I'd like to share my road rage experience with you.
This morning, I was heading to lunch at the University of Texas Club, located in the UT stadium. The stadium and club entrance are in the far left of the map below. The parking garage which I entered is not on the map, but it's located in the corner of the intersection of Littlefield and Dedman, across the street from the police department. The top of the map is north.
Prior to the incident I'm going to describe below, I made a right turn on red to head west on Littlefield, towards the stadium. A few seconds after making the turn, I heard someone blowing their horn. It's an urban environment, and so people are always blowing their horn at something, making it difficult to determine if the horn was meant for me or someone else. I did notice a pick up truck - old, faded and missing paint - in my rear view mirror, with two male occupants. From my quick glance, they didn't seem to be upset or troubled by anything I'd done. I continued the short quarter mile trip to the parking garage, turning left off of Littlefield into the garage entrance.
As I stopped to get a ticket to enter the parking garage, the pick up truck screeched his tires and pulled in behind me, stopping about 20 yards away. The driver jumped out and yelled at me as I got my ticket:
"IF YOU'RE GOING TO DRIVE LIKE A WOMAN, YOU'D BETTER SQUAT WHEN YOU PISS, YOU SON OF A BITCH!"
I didn't acknowledge his existence. I took the ticket, the gate arm rose, and I drove on into the garage, cautiously monitoring my rear view mirror to see if he followed me inside.
That's it. That's the story. Thankfully that's all of the story.
I share it with you so that we can discuss what we might be able to learn from my experience. Here are some of my thoughts, in no particular order:
- Road rage is completely unnecessary and can be hazardous to those who engage in it. How does road rage improve anyone's driving or life for that matter? It doesn't. It certainly didn't help me, seeing how I am still not certain what I did to offend this person. (And if I did, I'd tell you...I can only speculate that he didn't like the fact I turned right on red, despite the fact he also had a red light just before I did so.)
I certainly want to be a courteous driver, and if I inconvenienced him or anyone else for that matter, I am truly sorry. And I would have said so if need be.
- Getting out of your vehicle to confront another driver is a bad idea. I am reminded of those Capital One credit card commercials where the spokesperson says "What in your wallet?" You never know what another driver may have in their pocket, console or glove box. Why on earth would you willingly go up to another vehicle (especially in Texas, when that other vehicle is a 4x4 pick up truck) and threaten or berate another person? I have no desire to harm a soul, but I'm not going to endure injury or death so that an irate driver can have a sense of justice. He had no idea what tools were accessible to me should he have pushed the issue further.
- Likewise, I would have gained nothing by getting out of my truck, either. It's a two way street. I lose the protection of my truck if I get out of it. Why give up a tactically superior position just so I can pretend to be a bad ass? I give myself points for not engaging the driver in any fashion.
- Even though that was a relatively mild incident on the threat spectrum, I felt the adrenaline dump. We can all train as much as we want, and yet we're going to get juiced in situations like that. Adrenaline is a gift from God, but we have to realize the limitations it creates for us when we're under its influence.
- This took place on a major college campus, in front of a police station. The stadium, the police department, the parking garage - this place has more cameras than Best Buy. It's Surveillance City. And yet the other individual involved decided to push a bad position, despite the fact he was being watched and recorded by multiple security cameras.
We live in a surveillance society now. With lots of security cameras and smart phones able to record videos, there's a high likelihood the entire encounter was caught on video. When deciding what action to take in a situation like that, you must be mindful of the fact your actions will be recorded and, if possible, used against you. To the extent you can, you want to video footage of your engagement to be a highlight reel of what to do rather than what not to do. To do that, you'll need to get more training - beyond your basic CHL class.
And in case you didn't catch that the first time - I could have stepped out of my truck, picked up a small rock, and hit the police station across the street. It's that close. Don't think crime and bad things happen in "good" areas, like in front of a police station? Think again.
- People who engage in road rage have much larger issues in their lives. I can't imagine getting that angry every time I perceive someone is being a bad driver. And given his comments, he clearly has issues with women. People like that aren't mad at you, particularly - they have other anger issues in their lives, and you just happen to be a convenient target for that anger.
- Let's discuss what I could have done better or differently. There's no teaching; there's only learning. I don't have all of the answers. So what could I have done better?
My driving - I'm not a perfect driver. Yet my radio was off, my cell phone was in the drink holder and was not in use, both of my hands were on the steering wheel, I wasn't rushing to get to lunch, and I was paying attention to the other vehicles around me. I truly wish I knew what I'd done to upset him. If I made an error in driving, I want to know about it so I can avoid doing so in the future. If he's simply being a jerk, I can't fix that. But I can continue to focus on being a safe driver, no matter what.
My decision not to engage him - had he closed the distance, the thing for me to do would have been to drive on into the garage. Or would it? It would have been very difficult for him to get up to the door of my truck, as I was stopped right in front of the ticket kiosk. That could have provided some protection. On the downside, driving off would have been seen as me attempting to avoid conflict - something I'd be glad to see on the surveillance footage. That call could have gone either way.
Do you have a word track to help de-escalate situations like this? In the CHL class, we call this "nonviolent dispute resolution." The word track I suggest to my students sounds something like this:
"I am so sorry. Please forgive me. What can I do to make it up to you? <<Depending on the situation, you can offer to do something - like move your vehicle if they are complaining you took their parking space.>>" This is not the response they are expecting. Bullies want you to either fight back or cower in fear. When you are rational and apologetic, yet calm and firm, you aren't any fun to play with anymore. Saying those few words can save you a lot of trouble and cost nothing to say.
Managing the moments after I pulled into the garage - I give myself a C on this. I kept watching my rear view mirrors (which I had started doing the moment I heard the tires squealing). That was good. I should have picked up my phone and started to dial 911 in case he followed me into the garage. I was too fixated on where I should park to avoid further conflict and not focused enough on being able to get help there should I have needed it.
Be safe out there, everyone. It's a crazy world.