​Road Rage: How One Woman's Quick Thinking Saved Her Life

traffic, road rageIt's the kind of quick second decision that could change your life. You accidentally cut someone off and they become enraged. Though, instead of simply yelling or flipping you off, this person decides to go after you to exact his revenge. It may sound alarmist and unlikely, but road rage was the cause of 218 murders and 12,610 injuries in a seven year period. Those are not insignificant numbers. Another scary stat: 2% of drivers admit to trying to run an aggressor off the road. Still, people don't even think about the issue until it happens to them. It's a frightening reality Kimberly Gauthier never dreamed of until she faced it head on.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," says Gauthier of the terrifying encounter. "It was around 7 a.m. and I was in lower Queen Anne in Seattle, Washington and a man was driving right behind me for several blocks. It was a neighborhood, so the speed limit was less than 45 mph, but other driver was visibly annoyed that I wasn’t going faster." Trying to be courteous, she pulled over.  "I lowered my window to wave him past but he got out of his car instead," she recalls. "I quickly raised my window, but then felt guilty. He hadn’t threatened me, why am I treating him like a bad guy? I should have followed my instincts."

What happened next stunned the author of the popular blog Keep the Tail Wagging. "He proceeded to yell at me and scream racial slurs," says Gauthier, an African American. "He felt that I was starting and stopping in the middle of intersections, driving all over the road, and preventing him from getting to work on time. None of this had happened and I stupidly tried to get him to see reason. When he started punching my window and kicking my car, I grabbed my cell phone and dialed 911."

It was only when the crazed man realized she was calling the police that he backed off. "He gave my car one final kick and left." Had she not called for help, there is no telling what would have happened. "The responding officer told me that it was a good thing that I called, because many of these incidents start early in the morning
and escalate during the day and can lead to violence."

Just as startling, perhaps, are Gauthier's thoughts in the days following. "That was such a scary experience and I find it interesting that through it
all, I kept wanting to down play it as if I was misunderstanding or blowing
it out of proportion," she says. "I even did it when the officer responded and he had to correct me and let me know that yes, I was a victim that morning." Indeed she was - but a lucky one. Earlier that year, another road rage incident ended with one man killing another on the way home in the evening. The investigation discovered that earlier that day, he had been in several smaller incidences but no one reported them. "Because of that, I report anyone who approaches my car in anger," says Gauthier. That, say experts, is a good rule for all of us to follow.

What kind of people are most likely to exhibit road rage?

Not surprisingly, people who rage out on the road tend to be "anxious, impulsive, quick tempered, risk-taking people among us," says Dr. Karl Schonborn, author of Cleft Heart: Chasing Normal. " More than most of us, they engage in hostile and aggressive thinking, take more risks on the road, and have more accidents." 

More specifically, adds Dr. Anne Brown, author of Backbone Power: The Science of Saying No, they tend to be young, male, educated, have decent jobs, travel in an urban settings, and often have tinted windows. And while most aggressors are male, there are women who also use their vehicle as a tool for aggression. 

Are these incidents really about what has happened on the road or are they carrying this rage from something else in their personal life?
Time pressures and stressful traffic situations certainly play a part but, there is often something else in play notes Dr. Schonborn. "Not surprisingly, what happens on the road triggers the rage, but the data bears out common sense," he explains. "We’re all more likely to react if we’ve had a bad day at the office or are in a hurry to get somewhere. Interestingly, the AAA study found that many ragers had recently suffered an emotional or professional setback."

Can this kind of rage be learned? For example, if your kids see you do this are they more likely do it when they are older?

"Most certainly," warns Dr. Schonborn. "Role modeling’s a powerful teaching tool, for good or ill. As far back as 1968, researchers showed how people learn by parental example, even as adolescents. So attitudes toward school, drug use, and managing anger, to name but a few, are key. If your temper flares up in the car, listen to soothing music and show the kids you can chill. Try be rested and in a “happy place” if possible before and during long car trips."

Does someone prone to road rage escalate their aggression over time?
"Interesting question," adds Dr. Brown. "I think if someone has to drive in stressful situations, like high congestion, every day and hasn't developed good coping skills for time management and stress and he exhibits road rage, he will be at risk for road rage that may escalate. If he drives one day and then not again for awhile not sure you would be able to say it will escalate."

What should a driver do if they encounter road rage? Try to get away from the car, call the police or drive to a police station?

"Be part of the solution, not part of the problem," advises Dr. Schonborn. Here, he breaks down the dos and don'ts:

  • Don’t return stares, grimaces, shouts, obscene gestures; be neutral, be a tiny Buddha.
  • Forget winning; so don’t accelerate unless they’re shooting at you (call 911 whenever truly scared)
  • If in a remote area, drive to a populated place (convenience store, shopping center)
  • If need be honk your horn to get attention, drive to a police station or hospital.
  • Don’t get out of your car; don’t drive home immediately.


