Guns and Road Rage

Guns and Road Rage

There always seems to be some inconsiderate jerk dangerously cutting you off in traffic, quickly switching lanes in front of you, and making you angry. Some bozo on their cell phone oblivious to those around them, talking and slowing way down in the left lane as you want to pass. Some young, inexperienced driver tailgating your car’s bumper at light speed, slamming on their brakes while yelling profanities. An older-than-Methuselah, coffin-dodger driving slower than a snail in molasses in a 45-mile-per-hour zone, making you mad and late to pick up your lottery winnings. Then there’s the selfish, cocky loser presenting a finger digit in the air to remind you of his driving IQ. How do you respond to Road Rage, especially if there is a gun? I want to offer you some responses and suggestions.

We all have experienced some crazy nut job on the road or a dangerous, selfish driver causing us a lot of stress and being inconsiderate of our vehicle space and our road right-of-way. Some studies estimate that over half of all drivers have experienced Road Rage at some point because of aggressive driving by others or themselves. This is a cause of accidents and death in some cases. But what if you are legally carrying a handgun with your carry permit in your vehicle at the time. Do you have to put up with this annoying, discourteous, unacceptable and selfish driving behavior from this jerk? How do you handle the situation, especially since you have a powerful means to deal with it? Do you pull your gun as a show of power or threaten the idiot? Maybe fire a round in the ground to let him know you mean business and to leave you alone. Do you make a turn and drive away in another direction?  What are your considerations in the brief time you encounter this disrespectful person? What do you do?

Road Rage Reality

Well, we have to recognize that we are talking “Road Rage” in the above situations and it really exists. But what is it? Does it really happen that often? Could it even remotely apply to “moi” when carrying? Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it simply as “anger and aggressive behavior by a driver who is upset by how another person is driving.” Some go further and say that it is a motorist’s uncontrolled anger that is provoked by another motorist’s irritating act and is expressed in aggressive VIOLENT behavior. This can and has involved producing firearms and/or firing them.

First, recognize that there are thoughtless and disrespectful people like the above folks that do drive a vehicle and can annoy and even threaten you in this world. Sadly, just like those selfish, uncaring, and dangerous folks, there will always be evil, bad, and dangerous people… and they do drive cars. I hope you are not a victim or even a perpetrator, with or without an involved gun. Also, I hope none of us are involved in a Road Rage encounter, but statistics and history show otherwise. Road Rage and aggressive driving is recently on the rise according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and is a significant concern for many drivers. They report that “at least 1,500 people a year are seriously injured or killed in senseless traffic disputes.”

Harvard University’s School of Public Health (HSPH) did two Road Rage studies. The first study in 2002 by Miller, Azrael & Hemenway reported that “Motorists with guns are more likely to act aggressively.” Now wait a minute, what’s involved here? Well, this study used data from a telephone survey in Arizona and self-reported actions by individuals. Even though I have studied Management at Harvard and do not want to be disrespectful to this fine university, I have to question if this is a statistically valid and reliable sample and methodology. Certainly it does, however, get your attention and make headlines. They found that “self-reported hostile actions (e.g. obscene gestures, cursing or shouting, aggressively tailgating) were more common among men, young adults, and individuals who carried a firearm in their car.”

The second HSPH study in 2006 by Hemenway, Vriniotis & Miller studied over 2,400 licensed drivers’ responses to questions about their own aggressive driving. This study found that 17% of respondents admitted to making obscene or rude gestures in the past year, and another 9% admitted to aggressively following too closely. They said that “males, young adults, binge drinkers, those ever arrested for a non-traffic violation, and motorists who had been in a vehicle in which there was a gun, were more likely to engage in forms of road rage” (my bold and underlining.) Before accepting this as a generalized “truth” and drawing conclusions, I would like more details about this study and some concrete examples to review, especially about riding along with someone who happened to be armed in a vehicle. However, it is one study and makes you think about Road Rage and its application to your own actions when carrying.

While we should be positive, see and focus on the good in others, we must remove our head from the sand and see that there are also bad, evil, reckless, manipulative, self-centered morons driving automobiles. This is even more complicated and dangerous when a gun is introduced into the mix.

