Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Road Rage comes to Bomb Town (updated)

The proverbial cheery greeting
The potential impact of road rage on public safety was brought home to us in Los Alamos right down on NM-4 in White Rock. This reminds us that it is easier for a confrontation to get out of control than for it to stay in control. Once out of control, it is hard to undo a fractured skull or a felony conviction.  Yeah, people can be buttheads. But lets be careful out there; take a deep breath and let some stuff go. These days it can get ugly, and get ugly real fast. Smile, wave, ride correctly, and then call the cops.

From the Monitor, courtesy of Managing Editor Carol Clark. Police chief breaks up road rage incident  From Carol Clark's report: "While driving along N.M. 4 within the last hour, Los Alamos Police Chief Wayne Torpy came upon a scene resembling something out of an action movie. A truck was parked in the middle of the highway and the driver was wielding a 3-foot-long metal jack handle in the air. A bicyclist was clutching his bicycle in front of himself in a protective manner against the threatened blows from the rod. ....According to reports at the scene, the truck driver passed closely to the bicyclists and they in turn voiced their displeasure. The truck driver slammed on his brakes and the melee ensued."

Here is a brief page over on Edmunds.com about dealing with road rage. Some motorists become enraged simply because we are riding in the road and perhaps slowing down their drive to destiny. That crap needs to stop. On the other side of the coin, from what I have seen, cyclists who engage in rage often do so after a near miss with a motor vehicle. Believe me, I realize that when you see your life flash before your eyes because someone is doing something to you that is (or seems) dangerous, outrageous, insulting, or aggressive, all the while shielded by 5000 lbs of steel and tinted glass, it is easy to lose one's composure. Been there, done that, and don't recommend it.

One thing the general public has to address is the double standard out there. Some motorists consider it their right to be beeping at or gesturing to or buzzing a cyclist to "get outa my way", but get offended when someone on a bicycle tells them where to stow the bad attitude. From my saddle, no one should have a sense of "entitlement" to harass other law abiding operators (and cyclists, obviously, should be law abiding operators). A cyclist, of course doesn't have a big ole horn to beep back with either, often leading to the next best attention getter, The Gesture. There needs to be a lot more mutual understanding out there if we are to ratchet down this endless circle of confrontation.

Is a minute's bad judgment worth three years? My understanding from the Monitor article is that the truck driver in this case is now getting a cot and three squares as a guest of the county after a felony arrest: “...(the motorist) will be arraigned in Magistrate Court within 10 days,” Deputy Chief Kevin Purtymun said. “Aggravated assault is a fourth degree felony and if convicted, the sentence could be as high as three years in prison and up to a $2,500 fine.”   That driver is probably kicking himself.  His family's Thanksgiving ain't exactly pleasant. The victims are lucky to not be in the hospital and if they were, the motorist's fate would likely be sealed in the Big House for quite a few years. So if you find yourself losing your own temper, think about that truck driver's unfortunate predicament. But for the grace of God, there go I?

Share the Road. Share the Love
May the Bird of the Peloton never grace your handlebars.  I don't know if the "One Fingered Victory Salute" was displayed during this incident, but it has become the universal symbol of displeasure in response to those who have committed a real or imagined offense in this age of careless driving, inconsiderate cycling, and rampant jaywalking. Yep. Used it more than once myself . It has become as natural in our society as the sunrise. Unfortunately, the lack of civility has also become as natural as the sunrise. The problem is that whether you are driving, walking, or riding, "flipping the bird" is a sure guarantee to raise the ante as well as the blood pressure with That Other Guy. Plus, that other guy may honestly have no idea that he just buzzed you or nearly took off your new Giro helmet with the extended mirror on his SuperDuty.  Or he may simply not know that you were well within the law doing whatever it was you were doing when he beeped at you. Or perhaps, you were doing something quite culpable; we never saw a bicyclist riding stupid, did we? But regardless of how it started, now that you flipped the bird, he's as mad as a stick-prodded hornet and you have a bigger problem.  Its usually better to get someone's attention in a more neutral way and tell them your story. Don't ask me how I learned that lesson.

My favorite (positive) story here is about the guy who made a U-turn and pulled me over while yelling and giving me several Italian symbols of good health after he was nearly run off the road by a car that passed me over the centerline. After a short and calming discussion (and if I can have a calm discussion, anyone can...), he realized that the real SOB was the impatient motorist who played chicken with him. We left as friends and shaking hands. Whew....

Of course, if someone is actually threatening you or driving recklessly, dispense with the Italian Hand Language and call 911 and get the police where you need them. One can't always assume that the Chief of Police will be driving by as you are dodging the brown stuff.

Enjoy the ride, be safe, cooperate with each other, give the other guy a break, and share the road.

With acknowledgments to Patrick O'Grady for the illustrations and to former President George W. Bush for the "one fingered victory salute" demonstration.


Amy said...

Wow. That kind of behavior is always disappointing to hear about. I believe I would say in response to this first part of the story (assuming the 2nd is still coming) that it's important to carry a cell phone. And a brain.

Peter said...

That truck driver with the 3 ft jack handle is lucky neither of the cyclists was a Concealed Carry licensee, or he'd be in a box now.

Steve A said...

The story certainly DID develop. That Spencer guy certainly sounded sensible.

Fazz (Google Account) said...

One thing that is often overlooked or not talked about much is when driving my car, I have a horn when someone does something boneheaded.

However, driving our bicycle, the loudest thing we have is our voice, which unfortunately irritates others more than just a blast of the horn, but the intent is the same.