Idiots Happen – A Personal Road Rage Story

I had this experience a few weeks ago on my way to work. For the record, my 15-year-old son was in the car with me. Read all the way to the bottom for the defensive lessons in this situation.

I was driving down a 3-lane road which had been partially washed out in Hurricane Matthew. Construction had closed the west-bound side of this road (which I use in the morning), forcing traffic into the center turn lane to get around the work. I was approaching this construction when another driver in a large propane company work truck tried to cut me off from the rear, nearly forcing me into the cones marking the construction zone. I got in front of him, but not without a hard look as if to say, “Dude! What are you doing?!”

Just beyond the construction is a 4-way traffic light. I stopped to wait for the light to go green, and my ‘friend’ was sitting on my rear bumper the whole time. The light turned green and I proceeded through the intersection with Speedy Gonzalez on my tail. Two miles up the street from that light is the entrance to the campus of the college at which I teach. I turned on my turn signal, and looked into the mirror to see my companion waving violently for me to get out of his way. When I touched the brakes to slow for the turn, the guy nearly drove through me. I pulled into the turn lane as he swerved wildly around me.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. The guy got about 50 feet beyond me and STOPPED in the middle of traffic. For just a second I saw him sitting there before he drove slowly down the street. I expected him to just go on his way. I was wrong.

Instead of resuming his hasty trek to work, he proceeded to a service entrance at the rear of campus and entered the parking area. I watched him as he cruised across the lot toward me. “Here we go,” I thought. I told my son to keep an eye on him as I drove through campus toward the Automotive Repair department, which is a gated space. I figured he would be reluctant to follow me into a gated area of campus. Again, I was wrong.

We lost sight of the guy behind a service building. I briefly parked, then turned my vehicle around to watch the gate. Sure enough, the tailgater followed me into a GATED AREA in order to confront me about his problem.

Seeing that this guy had something to share, I rolled down my window, and the conversation went thus:
Me, incredulous: “What are you doing!?”
Him, sternly: “Why did you hit you brakes and try to wreck me?”
Me: “I was pulling onto campus. You would have been fine if you hadn’t been riding my tail the entire way here.”
Him: “You didn’t need to hit your brakes.”
Me: ” I WAS MAKING A LEGAL TURN! Here’s the rub, man. You were in such a hurry that you tailgated me all the way here, and then, given the chance to just go on with your business, decided to follow me all the way here. I do have to thank you, though, for giving me the chance to get your business name and truck number. I’ll be making a call to your manager in just a bit.”
Him: “You do that. I’ll tell them how you hit your brakes and tried to wreck me.”
Me: “I’m sure they’ll be sympathetic. Just don’t leave out the part about riding my bumper for 3 miles.”

With that, he threw his truck in reverse and pulled off with a few parting words.

As we were watching the guy leave, my son looked at me and said, “It’s all right dad. I could have taken him.” 😀

I did call his manager, who apologized for the incident. By the time we were finished with the conversation, he was asking me about self-defense classes.

Lessons from my point of view:
– Road rage is stupid. Don’t get involved unless you have no choice. If you are the one initiating the conflict, you have a choice.
– Avoid the conflict. I sent as many signals as I could from the confines of my vehicle that I didn’t want to have anything to do with this guy’s issues. I drove away from him. I went to a gated area of campus (one that would naturally indicate ‘off limits’ to outsiders. Only when he was intent on addressing the issue did I engage him verbally (because I certainly didn’t want this guy following me to the building where I work).
– Stay cool, even when faced with conflict. My adrenaline spiked, but I was still in control of myself. I didn’t let my monkey brain take over entirely. The fact that I focused on letting the guy know that I would be reporting his behavior to his supervisor indicated that I wasn’t going to get physically involved with him.

Lessons from his point of view:
– Road rage is stupid. Don’t get involved unless you have no choice. This guy had a choice.
– Since he followed me all the way across campus, he had time to think about his choice. He still opted to engage me in open hostility.
– He is lucky that he targeted me to vent his ire. I live in the country. People here take their pride seriously. Had he targeted one of thousands of other inhabitants of this area, he would have been yanked out of his truck through the window and stomped into the pavement. I’ve read enough books and seen enough stupidity to recognize that this guy was on a rant. I let him vent his spleen and go on with a perceived victory.
– When driving a company vehicle, he is representing his company. The company’s image becomes the image he conveys through his driving and any other actions. Suffice it to say that my image of his company is severely tarnished, as are those of the people he nearly wrecked on the road when he stopped traffic.

Road rage has the potential to go horribly, horribly wrong. Sometimes you will find yourself on the wrong side of someone behind the wheel. If that happens, remind yourself to think clearly, don’t escalate the situation (shouting at or gesturing toward the other driver), and avoid the other driver – to your own inconvenience if necessary.

Drive alertly, and be safe.

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