Road Rage Behavioral Considerations & Our Actions

As difficult as it may be, we must have the discipline and self-control to deal with our anger, the obnoxious and dangerous drivers, and any stressful situation we might face. This is true whether we are in a vehicle with a gun or not, or on the street without a gun, or while carrying or shopping with a concealed or open carry gun. This is certainly simple and easy to say, but complex to practice and implement with the many situational variables and dangers. Introduce a handgun into almost any situation and it will escalate and there are life-threatening possibilities. Most of us recognize this, but practically dealing with it often can be a major challenge. After all this scumbag is wrong and our emotions speak loudly to us saying he needs to know it and be dealt with. But, our logic says we want to AVOID trouble at all costs, DE-ESCALATE the situation, but BE PREPARED just in case. Of course, it is important for us to accept that we are in control of our own actions, behaviors, and how we respond to stressful situations, especially deadly-force encounters. No matter how wrong the other person is or how stressed we are at another’s stupid, inconsiderate, self-centered behaviors and actions (while in or outside of a vehicle or with or without a gun), we must control ourselves and how we respond. And not just for legal reasons. Use of deadly force is NOT always nor frequently the answer. Just as non-deadly force may also not be an optimal response, but usually (not always) we should try the non-deadly force first… very dependent upon the situation.

My point is that we alone determine our specific actions to ANY situation we might find ourselves in, given the many factors involved. Even in Road Rage. But remember we always MUST justify our use of deadly force and prove that our life was threatened, that we were in fear for our life, and that imminent death or serious bodily injury could have occurred. Not an easy task, considering we usually must have a preponderance of evidence. In some states, we are not innocent until proven guilty, but rather we as the defender must take the initiative to prove our use of deadly force was justified against an attacker. Sometimes the burden of proof for guilt does not rest with a state prosecutor, but with the accused to prove their innocence. We could spend a lot of time and money in court trying to justify and prove our righteous use of deadly force in a Road Rage event.

It is important to recognize the influences on our own behavior and how delimited our personal experiences are relative to the total possible set of experiences that we could have. In other words, our response is determined by both things we easily recognize and by other elements we may not recognize and that may even be subliminal or sub-conscious to us. We have to use our brain’s prefrontal cortex and make logical decisions and take the best action, not emotional decisions using our brain’s amygdala. Rather than get into proven behavioral stimulus-responses, it is best to keep it basic, especially for me. I understand simply that everyone behaves in a way that makes sense to themselves, based on their total being of the sum of their experiences, training, education, family influences, values, background, priorities, goals, inherited traits, geographic influences, ad infinitum. Add to this the fact that we do not know what we do not know. Since we have not experienced first-hand the many possible alternatives in the many possible situations for any event, sometimes we assume we have the understanding and capability to handle the unique situations we have not yet faced. But, we have very delimited exposure to the vast possible problems and situational variables and possible actions. Accepting this, the simple Road Rage incident has developed into a much larger and more complex and challenging issue. Bottom Line: How do we personally deal with our anger and the Road Rage in an acceptable and effective manner? 

Responses to Road Rage when Armed

As I said above AVOID the situation, even Road Rage, before it starts if at all possible. Remember, you are probably going to have to justify and show your actions and use of force were absolutely necessary. If there is an aggressive, inconsiderate jerk-driver, drive away from them, retreat, do not engage them. You know that the best way to “win” any fight (verbal, physical, or gunfight) is to not even be involved in it. It is not a win-win situation. It is not even a win-lose situation, but a lose-lose situation. You and the other party have nothing to gain, but a lot to lose, especially if a gun is involved. You must make every attempt to NOT present your gun, unless your life is threatened or you could be seriously injured. Do not fire a round into the air or into the ground. Know the laws of your state and jurisdiction. Of course, situations vary so be judicious. Even if the guy/gal is obviously wrong, accept that you are not the savior for mankind, that you are not out to “right” all “wrongs,” that you are not the dispenser of societal or moral justice, and not a police officer. So if you can leave safely, do it. Do not stop your vehicle. Do not get out of it. Do not fall into the “trap” of the aggressive driver who is luring you into the “fight” and baiting you to demonstrate an equally-abusive and inconsiderate behavior. Do not be intimidated. Relax, keep your cool, and remain calm! In a Road Rage confrontation, be logical and not emotional in your thinking. You are not trying to prove anything to anybody or settle the score. You may have to remind yourself that the jerk driver could be armed, maybe with more firepower than you, and maybe out of your sight and aimed at you. Do not make the “rookie” mistake of letting your self-esteem and machismo becoming involved. It is not a matter of your virility, pride, toughness, or expertise with a gun. Remain calm, cool, and collected. Be disciplined and in control. If the jerk driver persists with the aggressive behavior, you could always drive to the police station or make the phone call to them as the victim and wait for them to arrive.

