Across West-Central Florida, road rage is leading to dangerous situations with serious consequences:
A man was shot to death in March after three drivers stopped their cars in Palm Harbor and got into a confrontation. The fight turned deadly after one driver used pepper spray on another.
A Clearwater man was sentenced in that same month to at least 20 years in prison for firing a shotgun at cars in an Oldsmar road-rage incident four years ago.
And two women were arrested in April after allegedly pulling another woman from her car in Sarasota and beating her in the middle of the road.
As the Tampa Bay area continues to get more congested and we rush from one destination to another, it’s common for drivers to get frustrated. But some drivers go too far in expressing that frustration by using obscene gestures, blocking the passing lane, tailgating, laying on the horn, or driving in a menacing way.
In a recent cable-TV appearance, comedian Louis CK jokes that “I am the worst person I can be when I am behind the wheel” and talks about how acting like a jerk when you’re driving is a major issue because “you are driving a weapon amongst weapons.”
Indeed, this is a major problem. A study sponsored by the National Institute of Health found that 5 percent to 7 percent of nearly 10,000 drivers studied exhibited some signs of road-rage behavior. Meanwhile, a survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that about 1 in 7 drivers reported feeling threatened by other drivers at least once a week.
That analysis and other work led to experts identifying the cause of road rage as Intermittent Explosive Disorder. Basically, this involves having outbursts that are far out of proportion compared to what a situation warrants. And in many cases, people get hurt or property is damaged as a result.
As part of Sunstar Paramedics’ goal of raising awareness of safety issues, we’d like to offer some tips for drivers to help you cool down on the road:
Change your driving habits. If a certain route frustrates you, consider taking a different way.
Leave earlier for work or for appointments. If you’re late, let the person you are meeting know you’re going to be late, so you can relax a bit.
Get directions ahead of time if you’re going somewhere you aren’t familiar with. Getting lost adds to stress.
Stay off the phone. Trying to navigate traffic and deal with unexpected moves by other drivers is more difficult if you’re distracted.
If you’re planning a longer trip, try to take it in stages. Experts recommend that you not stay behind the wheel for more than three hours at a time without taking a break.
And if you encounter a driver acting irrationally or in a dangerous way, do whatever is necessary to create distance between yourself and the other car. Slow down, and pull off to a location that’s well populated if you have to. Call 911, and let the operator know the location and the make and color of the car.
Whatever you do, try not to engage the other driver in any way. That may only escalate the situation — and that’s the last thing you want to do.