LAST WEEK, I noted that an informal poll I had conducted revealed that most people do not view themselves as aggressive drivers, even though they all claimed they know someone who is.
Then I presented a quiz to help determine whether you are an aggressive driver.
Bruce Chase acknowledged that he fits the profile -- if only occasionally -- of an aggressive driver, based on the quiz. "I am normally a safe, passive driver, and my aggressive traits come to the surface as a result of `the other guy,' " he said.
"Whether the slow driver in the left (passing) lane is just not thinking (most of the time), trying to be a speed-limit enforcer or using a cell phone (more and more prevalent), that driver often creates a situation far more hazardous than speeders in the left lane. As cars become backed up behind the `log jam' vehicle, many become tailgaters, lane changers, headlight flashers and frustrated to the point of road rage," he said. "It is maddening to see a line of bumper-to-bumper cars behind a car with open road ahead of it, when that car could be driving in the right lane, decompressing the whole situation."
And I agree, it can be maddening to be stuck behind a slow car in the fast lane. But I disagree that other drivers cause our aggression behind the wheel.
We control our aggression. Other drivers -- in fact, other really pathetic excuses for drivers -- are a given on our roads, and like clouds in the sky that cause rain, sometimes these drivers slow us down. We need to accept that they are out there and that, chances are, most days we will end up right behind them.
The bad news is that it seems anyone can become an aggressive driver. Give up your stereotypes -- it is not just teenagers and young men. People who have caused the deaths of motorists during traffic disputes have been old and young, male and female, rich and poor, well-dressed and poorly dressed. They have been white, black, Asian and Hispanic.
My mild-mannered father drives like a maniac on Maryland's roads. And I once listened to an elderly friend curse like a sailor at another driver, and she was not driving.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, more than 1,500 men, women and children are seriously injured or killed each year in the United States as a result of senseless traffic disputes and altercations. There does not seem to be a single solution. We must tackle the problem one driver at a time, starting with ourselves.
Use these tactics for dealing with aggressive driving in yourself or others:
Steer clear of angry drivers -- just get out of the way. The worst thing to do is to aggravate a hothead by reacting.
Avoid eye contact, and never pull over expecting a shouting match; 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. No matter what, stay in your car, but do not drive home if an aggressive driver is following you.
Be especially sure to avoid cutting off other drivers, driving slowly in the left lane, tailgating, shifting lanes abruptly, repeatedly failing to use turn signals and gesturing or yelling at other drivers.
In addition, start learning to adjust your attitudes about driving:
Are you always racing the clock to get to where you are going? Allow yourself a few more minutes. In a worst-case scenario, just be late -- that is far better than endangering your life or someone else's.
Do you lose your cool when other drivers do stupid things? Try imagining why. What if that speeder is a volunteer firefighter or a doctor rushing to a hospital? Whatever the story is, it has nothing to do with you, so don't take it personally.
Do you take out your frustrations when you get behind the wheel? Switch on soothing music or a book on tape. Practice relaxation techniques, or consider taking an anger-management course.
And finally, set an example. Children look to adults to set positive examples. The last thing we need is to train more young drivers to be aggressive.
That's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at TrafficTalk@comcast.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. Include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.