Be disciplined and logical. Remain calm and in control. Avoid encounters. Be Safe.

Continued Success!

Photo by author.

This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney in your state or jurisdiction for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense, stand your ground law, and concealed carry. This is not legal advice and not legal opinions. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever. Safety First! 

© 2016 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at [email protected].

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  • Bdpenn

    Great article. Rage has tunnel vision. Lets also emphasize that this childish behavior also endangers the innocent occupants of vehicles not involved in these selfish acts.

    I’m beginning to worry about armed individuals taking “awareness” to the extreme without any forthought. There are levels and each needs to be rehearsed into musle memory. My point is that I am reading to many articles where paranoia instead of reson and logic seems to have become the norm. I realize that I’ll be blasted for that statement;just asking that you self examine your own thought processes especially if you are more of a react then think instead of think then react individual.
    I know, thats what training is for. No, its not, training is for developing a skill. Thinking is cognitive and very well may be harder to master for many. Many trainers and instructors focus on supervised skills but few concentrate on thought processing.
    Just food fot thought.
    Don’t forget to VOTE!

  • Dave

    Thanks for the great article.
    I’ll start with saying that I’m a proud gun owner, but a moderate compared to many others in terms of feeling that my right to impose my love for guns trumps everyone else is right to be in comfortable with seeing a gun.
    I really appreciate your thoughts about not having to solve the inconsiderate and stupid behaviors of others. Just because we carry a gun does not mean we are the police.
    I’ve always heard that police officer’s were supposed to go under the rule that if you D holster you’re gone you are prepared to kill the aggressor. In a road rage situation, the matter how we are upset at a stupid slow inconsiderate driver, are we Willy ready to and that person’s life. That’s a pretty big penalty for us to the side, and I’m not ready to take that move in less someone is chasing me down the street with a weapon of their own.
    Thanks for the great article.

    • 2ThinkN_Do2

      Is a slow driver exhibiting Road Rage? Likely the person with the rage at that point is the person behind them. Perfect example: I’m driving to work with a safe following distance, in bumper to bumper, stop and go traffic during rush hour(s). The speed limit is 60, we are going from zero to 60 like a roller coaster. We go for a bit we stop, we go slow, we speed up. It’s a sea of traffic with technically no where to go at any other speed, you are not going to leap-frog the thousands of vehicles on the road in front of you, even if you think you are Super Mario. So I leave reasonable space and plug along at a speed that allows me to not hit the brakes and stop every block like some people. In fact I really hit the brakes at all, but keep moving the whole time. Some think you are holding them back and flash their lights, honk or use the lane next to you on either side, or even the shoulder to get that one extra car length ahead. They drive buy and flip you the bird, shake their fist or attempt to cut off your front end. However, 10 -30 seconds later they are slamming on their brakes and still only one car length ahead. 10 minutes down the road you are getting off at your ramp and they are sitting in a lane still waiting, changing lanes every chance they get, trying to get to the front of the pack. Generally the person with the problem is not the slow person.

      • BenAround

        I totally agree that I have a right to go at the pace I feel comfortable with and keep a safe distance from the cars ahead. However, if that is impeding cars behind, the right hand lane is the place for me to be so that other vehicles have no incentive to pass on both sides or attempt maneuvers that are unsafe and that increase their anxiety level. A rolling roadblock is always an irritant and, even though I, as the slower and safer driver, may be quite smugly satisfied that I am doing the right thing for myself (to heck with those other guys who are too stupid to appreciate the fact that a couple of car-lengths ahead isn’t a significant reduction in commute time) the fact that I have guilty knowledge that my behavior is irritating other drivers into exercising poor judgment indicates that I am conscious that I am contributing to a reduction in overall traffic safety. If I am in the right hand lane, they will forgive me for being the slow puppy in the litter and road rage rarely comes up.

