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Road Rage, Drunk Drivers, etc. – How to remain safe while driving

road rage, drunk driverBefore I get started, please know that this is NOT going to be a Public Service Announcement for driving sober, wearing your seat-belt, or not texting while driving. All of this is common sense stuff you should know and be following.

Instead, this article is about how to deal with other drivers’ with road rage, how to spot/avoid a potential drunk driver, and how to protect yourself while on the road.

Yes, this is important. It may not be as glamorous or exciting as reading about preparing for the zombie apocalypse. But to date, there have been ZERO reported deaths due to zombies. NONE!

The same cannot be said about motor vehicle accidents.  In 2014, there were almost 30,000 fatal car accidents in the US. This resulted in 32,675 deaths.

In 1988 there were 162 million licensed drivers in the US. In 2010, that number had grown to over 210 million. See a trend here? That number is only going to go up. As the number of drivers grow, so too will the number of car accidents. And so too will the number of road rage incidents and DUIs.

All this means that the chances of you being killed or injured in a car accident are astronomically greater than dying in a zombie swarm. Hence you need to pay attention!

Even if you are a safe and courteous driver, you cannot control other drivers or their actions. And unfortunately, they could put you in a dangerous situation. So as promised, here are some tips to help keep you safe on the road.

Road Rage

Wikipedia defines road rage as:

aggressive or angry behavior by a driver of an automobile or other road vehicle. Such behavior might include rude gestures, verbal insults, deliberately driving in an unsafe or threatening manner, or making threats. Road rage can lead to altercations, assaults, and collisions that result in injuries and even deaths.

The following are common manifestations of road rage:

  • Generally aggressive driving, including sudden acceleration, braking, and close tailgating
  • Cutting others off in a lane, or deliberately preventing someone from merging
  • Blocking others from leaving their parking lot
  • Chasing other motorists
  • Flashing lights and/or sounding the horn excessively
  • Yelling or exhibiting disruptive behavior at roadside establishments
  • Driving at high speeds in the median of a highway to terrify drivers in both lanes
  • Rude gestures (such as “the finger“)
  • Shouting verbal abuses or threats
  • Intentionally causing a collision between vehicles
  • Hitting other vehicles
  • Assaulting other motorists, their passengers, cyclists, or pedestrians
  • Exiting the car to attempt to start confrontations, including striking other vehicles with an object
  • Threatening to use or using a firearm or other deadly weapon
  • Throwing objects from a moving vehicle with the intent of damaging other vehicles

These are deliberate and intentional acts. And sadly, this is a growing and alarming trend, and the resulting injuries and deaths from this are also increasing.

If you find yourself a victim of road rage, here are some things to do/keep in mind:

Be calm, and keep your emotions in check. Reacting angrily will most likely provoke the situation! So don’t flip them “the bird” or scream profanities.  Avoid making eye contact as well, as this can be construed as aggressive by the other driver. That might be all he needs to escalate the situation.

Try to get away from the other driver. Change lanes, and take the next turn or exit. But do so safely while following all traffic laws.  Do NOT stop, as the other driver may think you are stopping to confront him.

If the other driver follows you, there is a big chance that the level of violence may increase. Do NOT go home. Instead, call the police and drive to the closest police station. If you are not sure where that is, the 911 dispatcher can tell you how to get there and should dispatch officers to your area.

It’s natural to want to be assertive and protect your “territory”.  But the truth is that your car is not your home. You share the road with everyone else. So even if you are not the aggressor, any sort of defensive actions on your part while on the road will be under MUCH tighter legal scrutiny than if you were defending yourself at home.

Ultimately, aggressive drivers can be stressful, and you might feel like you need to “confront them”. But in the grand scheme of things, is confronting them worth the potential ramifications?

Drunk Drivers

In 2012, there were over 1.17 million arrests for drunk or impaired (drugs) driving in the US. That was over 3000 a day, and those were just the ones who got caught!! In 2013, drunk or impaired drivers were responsible for over 1/3 of all fatal traffic accidents. That’s over 10,000 deaths because of DUI. 27 people a day die from DUI related crashes. Yes, it is a serious problem!

Much like road rage drivers, you cannot control what the other drivers on the road do. However, there are subtle clues and signs to look for in a potential drunk driver, and there are steps you can take to try to ensure your safety.

Before you can begin to look for the cues that the driver in front of you is drunk, you need to understand what effects that alcohol has on the body. Everyone should know that alcohol adversely affects your judgment and reaction time. But what a lot of folks may not know is how little alcohol it really takes.

Blood Alcohol Concentration, or BAC, refers to the percent of alcohol in a person’s blood stream. A BAC of .10 percent means that an individual’s blood supply contains one part alcohol for every 1,000 parts blood. In most states, a BAC of .08% or higher is considered intoxicated. In my state, a BAC of .05% to .07% is considered DWI (Driving While Impaired) and is enough to get you arrested if you are driving.