Have you ever been the victim of road rage? What happened?

Image © Henrik Trygg/Corbis


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happymia happymia

I have. This guy was driving in two lanes,obviously drunk. He got over in one lane and i tried to speed yup and go around him to get away. As i was about away, he swerved back into my lane, and on instinct i honked. He pulled in front of my car, slammed on his brakes, put the car in park, and got out. I was blocked so i couldn't go. I had 7 kids in the van with me. He came stumbling up to my van and told me to never honk at him again. I told him that when he decided to drive into my lane,threatening to ruin into my car, i was going to honk. (Not smart,i know) he started yelling that girls have no right telling a man what to do. He walked to his car and started grabbing for some object. I called 911 and as soon as he saw me on my phone, he took off. I was so scared, the kids were crying, and not one person in all the cars next to us helped. They all just sat and watched this huge drunk guy scream at me while blocking me in. About a year later,in subway, we saw him and my kids froze.

nonmember avatar me

i cut some one off. badly. like if they hadnt stepped on their brakes so hard they screeched and tires smoked we would have crashed. he pulled his car next to mine forcing me to stop, got out and started yelling. i had pneumonia, had spent the night in a hospital and was coming home from taking two of my kids to the dr because they were sick too. i looked like death, was crying and wheezing and apologizing. he stopped looked at me, and backed off..

i know i was wrong, and i honestly didnt even see him, i was so exhausted and propably had no business driving that day but the kids had to go to the dr.

jkp-buff jkp-buff

I had it happen 3 different times, two times as a passenger (with two different drivers) and once as a driver.

Once my dad was driving on a long empty stretch of IA interstate where the speed limit is 70. Bright sunny summer day with absolutely no traffic as far as the eye could see. We come up on a semi going about 55, switch to the left lane and pass him, and then switch back to the right once we had gotten far enough ahead of him not to cut him off. He must have been pissed that we had the nerve to pass him. He sped up and tried to ram us from behind. At one point we were doing 100+mph just to stay ahead of him, and he was still trying to gain on us. We tried to switch lanes and let him pass, but he swerved and tried to run us off the road. Thankfully we hit a stretch of hilly roads, and he would lose enough speed going up each hill, that we were able to get far enough ahead of him to eventually lose him.

jkp-buff jkp-buff

Second time it happened, my brother was driving. We had a car full of kids returning from a day at the amusement park. It was after midnight on an empty stretch of interstate. We pass a pickup truck full of teenage boys who were driving 20 under the limit. They were probably drunk too, because they weren't staying in their lane. We passed them, and they started chasing us, trying to run us off the road. My brother had been a bit of a youthful deliquent 20 years ago before joining the army, so he had mad car chase skills. They followed us when we exited the interstate, and we obviously couldn't go home, so we kept trying to lose them on the backroads. We would lose them, turn off all our lights and try to wait them out, but they were literally driving up and down the roads hunting us. When we would think they were gone, we would start driving again, but they would find us. They only left us alone once we had managed to drive all the way to the police station. This was before cell phones, so we couldn't call anyone.

jkp-buff jkp-buff

3rd time was this year. I was driving. It was my fault but there was absolutely nothing I could have done to prevent it. It was snowing pretty heavily, and it had just started so they hadn't plowed or salted the roads yet. Other cars were in ditches every 4 or 5 miles as I drove home, and so I was being extra cautious and driving slow. The pickup truck in front of me was stopped at a red light. I started trying to slow down a block before the red light, and for 2-3 minutes, I just kept sliding and not stopping. I knew I was going to hit him, but I was just glad I managed to keep the car straight and didn't spin out to hit anyone in the lanes on either side of me. By the time I hit, I was only going maybe 5mph. I got out of the car and the damage only seemed to be a dented license plate. He got out of the car and came at me screaming and waving his hands. I thought he was going to get violent, so I got in the car and locked the door. He banged on the window some and continued yelling for a few minutes, and then got in his truck and drove off.

nonmember avatar Darein

During one time I was working 2 jobs, one at a warehouse and the other as a part delivery driver for an automotive company. During one delivery I was on my way back from a garage and it was close to the time I was going to have to clock out so I could head to my second job, I was stopped behind a small car and there was a woman driving the car and a guy in the passenger seat at a red light. The light turned green and I sat there for close to 15-20 seconds waiting for them to go but they just sat there so I honked the horn and the car suddenly screetching tires took off/ I continued down the road and when I got to the next light they were behind me again and when they saw me behind them the guy in the passenger seat started to get out of the car staring at me. The light then changed green and he got back into the car and I turned at the next street and headed back to work. I mean sometimes I wonder how bad of an arguement that they were having in that car (I can only assume there was one from how they were acting) that the guy decides its ok to get out of his car in traffic because they were holding up everyone else.

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