Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Avoiding Road Rage And Other Forms Of Social Violence

A road rage incident, like all other forms of social violence, is largely avoidable if at least one person involved chooses not to pursue the contest. Social violence occurs when two people agree on some level to engage in a violent contest usually after a series of escalating events.

In contrast, it differs materially from asocial violence as only one participant, usually known as the assailant, attacks another without provocation. A classic example of social violence is a road rage incident whereas a robbery attempt is a prime example of asocial violence. This article will solely discuss social violence, within the context of a road rage incident, and offer suggestions as how to avoid being a participant.


Social Violence Is An Implied Agreement To Engage In Combat

A road rage incident begins when one driver is particularly annoyed at another driver for a perceived slight and responds in kind with an escalating response. At this point, the first "annoyed" driver could have let his pet peeve go without responding or found a way to safely remove himself from the situation. However, he instead chose to issue an escalating response.

Now, at this point, the driver who now receives the escalated response from the first driver has a choice to make: respond back with an escalating gesture or action or let the entire matter go. If this series of escalating responses from both drivers continues without either backing down, a violent confrontation may result.

About a week ago, the media reported that a road rage incident occurred in Farmington Hills, Michigan. According to statements made by the authorities, a driver felt that he was being followed too closely by the vehicle which was immediately behind him.

Apparently, the first driver was irked enough to engage in an action known as a brake-check. A brake check occurs when a driver aggressively brakes or slows down his vehicle which forces the driver of the following vehicle to aggressively slow down his car so that he will avoid crashing into the rear of the car in front of him. Clearly, an alternative response could have been changing lanes and letting the "aggressive" trailing driver have the lane.

Sometime after the brake-check, both cars were stopped at a traffic signal. The driver in the trailing vehicle had several options at his disposal: slow down his rate of speed, pass the car on the right side, call the authorities and complain about a driver using his car as a deadly weapon, or respond with an escalating gesture.

The following driver chose to escalate the incident by getting out of his vehicle to have at least a verbal confrontation with the driver who brake-checked. From there, the incident escalated to a point where the leading driver produced a handgun and shot the driver in the trailing car.

It should be evident by now, that both participants in this incident bear responsibility for the series of escalating events that resulted in a shooting. At any point in time, either participant could have let the matter go and went about their normal course of business for the day.

Neither person was "big enough to be the better man" by refusing to escalate their participation in the incident. As a result, one person was shot and the other faces the prospect of spending a few years behind bars.

Avoiding Social Violence Is A Matter Of Choice

You can significantly lessen the odds that you will be in a road rage incident that escalates into violence by choosing to always adopt a non-escalation policy. As such, you have made the conscious decision not to respond to the actions of another driver. In practical terms, you will not do any of the following actions: glare at the other driver, raise your middle finger, yell, or honk your horn in retaliation for a perceived slight.

Adopting this stance is easy to say and is admittedly hard to do at times. In fact, I will personally testify that it gets easier with practice but still taxes my patience. To illustrate, I was crossing a major street in Detroit a few weeks ago, when all of a sudden a car swerved into my lane and cut me off so that the driver could arrive at a fast-food restauarant.

I braked, swerved to avoid his car, and did not lean into my horn. A friend who was with me at the time remarked that it was surprising that I didn't let the other driver know about his trespass. He probably didn't even realize that he was almost in an accident.

I reminded my friend that I have a Concealed Pistol License and that I was armed. As such, if I got involved in a petty dispute about an "almost-accident" the exchange could have possibly escalated into a deadly encounter. The last thing that I would want is my picture platered all over TV with a voice-over informing the general public that I shot somebody because he almost hit my car.

Bottom Line:

Having a CPL is a responsibility that necessitates that you "be the bigger person" even if your actions of non-escalation make others think you are acting timidly or cowardly towards an aggressor who doesn't endanger your safety. If you lose your cool over a petty but non-life threatening trespass, someone will probably get shot and possibly killed and you will be sent to prison.

Furthermore, don't make the mistake of applying this policy of non-escalation only with respect to driving. Use it in all other contexts of your life: someone mistakely bumps into you, accidentally knocks over your drink, or snatches up the parking spot that you were waiting so patiently for the last 5 minutes. It is far too easy for a minor trespass to blossom into a full-blown confrontation.

Do what I do: Adopt a policy of non-escalation and "keep it moving."
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