Even 2 small drinks, or a BAC of around .02% can begin to impair your ability to drive. At a BAC of .02%, your ability to multi-task and your visual ability to rapidly track objects begins to decline. Clearly both of these are essential to driving a motor vehicle.

The more you drink, the higher your BAC, and the worse your fine motor skills, visual perceptions, and reactions times will become.

It should be easy to spot a reckless and dangerous driver; ie a driver who is on the wrong side of the road or driving on the shoulder or sidewalk. But there are other clues that are more subtle, and could help you spot a drunk on the road.

As I mentioned, even at .02% BAC, the ability to multi-task begins to decline. Typically, drunk drivers will over concentrate on one facet of driving to the detriment of another aspect. For example, the driver may concentrate on maintaining his speed and begin to weave between lanes. Or, if they concentrate on not weaving, their speed may begin to fluctuate.

They may drive 10 to 15 mph under the speed limit. When they realize they are doing this, they may then suddenly accelerate. They may brake suddenly when they realize they are speeding.

Drunk drivers may hit their turn signal too soon, and then turn it off….only to turn it on and off again later. They may stop at inappropriate places, such as green lights or cross walks with no pedestrians. They may not realize that they failed to turn their headlights on.

Drunk drivers will also overcompensate for their inebriation, and will have exaggerated “attentiveness”. They will go out of their way to not look drunk.  They may do this by tightly gripping the steering wheel and look straight ahead.

i-drunkdrivingaccidentsThey may be hunched forward staring out the windshield. This is because many times alcohol will make it harder to process visual information. The glare off of street lamps can amplify this. So drunk drivers may lean forward and stare.

Drunk driver’s reaction times will be reduced, so they may swerve suddenly or at the last moment to avoid something in the road. They may over correct their steering as well, or take very wide turns.

If you suspect that a driver is drunk, do NOT attempt to stop them or confront them. If they are behind you, get off the road to a safe area and let them pass. If they are in front of you, do not pass them. Give them a wide berth and keep your distance. You cannot be sure of what they might do.

Be sure to get a detailed description of the car and driver, including the license plate number. Call 911. Not only will you be helping to keep yourself and other drivers on the road safe, you could actually be doing the drunk driver a favor. Getting a DUI is not fatal. But a car crash could be!

Protect yourself

Protecting yourself on the road starts with you and how you drive. Aggressive driving is a bigger problem on our roads today than DUI, and is responsible for more auto accidents. The following habits are considered aggressive driving, so if you are doing any of these, STOP!

  • Drive too fast, over the posted speed limit, especially in less than ideal conditions
  • Run red lights or stop signs, or hit the gas when the light turns yellow
  • Weave in and out of traffic
  • Change lane frequently and abruptly without the use of signals
  • Tailgate other vehicles and/or follow too closely
  • Failure to yield right of way
  • Passing where prohibited
  • Failure to obey traffic signs, traffic control devices, etc
  • Failure to observe safety zone traffic laws or to observe warnings or instructions on vehicles displaying them

Traffic and congestion is a huge contributing factor to stress while driving. So allow yourself some extra time when leaving. Try to avoid driving during peak times if you can. There are traffic apps out there that give you real time updates on traffic and highway routes.

If you find yourself getting stressed or driving aggressively, try turning on some soothing music. I promise you that you will drive slower to Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd (or Purple Rain by Prince) as opposed to Rock you Like a Hurricane by the Scorpions!

Audio books are also a good choice, as they help take your mind off of the stress.

I would also recommend having a roadside or automobile travel bag in your vehicle. Click the link to read about how to make one and what I put in mine.

And finally, here are some tips to help you avoid danger while driving:

  • Never roll down your window to talk to a stranger. If required, roll the window down only enough to be heard.
  • Do not stop to aid disabled motorists. Use your cell phone to call for help instead.
    If you are in need of help, never go with a stranger who offers help. Instead, ask them to call for help for you.
  • If your vehicle becomes disabled, attach a white cloth to the door handle or antenna. Lock the doors and stay in the vehicle. If someone stops to help, don’t open your door or window. Ask the person to please telephone for help.
  • When stopped at an intersection, leave enough space so that you can see the tires of the car in front of you. That will allow you to pull around that vehicle and not be blocked in.
  • A good rule of thumb is to give yourself significant distance, one car length for every 10 mph traveled, from the car in front of you. That way you have enough time to react to a sudden and unexpected problem
  • At night, never drive so fast that you are unable to stop within the distance that you can clearly see on the road ahead of you by your vehicle’s head lamps. For most vehicles this distance is no more than 350 feet when the headlights are on high beam. Keep in mind that a car traveling at 55 mph needs 230 feet to stop…and that’s in ideal conditions.

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Here is a link to an article I wrote on crime prevention. I included some other tips on car safety in that article if you want to read it.

Accidents happen. But if you are prepared ahead of time, you can reduce the chances of you being involved.

Stay safe out there!

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