Driving aggressively is not worth the fight

TRAFFIC TALK

March 16, 2004|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ARE YOU an aggressive driver? I recently asked people I see everyday whether they thought they were aggressive drivers. And you know what? Not one aggressive driver lives in my neighborhood.

But I wonder how much we misjudge ourselves.

If you think the aggressive driver is driving in the lane next to yours, think again. Then ask yourself these questions to check your aggressiveness on the roads:

Do you ever speed?

Do you ever change lanes and fail to signal your intent?

Have you ever tailgated another driver?

Do you take out your frustrations behind the wheel?

Have you ever lost your cool when another driver did a really stupid thing?

Have you ever helped box (on purpose) another driver in?

Do you swear out loud at another driver (even if it is obvious that driver cannot hear you) while driving?

Have you ever "raced the clock" to get to where you should have been five minutes ago?

Alas, I am an aggressive driver. But once I realized I was probably training my young sons to be aggressive drivers, I decided to fight the urge to engage others in the race.

While aggressive driving does not inevitably lead to its most extreme form, road rage, it is clear that many of us drive more aggressively than we think.

Aggressive driving is defined as a combination of two or more offenses, including speeding, reckless driving, unsafe lane changes and tailgating. If convicted, an aggressive driver faces a heavy penalty in Maryland that could include jail time, a $1,000 fine and five points - three short of the eight that lead to a suspended driver's license - according to Maryland State Police.

An aggressive driver fails to consider the human element involved. The anonymity of being behind the wheel provides aggressive drivers a false sense of control and power; therefore, they seldom take into account the consequences of maneuvering dangerously with two tons of metal and velocity.

And while aggressive driving is a traffic offense, for which police officers are citing motorists with increasing frequency, road rage is a criminal offense.

The March 7 road-rage shooting in Baltimore County is a chilling reminder of the need to drive courteously, change lanes safely and shun senseless altercations. According to Baltimore County police, the shooting occurred after the driver of an Acura cut off a motorist in a Cadillac. In retaliation, the driver in the Cadillac is said to have fired seven shots, wounding the Acura driver and causing the vehicle to crash into a pole on Washington Boulevard between Lansdowne Boulevard and Commerce Drive. The Acura driver was flown to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

"You never know what kind of insanity is riding in the car next to you," said John White, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "It is critically important for law-abiding motorists to keep their minds on their driving, be sure to change lanes safely and avoid arguments with other drivers. It's better to lose an argument than a life."

Twice in my life I've been the recipient of road rage. I still don't know what I did to incite the first instance. The second time there was no way to apologize for some careless merging, and certainly the other driver wasn't about to accept an apology from me. Punishment was what he was after. I exited the Capital Beltway miles from my intended exit rather than allow the other driver to achieve the results I feared he was hoping for.

Each year, more drivers have acted out their anger behind the wheel. These drivers can commit incredible acts of violence, including assault and homicide. It is no surprise then, that in AAA Mid-Atlantic's 2003 Transportation Poll, 83 percent of Maryland motorists said that within the past year, they had witnessed someone driving so aggressively that their life or someone else's was in danger.

Those statistics were supported by my informal neighborhood poll.

You have the power to help calm down tense situations on the road:

Steer clear of angry drivers - just get out of the way. The worst thing to do is aggravate a hothead.

Avoid eye contact, and never pull over expecting a shouting match because it could escalate to something far worse.

Get help: If you feel threatened, call the police or drive to a safe place and blow your horn to draw attention. Do not get out of the car. Most importantly, don't give in to your aggressive driving tendencies.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at elison@us.net, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Please include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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