        • 2ThinkN_Do2

          Well, I am not going to go sit in the lane that is moving at half the speed mine is, just because some fool thinks he can get one car length ahead if he passes me. It would be different if the lane in front of me was empty, or the one to my right, but neither is.

          • BenAround

            Well then get ready for #@%&*#@! LOL We do all have limits to our patience. 🙂

          • 2ThinkN_Do2

            It’s like you eluded to BenA: camping in the left lane is not right, I mean correct; I don’t camp there. Traffic laws apply at all hours of the day, and one of the keys while driving in all conditions is: when safe to do so. If someone chooses to drive unsafe, that is their choice, I am not going to do the same because they choose to be unsafe and jeopardize their life and the lives of others.We could go on and debate this for hour after hour, bottom line is, flowing with the traffic and that I am, Not only am I flowing with the traffic, but I am actually increasing the continued flow where as they are not.

          • BenAround

            I think we are in agreement on the principles.

  • RMD

    I, for 1, disagree with this study. I used to get upset with some of these fools and their driving habits. I have been carrying now for a couple of years and my attitude behind the wheel has totally changed. I carry for protection of myself and Family. If they are in danger, I would definately defend them. As far as the wacky inconsiderate driver, I refuse to let them upset me enough to take any action against them.

    • NoOne

      GOD BLESS YOU’RE SECOND AMENMENT RIGHT’S

  • I encountered a person with a “minor issue” of road rage the other day. I was driving slightly over the speed limit but it wasn’t fast enough for him. He had difficulty passing due to heavy traffic in the “slow lane.” He made gestures at me and shouted some bad words at me, but I couldn’t hear him. I stared back at him and said something to the effect “What’s your problem?” (Yeah, RIGHT!) but he couldn’t hear me either. Although I was angry for a split second, I kept my cool for the most part. He angrily cut me off, of course, then went on his way, dodging and weaving through traffic.
    Did he have a gun? I don’t know. Did I have a gun. Nope, not legal to carry onto a military installation where I work as a civilian. Has this happened to me before while carrying? Yes. What was my response…When carrying, I realize that I have what may or may not be an advantage in a confrontational situation of any sort. Driving a vehicle constitutes operating a “deadly weapon” in the first place. De-escalating is a MUST in any situation. The additional confidence I have when I have my pistol on me just helps me to know in my heart-of-hearts that I can handle it if it comes to “the other guy” totally losing it and trying to kill me.
    In traffic, after the angry guy gets by me, I try to just stay off his tail and let him go, but watch ahead to make sure he hasn’t pulled off to ambush me. I don’t want to get ahead of him, either, for fear of him coming at me and either ramming me or trying to cut me off and pull me over. You don’t want to have to stop your vehicle in that sort of situation.
    I know that I’m over-thinking this, but it is the advance preparation and thinking that may keep you out of trouble. The other day, when the guy had weaved his way up through traffic, I thought to myself, “I bet this guy had a beef with his wife, or is running late to work or something.” If I run into him again, I’m going to smile and wave in a friendly manner…or not. You just never know, do you?

    • 2ThinkN_Do2

      Sometimes waving and smiley at them just irritates them more; I’ve personally seen it. One person waved their fist and finger at me so violently, I thought they were going to punch out their own windshield; they were behind me when they were doing this. I’ve taught my children from the beginning, to never flip someone off or yell at them just because they are not driving the way you’d like. Whether they are slow or too fast, it does’t matter; you are not going to improve anything by getting angry with them or instigating a hand signal match.

