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Thursday May 01, 2015

In the "Rant" section last week a woman motorist complained about a driver who got out of his truck and approached her - presumably to discuss some (real or imagined) driving misdemeanor. Luckily, the woman didn't get to find out what he wanted because she drove off before he could reach her. This woman was not impressed, though, that a man had seen fit to attempt to berate a female driver on her own in the vehicle. It's certainly antagonistic behavior, not to mention rather pointless.

Just the other week I saw another male motorist get out of his car in Newmarket, once again presumably to berate a fellow road user. The details are sketchy; I was reversing into a park at the time so had just half an eye on the events unfolding across the road.

A honk of a horn had alerted me to the fact that some near miss between two vehicles had occurred outside the Maori Television offices. I saw only the aftermath. The man driving the front vehicle was clearly unhappy.

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He stopped his car, then reversed until he was closer to his target, whereupon he got out and approached the other vehicle.

I was too far away to hear what he said. By this time I was exchanging glances with people around me. I was just glad this man didn't have me in his sights. His anger was palpable. He returned to his car and drove off - presumably leaving the other driver feeling somewhat shaken.

You see, once someone sees fit to get out of his (yes, his: I've not encountered a woman doing this) vehicle, I reckon it becomes academic who was in the wrong as far as the road rules are concerned. It's not fair to harass someone just because you can't control your road rage. In my book, that instantly makes you the baddie even if you have been driving like a saint.

I've twice been the focus of angry drivers who have abandoned their vehicle and headed towards me. The first time was in the nineties while I was heading up Mt Ruapehu. My friend and I were mere metres from our destination but our vehicle (a Ford Laser, my first company car) was struggling with the freshly fallen snow on the road. The inclement weather had created a bit of a traffic jam around Whakapapa Village, and every time my car stopped it had a great deal of trouble moving again. I was experiencing significant traction issues.

I could tell the man behind was getting wound up but there wasn't much I could do. We were about 60 seconds away from pulling off the road. Anyway, the next time the traffic came to a halt, he got out of his vehicle and stormed towards my driver's door. "Uh oh," I thought. "This won't end well."

He reached out and tried to open my door with a great deal of fury. Luckily the door was locked (probably because he had already made me feel unsafe). Anyway, the traffic must have eased, we shortly reached our hotel and this man presumably took his anger issues back to his own vehicle. He may well have injured his hand since a lot of force had been used on my unyielding car door.

My second such experience was in San Francisco. I was in the back of a taxi and not paying much attention to my surroundings. Once again it was the sound of a horn that alerted me to some misunderstanding between drivers. My driver stopped the taxi. I saw a car approaching from a cross street on my right also stop. Its male driver got out and approached us.

I was horrified at the prospect of becoming mixed up in a road rage incident in a strange country. It all seemed to happen in slow motion. My driver put his handbrake on and gave every indication of getting out of the vehicle to see what this guy's problem was. "Are you kidding me?" I thought.

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Next this other guy slaps his hand down hard on the back of the taxi. That was enough for me. "Go, Driver, Go," I shouted. To his credit, he didn't need to be told twice. He instantly released the handbrake and we were hurtling up the hill at a rate of knots, leaving the road rage guy in our wake.

So what's the best way of avoiding being accosted by a fellow driver? I can only think of two ideas. One is to drive with your doors locked; the other is to drive away as quickly as you can. Some people reckon driving safely and courteously in the first place is the answer but that presupposes that the person with road rage is in the right as far as the road rules are concerned; in fact, given their emotional state of mind that is likely to be a false assumption.

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