Road rage: When anger meets the highway
The following article is the seventh in an eight-part series produced by The Beacon on transportation in Snohomish County. The series focuses on the issues surrounding travel by plane, ferry, bus and cars or other means, as well as the local and state efforts to fix them. –Ed.
In an apparent rage, a motorhome driver led police on a slow-speed chase through Edmonds and into Mountlake Terrace.
A witness called 911 to report on June 13 that a man was yelling and banging on the hood of another vehicle.
The 35-year-old man took off in his 19-foot motorhome when police arrived, leading them on a 4-mile chase at speeds at or below 30 mph.
The driver stopped in a parking lot, jumped out of the motorhome, and yelled at police “to just shoot me.”
After they shot him with a stun gun, police arrested the man and booked him into Snohomish County Jail.
While not all cases of road rage involve police chases and stun guns, the Washington State Patrol warns that as traffic in Snohomish County increases, so does aggressive driving and the risk of collisions on the county’s highways.
“The more traffic we have, the more congestion we have; it’s always going to be an issue,” said Trooper Mark Francis, the spokesperson for Washington State Patrol District 7, which includes Snohomish County.
“You have people who are selfish and want to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. They think they’re on a NASCAR track – they’re speeding, following too close and other aggressive maneuvers.”
Washington State Patrol has a team of troopers in unmarked police vehicles who work to detect and apprehend aggressive drivers on highways to stop violations that could lead to a deadly crash.
The State Patrol defines aggressive driving as “the commission of two or more moving violations that is likely to endanger other persons or property, or any single intentional violation that requires a defensive reaction of another driver.”
Examples of aggressive or risky driving include following too close, speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, speeding up to beat a traffic light and cutting between vehicles to change lanes.
Road rage includes excessively honking the horn or flashing headlights, braking to get others to back off your bumper, and passing another driver, then slowing to teach them a lesson.
“Road rage can be anything from making gestures at another person to driving so aggressively that you’re using your car almost as a weapon,” Francis said. “If you’re riding someone’s bumper or you’re brake-checking them, that can escalate very quickly and can put someone else’s property or life at risk.”
He added: “The criminal ramifications really start to ramp up, because we’ve had people who were seriously injured, and we’ve had people who have been killed due to road rage.”
After seeing a significant increase in collisions on highways in Snohomish County, the State Patrol also launched a one-year project that has helped the Aggressive Driving Apprehension Team determine where their efforts are needed the most.
Extra patrols in partnership with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and Everett Police Department revealed six “hot zones” in the county where collisions were the greatest.
The top three hot zones were located in Everett, Mukilteo and Lynnwood. Additional zones were found in Lake Stevens, Monroe and at Highway 2.
The project also revealed that collisions in these zones were greatest between 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. each day.
“These are target areas where we were seeing a lot of collisions, not necessarily just road rage; however, speeding, aggressive driving, road rage, unsafe following and/or passing, etc. are all related and all have the potential to result in these crashes,” Francis said.
He said troopers also are stopping slow left-lane drivers because they can anger other drivers.
Not only is it illegal to drive in the left lane unless you are passing another vehicle, making room for a merging vehicle, or preparing to turn or exit to the left, but it can also cause road rage.
“Left-lane violators are a recipe for disaster,” Francis said. “If they’re camped out in that left lane, and they have the opportunity to go to the right but they’re choosing not to do so, what they’re doing isn’t dangerous, but it will congest traffic, and it ticks off the people behind them.”
The Washington State Patrol offers the following safety tips to avoid road rage:
Allow plenty of time for the trip, listen to soothing music, improve the comfort in your vehicle, and understand that you cannot control the traffic, only your reaction to it.
Be polite and courteous, even if the other driver is not. Avoid all conflict if possible. If another driver challenges you, take a deep breath and move out of the way. Never underestimate the other driver's capacity for mayhem.
When entering traffic or changing lanes, make sure that you have enough room. Remember to signal when turning or changing lanes.
Established a safe following distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you.
Don't make aggressive hand gestures to the other drivers when they offend you with their driving.
Control your anger. Remember it takes two to start a fight. Forget about winning. No one wins in a highway crash.
Avoid prolonged eye contact with the bad or angry driver. Don't pull to the side of the road.
“The best advice I can tell you is to just take a deep breath and try to understand that there are more important things out there than what’s going on in front of you,” Francis said.
“It’s a lot harder to do than it is to say to cool down and relax, but you’ve got to do it. Either change lanes or take that exit, let traffic pass a little bit and then get back on.”
Call 911 immediately if you have witnessed or been a victim of aggressive driving or road rage.
For more information on road rage, including a video on aggressive driving enforcement, go to www.wsp.wa.gov/traveler/roadrage.htm.