What's Up with That?: Handling road rage: get out of the way, call police

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I am writing to address road rage. Just this week, I was traveling southbound on state Highway 503, just north of Northeast 199th Street. I was in the left lane, and an SUV hauling a tractor was in the right lane. Up ahead the light was red. Out of nowhere, a small white pickup appeared on my tail. I was unable to change lanes, and this man was flashing his hazard lights and veering onto the left shoulder as though he was going to shove my car out of his way. I may have said a bad word as I slowed and tapped my brakes. This seemed to inflame the situation, but a Battle Ground police car was at the intersection. The pickup driver backed off and turned.

What is the best way to react in this dangerous situation? I couldn’t get a license number, but could describe the man and his truck. This is the third time I’ve been a victim of road rage in Battle Ground in four years. What’s up with rude and aggressive driving?

— Helen Maffeo, Battle Ground

The question may not be what’s up with rude and aggressive drivers — what’s up is, they’re rude and aggressive. If you must dig deeper, you might call their mothers or wives or therapists to discover the source of this personality problem.

Your first question is the crucial one: What do you do? The Washington State Patrol website, http://www.wsp.wa.gov/traveler/roadrage.htm, covers the subject well, from definitions and symptoms to making reports and fighting back through raised awareness.

It starts with basic safety and sanity tips: Allow plenty of time for your trip. Relax and listen to music. Acknowledge that you can’t control the traffic, just your reaction to it. Make sure you’re driving courteously — leave enough room, don’t tailgate, always use your turn signals.

Here’s where it gets tough, if you’re a road rage victim with any kind of backbone: Swallow your pride. Don’t descend to the aggressive driver’s level. Don’t flip off other drivers. Don’t make eye contact or glare. Move out of the way.

“Never underestimate the other driver’s capacity for mayhem,” the WSP advises. “Forget about winning. No one wins in a highway crash.”

Do call the police. New laws ban phone calls while driving, but calling 911 is always legal when you’re reporting an emergency — and an aggressive, dangerous driver is definitely considered an emergency. The WSP has an Aggressive Driving Apprehension Team that uses unmarked or unconventional police vehicles equipped with video cameras. The WSP Commercial Vehicle Division does the same.

Even if the incident is in the past — but especially if it’s an ongoing or recurring problem — the WSP wants to know about it. Call the district office for Southwest Washington at 360-260-6333.

Are you a road rager? Symptoms start all the way back at “mentally condemning” or thinking violent thoughts toward other drivers, or venting those thoughts to your passengers. Then there’s deciding you needn’t follow safety rules because you don’t like them (in other words, you’re special). Tailgating, speeding, weaving, racing traffic signals, blowing your horn or flashing lights excessively — that’s full-blown aggressive driving. So is braking to get a tailgater to back off (sorry, Helen), or passing another driver and slowing down to “teach them a lesson.”

The Washington State Patrol points out that anger, impatience and frustration may be the most dangerous drugs on the highway.

— Scott Hewitt