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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Keep your finger hidden

What’s your reaction while traveling on the Interstate, maintaining 75 miles-per-hour while passing an 18-wheeler, and a maniac races to within three feet of your rear bumper flashing his headlights incessantly?  Good sense demands you don’t inform the imbalanced individual of their IQ via a middle-finger hand signal.  That’s because it could be your finger that ignites the intimidator’s short fuse, and turns aggressive driving into road rage.

I’ve known this for years, but sometimes a driver’s behavior is so riling that it invokes a knee-jerk (or jerk-like) reaction.  Such was the case for me last summer, when a selfish speeder felt that I should expedite my truck pass beyond the posted limit to accommodate his penchant for speed.  But what bothered me most was that I was doing just that.  I began my pass at about 71 mph when the offender was well behind, but as his rapid closing speed became evident, I moved up to 75 to get out of his way sooner.  There was no appreciation for my effort — instead it was met with extreme tailgating and high beam headlight flashing.

My ensuing ill-advised hand signal only served to enrage this imbecile into a frenzy of fingers and animated tirades — even spitting toward his open passenger window.  At that point, however, my aggravation was assuaged with comic relief because at 75 mph the spittle likely ended up in or on his vehicle rather than mine.

The moral to the story is that we should strive to diffuse such situations, not exacerbate them.  In my case, I had momentarily forgotten the advice of our Washington State Driver Guide.  There, regarding aggressive driving encounters, it states, “Distance yourself from the situation physically and mentally.  Don’t make eye contact.  Body movements and gestures can provoke an angry response from another driver.”  I can personally attest to that last part.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has recently published their definition of aggressive driving.  The NHTSA describes it as occurring when, “An individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property.”  The combination of speed, following distance, and aggression described above certainly qualifies.  But with a non-response from me, his rage would likely be averted.  I could also have passed the truck even faster, except I would be the one outraged if I got a ticket for 85 mph in a 70 zone.

I ponder how many times per day an angry driver like this gets irate.  I wonder, because I often encounter the same situation that he did during my highway drives.  There are some differences, though, since the slow passers I encounter are usually not going the speed limit, but instead are slow moving vehicles passing even slower moving vehicles.  Then I just shut off my cruise control, chock it up to unfortunate timing, and remain calm.  Since I so often encounter such hold-ups while driving at 72 mph, there must be even more for a guy like this doing 85.  It’s got to be very tiring getting so enraged over such a common highway-driving occurrence.

Unfortunately, aggressive driving and road rage have become a common occurrence — so common that the Washington State Patrol and other enforcement agencies have formed emphasis patrols to find and punish these offenders.

Please remember that just one finger can detonate an explosion of anger.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at precisiondriving@spokesman.com,