Road Rage and Following Distances

I’ll be honest here: road rage scares me a bit. I was in a situation several years ago where a person was angry with my driving (not fast enough in the right lane of a three-lane highway), passed me, pulled in front of me and STOPPED. In the middle of the highway. He got out of his car and started walking my way. Fortunately, I’d left enough room between us that I could pull away while he was on foot.

Who knows what he would have done if I’d not driven away? (Fortunately, he was subsequently pulled over by police.)

But the bigger question is: why the heck is slow driving (or fast driving, or cutting off, or whatever) a reason to get furious and sometimes violent?

(Answer: it’s not.)

That said, I commute in rush hour in the mornings and have several spots on the freeway where I need to move over several lanes in order not to “exit only.” There are another two places where the right lane ends. Plus, of course, all of the traffic merging from on-ramps. And all of the people who are just trying to get where they need to go.

I’d noticed myself slowly becoming a more and more aggressive driver.

Finally, I decided to relax. Driving aggressively makes the roads more dangerous and make me stressed out. I’m going to get to work in the morning whether that jerk in the blue car is in front of me or behind me. (And do you really want to be in front of someone who drives like that?) So I leave a little more room between me and the car in front of me. I let people move over and merge. I listen to some music or audiobooks.

Tip: Funny audiobooks make the jerks on the freeway pretty irrelevant and the commute seem much shorter.

I feel bad for people whose lives are so out of whack that something so minor as another driver can completely set them off.

But what about when the freeway isn’t crowded and we’re going more than 20 mph? I’ve taken to leaving more following distance.

You know when someone rear-ends someone else on the freeway because they didn’t have time to stop? Assuming decent weather conditions, they didn’t have time because they were following too closely. Most of the traffic accidents here in metro Phoenix are not weather-related. It rarely rains. We never have ice. Very rarely fog. Occasionally dust. But plenty of people not paying attention.

Many of us think of tailgating as being very super-close to the vehicle in front of us. But if you’re only two or three car lengths behind the car in front of you and you’re going 75 miles an hour, you don’t have enough time to stop, even if you’re not distracted (radio, cell phone, text, GPS, passenger, food, make-up, etc.).

What I’ve started doing to help me with following distance is this: I look at the car in front of me and think: if they suddenly swerve to avoid hitting something in the middle of the lane, do I have enough time to miss it as well (and miss cars possibly in the other lane)? If the answer is no or probably not, then I leave a little more space.

Remember that your car is still moving full speed between the time that you notice that you need to slow down and the time your foot hits the brake, typically one to two seconds, and will continue to travel as you are slowing down (unless you are going very slowly to start with). Riding close to the car in front of you doesn’t really get you there faster (and folks who do this actually clog up traffic faster, because they need to keep braking to back off, so people behind them need to brake as well).

So take a deep breath, let people merge in front of you, leave some space so you can stop, and make everything a little safer for everyone.

What are you like on the freeway?

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