into the bank, he was in front of me at this time. He pulled over to the side of the road by the drive-in, and I continued around to the drive-in and got in line. He blocked the exit driveway. While I was at the drive-in he got out of his truck and just looked at me. Then he gets back in his truck and drove around the drive-in through the ATM lane beside me and drives really slow," she said.
"I'm thinking this guy is some kind of a nut and didn't know what he would do. I was also thinking that for someone who was in such a hurry to get through the light he didn't seem to be in such a hurry now. I keep a cell phone in my car for emergencies and got it out and was ready to call 911 if he came close," she said.
Poling was able to leave the bank without further incident, but she remembers watching to ensure he was not following her.
"I was so amazed at someone acting like this because I was a couple seconds moving at a traffic light. I was totally amazed and shocked. It's getting scary out there," Poling said.
From what I'm hearing, incidents like this are not unusual. But they are stupid and, occasionally, more than a little scary. While most aggressive driving is not taken to this extreme, most of us have driven aggressively at one time or another.
It has been estimated that up to 85 percent of us are aggressive drivers. Test your driving behavior with the quiz below.
When a driver cuts you off, do you:
A. Curse under your breath at the guilty party?
B. Gesture unkindly toward the driver?
C. Try to get in front of the driver so you can cut him or her off?
D. Try not to get too angry and ignore the transgression?
When a driver signals to get into your lane, do you:
A. Prevent the driver from getting in front of you only if he or she is driving a vehicle that prevents you from seeing around it?
B. Prevent the driver from getting in front of you only if the car has handicapped license plates?
C. Speed up, closing the gap between you and the car in front to prevent anyone from getting in front of you?
D. Allow the driver to get in front of you, if conditions permit it to be done safely, regardless of the type of vehicle?
As a motorist, if you make a driving error, do you:
A. Pretend it never happened?
B. Say, emphatically, "I'm a good driver, I don't make mistakes?"
C. Blame it on the other driver?
D. Admit you are capable of making errors in driving judgment? .
When driving, do you:
A. Correct the other driver's transgressions?
B. Sometimes brake suddenly to retaliate against a driver who is tailgating?
C. Sometimes chase another car in a "duel?"
D. Always go within 5 mph of the posted speed limit, conditions permitting?
If you answered A, B or C to any of the questions, you are an aggressive driver.
That does not mean you have to die that way. Changing your behavior can help prolong your life (and the lives of those on the road with you) and probably reduce your stress level.
Despite the emotional immaturity some people display when behind the wheel, most are probably perfectly nice human beings - the kind of people we would not mind having for neighbors and friends.
But it makes sense for all of us to change our aggressive behavior. And change can begin only when we recognize the behavior for what it is: dangerous and stupid.
What are your experiences with aggressive drivers?
What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at firstname.lastname@example.org or send faxes to 410-715-2816. Technophobes can mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 5570 Sterrett Place, Suite 300, Columbia 21044.