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Dealing with road rage

Kara Fox
Sun News Service

Onlookers to the murder trial of Timothy Brooks next week will be curious to find out what happened between the time Robert Ash cut Brooks and his wife off on Highway 89 to when the two men were engaged in a fight a half an hour later in Tahoe City that ended with Ash dead.

The deadly confrontation has been described as a “road rage incident” by law enforcement, which brings up the question of how a road maneuver could escalate into an incident of that magnitude.

According to Truckee area California Highway Patrol Officer Steve Skeen, road rage is defined as “anything out of what a normal person would do [on the road],” which includes tailgating, passing unsafely, driving aggressively, yelling, obscene gestures, etc.

“It does happen [locally], but not that often,” Skeen noted. “Not too many people pull over and get in fights. …A lot of it is giving a bird or gesture and escalating to what happened in Tahoe City.”

Skeen said he knows of more severe instances in Los Angeles, the Bay Area and Reno, where gunfire or stalking was involved.

“If there is an issue of someone following you or aggressive driving, call 9-1-1 or pull off,” Skeen suggested. “You don’t know what is in this person’s mind or if they had a bad day. If there is a public safety concern, we want to know about it.”

Although road rage has become part of the driving lexicon since the 1990s, Sean

Comey of AAA of California says it is not as common in Northern California as it is in other places in the U.S. and the world.

“If you’re on the wrong end of a disagreement of road rage, it can be frightening,” Comey said. “It’s about swallowing your pride. Often, if you don’t engage an aggressive driver, the situation will diffuse.”

In California, road rage is a punishable offense and could land someone in jail, with a suspended license and a hefty fine.

“If we see someone driving aggressively, it can be a misdemeanor and they can go to jail,” Skeen noted, adding that an ordinary citizen can sign a citizen’s arrest if the act is not done while an officer is present.

Government data shows that 1,200 people were killed in road rage-related shooting in the U.S. last year. In 1999, AAA commissioned a study that looked at how to prevent aggressive driving and road rage and noted that it was “on the rise.” Now with the prevalence of cell phone usage, tuning iPods and GPS units in cars, distracted drivers add to road rage instances.

“We are looking out for it,” CHP’s Skeen said. “It is a huge problem statewide.”

Safety Tips For Dealing with Aggressive Drivers

– Never challenge an angry driver by sudden driving maneuvers such as speeding up, slowing down or blocking traffic lanes.

– Don’t make rude gestures at an aggressive driver. Stay calm and try to get out of their way.

– Never drive home if you’re being followed by an angry driver. You don’t want them to know where you live.

– Avoid eye contact. Staring at an angry driver can turn an impersonal traffic encounter into a very personal confrontation.

– If you think the aggressive driver is harassing you and trying to start a fight, get help. If you have a cell phone and can safely use it, call 9-1-1.

– If you need help and do not have a cell phone, drive to a well-lighted safe location where there are other people around, such as a police station, fire station, service station, convenience store, shopping center or a hospital.

– Keep your doors locked until you are at a safe location or help arrives.

– Do not pull off the road and attempt a face to face settlement of a dispute with an aggressive driver.

– If the angry driver is involved in a crash, write down a description of the driver and their vehicle, if possible. Pass this information on to the police.


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