By DEREK FAY
America’s highways are transformed into crime scenes with disturbing frequency as more and more drivers vent traveling frustrations by doing anything from making obscene gestures to shooting and killing other drivers.
One Utah Highway Patrol official and local driving school instructors said Utah drivers can avoid being victims of “road rage” simply by practicing common courtesy.
“In the vast majority of the (highway violence) cases, if you are driving courteously, and you’re not causing a problem, you’re not going to be part of a problem,” said Sgt. Jim Matthies, administrative assistant for the superintendent of the Utah Highway Patrol.
Random acts of violence do happen on the highway, but they are only a small part of the incidents that occur. Courteous driving can protect a traveler from becoming a target of aggressive drivers, Matthies said.
Courtesy is a tall order for some drivers.
In a college-town setting like Provo, where there are thousands of vehicles and pedestrians in a concentrated area, some drivers feel aggression is the only thing that will help them reach their destination.
“There are so many people trying to use the same roads that people cannot get from one spot to another quickly, especially around campus,” said Brian Hughes, owner of American Driving School in American Fork.
“A lot of (drivers) feel that if they are not aggressive, they aren’t going to be able to get anywhere,” Hughes said.
Courtesy does not prevent every confrontation, and sometimes drivers need to know what to do if a person is threatening them on the highway.
Martin Southwick, owner of Line Drive Driving School in Provo, teaches his students not to react to aggressive drivers.
Southwick said he and his students sometimes get real-life experience with aggressive drivers while they are on the road.
“I own a driving school, and we get run off the road all the time. (Other drivers) just don’t like student drivers in their way. I mean, we’re not even driving slowly sometimes. They’ll purposely run me off the road or purposely pull ahead of us and slam on their brakes,” he said.
Southwick said he takes such opportunities to teach his students not to react to violence.
“It’s better … to let it go and just stay back and stay away from them. The reason is, it’s probably the only contact you’ll ever have with that person, and it’s not worth dying over, so just let it go and let them be off on their way and don’t try and react to it,” Southwick said.
Sgt. Matthies said there are certain things a driver can do if confronted with violence while driving. Using an off-ramp to get away from a threatening driver is a wise decision, even if you get right back on the highway again, Matthies said.
Not responding to challenges or threats is also important in preventing a situation from escalating to violence, Matthies said.
“No matter how bad someone baits you along, I wouldn’t stop…. If you’re going to pull over, do it where there can be some help. Don’t do it out there on the interstate,” Matthies said.
A news release from the American Automobile Association suggests how to avoid potentially dangerous situations: Keep your eyes on the road, avoid conflict with aggressive drivers and don’t react to provocation.