  • BenAround

    I would like not to BE that person who incites road rage in other drivers and I spend time planning not to be that guy. The list of inconsiderate and annoying behaviors is long and among them are: 1. driving in the left lane when not passing. Even if I am going the speed limit, I am neither a cop nor a pace car and it is not my responsibility to ensure that other drivers obey. Keeping it on cruise control while people pile up behind me may allow me to avoid tapping my brakes for a slower car in front but it is extremely self-centered and, therefore, annoying. I don’t want to be that guy. 2. Following too close and/or drafting in the blind spot of another driver. Both are dangerous and raise the threat level in any driver who is trying to be safe. I don’t want to distract the other folks on the road by increasing the threat level. 3. Creating a moving road block by matching the speed of a vehicle in the adjacent lane. This creates the moving traffic jams that are so difficult to navigate. Again, I don’t want to be the one that everyone is cursing for jamming up traffic. 4. Passing another car, moving in front of it, and then slowing down. This happens more than you can imagine. What would I even be thinking, if thinking at all? 5. Driving slower than traffic flow in any but the rightmost lane. This is an automatic geezer alert and, unless you are that proverbial coffin-dodger, there is no excuse for it. I may indeed be a geezer but, for my coffin-dodging to be successful long term, I know which lane I belong in when I’m going slower than traffic.

    Most of these behaviors, while annoying, are simply a consequence of being a below average driver who is fortunate to just get where he or she is going and can’t spare any precious brain cells thinking of how best to help others do the same.

    So far I have listed above only what can be considered passive errors. Obviously, the list includes aggressive driving as well, such as: 1. Zooming up behind someone and flipping on the high beams. “Get out of the way!” 2. Cutting in too close after passing someone who is committing one of the errors in the first list. “That will teach you!” 3. Extreme tailgating. “I’m am a testosterone junkie moron with an inferiority complex who is having fun annoying you and trying to get a reaction. Maybe because you did something I don’t like.” This can backfire. A high school friend of mine was a victim of this. He was driving a pickup with a heavy duty hitch. After putting up with the extreme tailgating harassment for a few miles, he slammed on the brakes, driving the hitch through the tail-gater’s grill, and then accelerated–pulling grill pieces and radiator parts with. No damage to his pickup. I don’t recommend this type of retaliation and cite it only as a warning that the aggressor doesn’t always act with impunity and that following too closely is dangerous whether done with malice or not.

    Having said that, I always carry, whether driving or not, except in locations where it is specifically prohibited by law. In my state it is not a crime to carry on private property that is posted. It is, however, trespassing if you are discovered and refuse to leave when requested. However, it would not even cross my mind to respond to road rage with a gun. And the gun certainly doesn’t make me feel safer or at and advantage when confronted by an aggressive driver or one who flunks the digital IQ test. As with anyone who has diminished mental capacity–whether genetically incurred or self-induced–I cut them some slack and try to avoid escalating the situation. I would expect that most responsible permit holders are mature enough to understand that the gun is not a defensive driving aid. So, I would really like to see more convincing data showing that permit holders feel safer acting stupid on the road because they have a gun in the vehicle.

    Obviously a weapon could be helpful as a last resort if I am forced off the road and the other driver approaches my vehicle with injurious intent. But I don’t even think of it in the run-of-the-mill cases normally encountered.

    • Nocternus

      You say you are law abiding but your driving habits say otherwise. You constantly berate the intelligence of others if they do not operate a motor vehicle the way you do yet consider yourself to be more mature than the people that follow the law when operating a motor vehicle.

      • BenAround

        Your comment is evidence that you didn’t even comprehend the meaning of my post. I said nothing about MY driving habits other than that I try not to be “that guy” who provokes road rage. Then I listed some behaviors that I avoid. I guess you weren’t able to understand the nuance. So you may be justifiably defensive about any reference to diminished intelligence. I’m sorry for that.

  • If they’re trying to run you off the road or render your vehicle inoperable, shoot to kill.

  • The Absolute Truth Of All

    It is very sad that we have so many filthy low life scumbag loser drivers on the road these days since they’re very Severe Mentally Disturbed which they need help very bad before more innocent lives are at risk. Since Most of them today that are like this need to get the hell off the Road which they need to get a life. They should have their License taken away from them since they do cause Most of the Trouble today. The ones that speed and tailgate are real Losers altogether.

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