Friday, November 9, 2007

Road Rage

A road rage incident sent 3 people to the hospital, our local news is reporting today. This road rage phenomenon is very interesting. Why has this become so commonplace?

Here's what I think. I've long held that when we drive, we become "real", that is, all our masks fall away. When I was counseling, I sometimes thought that maybe I should take clients out in their cars and let them talk as they drove. I guessed that I would have seen the real person really quickly. So if this is true, if people really are more "real" while driving, perhaps road rage is an indication of what's happening in our society, that we're becoming more violent.

Okay, once you've gotten your "duh!" out of the way, realize what I'm saying. I'm not saying the obvious, that there are either more violent people (a growing criminal class) or the violent people are getting more violent; I'm suggesting that we are ALL getting more violent.

But now hang on, because I'm going to take a sharp turn: Here's what I think is the root of road rage: Poor driving. Over the last few decades, drivers have become less skilled and less trained in the basics of driving. In my experience in different states, it has become easier to get a driver's license. In California, once one of the toughest states, the driving test doesn't even require parallel parking! (Another fact: In California, as in most states, the law states that to get a driver's license, one must demonstrate the ability to read English. But the written test is given in like 10 different languages!)

Several years ago, a local transit bus service started having a rash of collisions. My belief as to the cause is this: After decades of the drivers being almost exclusively white males, the service made a real effort to be more diverse. The problem with that was that in this country, the white males had grown up learning to drive (as a four-year-old, one night I asked my father to turn on the under-dash light, so I could see what he was doing with his feet as he drove--that's not altogether atypical, I don't think); by contrast, the minorities had not had those years of background, and yet the transit service training had always assumed that background.

I tell you about that because it's totally relevant. Drivers today, having not been taught to drive by people who knew how to drive, don't know how to drive. They've learned, more or less, how to start, stop, and steer a car, but that's all. They haven't been taught an attitude of driving, they haven't been taught how to think clearly about driving (or, for that matter, how to think), they haven't been taught the physics of driving.

Therefore we have people racing from signal to signal, we have people not aware of where they're going or that they have to focus on driving, not on cell-phoning their friends, we have people tailgating at freeway speeds and speeding into zero-visibility areas (which is why there were at least three many-vehicle pileups in one week in the US recently). How many drivers have you seen recently who seemed to actually know what was a block, or a half-mile ahead? Name one.

Now couple all this skill deficit with another phenomenon of our time: The number-one rule of today seems to be, "me first". This is manifest on our roadways in two ways, the person who gets in the way because s/he doesn't think about others (such as the woman ahead of me in the drive-through yesterday who stopped a half-car-length out of the ordering spot and thus held up the whole drive-through part of the restaurant) and the person whose way the first type is in.

We get, then, the clash between "I'm totally oblivious of others while I'm doing my own thing" getting in the way of "I can't wait around for you ordinary people"*. "Can't wait" gets all upset with "Oblivious" and we have road-rage-liftoff. Sometimes that's the whole story, but as often, "Oblivious", being oblivious not only to others but to his/her offense, gets mad back at "Can't wait", and now we have a firestorm-type self-feeding chemistry.


1. Return to solid driver training (and while we're at it, to actually demanding performance before we give reward--are you listening out there in education?). Teach drivers the rules, the reasons why it's necessary to obey the rules, how to look ahead, etc. AND require a demonstration of the necessary skills to get and keep a license.

2. (MUCH harder challenge) Stamp out the selfishness pandemic that is blighting our society.

Well, I doubt if this treatise will cause anything to change, but at minimum I have the satisfaction of having said this in (sort of) print.

*For the "Can't waits", I've thought I'd like to say, if only I could make it concise enough to fit on a bumper sticker, If you're so much more important than me, where's your Secret Service escort?

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