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GRINDING GEARS: Here's how you should handle road rage encounters

Slow down, look for alternate routes when you encounter an angry driver
Road rage
Road rage incidents can turn ugly quickly. Columnist Brendan McAleer writes that the best way to avoid confrontation is to treat a rager like a downed power line or other hazard – slow down and find an alternate route. photo illustration Paul McGrath, North Shore News

Anyone surprised by the level of vitriol flying around the average comments section on the internet shouldn’t be.

We’ve long had evidence of how terrible human beings can act when they think they’re protected by a little anonymity, and that evidence can be found in how we drive.

In the past, I’ve suggested that everyone would be nicer to each other if we all drove Lotus Super Sevens (because we’d often need bystanders to push), and drawn contrasts between the way we drive and how we can manage to walk down a sidewalk without honking. Or at least some of us can.

But we don’t drive little lightweight Lotuses that encourage politeness, and we don’t treat the road like a public pathway. Instead, our cars bloat ever bigger and more effortless to drive, giving the average driver a sense of isolation, and a sense of entitlement. Sitting up high in our crossovers, we tailgate, find it easier than ever to speed, and fume silently any time the traffic is bad.

Why is the traffic so bad? Don’t these people know I have to get the kids to their school play in the next 20 minutes? That sort of thing.

When we stop thinking about our fellow drivers as fellow drivers and start thinking of them as obstacles, things get ugly fast. Witness the recently captured dashcam footage of a road rage incident in Toronto, where the HOV lane suddenly became a bumper car lot.

In the footage, vehicle A is traveling along at a reasonable rate of speed. Vehicle B closes in on A’s rear bumper, aggressively tailgating. When that doesn’t work, vehicle B swerves around A, cuts sharply in front, and then hits the brakes – “brake-checking” the driver. A spins out and B scoots off, with the whole thing caught on camera.

A letter from a local North Shore News reader notes a very similar event happening to her as she drove along Highway 1 in the HOV lane, with her toddler in the back. The driver behind took offense at either her speed, or couldn’t see that there were two passengers aboard, and proceeded to swerve around her car and then slow to a stop on the highway.

The first thing here is perhaps a reminder of what the High Occupancy Vehicle lane is, and what it is not. It is not a high-speed lane, nor is it the passing lane. It is designed to accommodate vehicles that are carrying two or more passengers, and provide a little incentive to people to carpool. If someone is driving slower in the HOV lane than the people pulling through in the passing lane, then that’s their right.

The second, and perhaps more important thing here, is what to do if you’re confronted by an irate driver. It can be a pretty scary situation, and when your fight or flight gut reaction kicks in, you may want to either escape by a dangerous swerve, or go on the attack yourself.

One suggestion I’d have, especially for those who commute a lot on the busier routes, is to invest in a dashcam. A dashcam will catch any miscreant in the act, and if you know you’ve got ‘em on tape, you might be able to relax a bit.

But let’s say you haven’t got any such device with you. Instead of fumbling for your phone, try to step back from the situation. What would you do if it was wildlife on the road, or a burst water main, or some other non-human road hazard? You’d slow down and look for an alternative route.

Having been on the receiving end of road rage myself, I know what you don’t want to hear is: turn the other cheek. What you (and I) really want to hear is, “time to start commuting in an M1 Abrams battle tank.” You gonna road rage at me from your 2005 Toyota Corolla? Say hello to my lil’ friend.

But crushing compacts beneath the treads of a main-line battle tank is, of course, illegal. Or at least slightly frowned upon.

Your main job when on the road is to get yourself to your destination safely, while not endangering others. You’ve got to back down, extricate yourself from the situation, and carry on as best you can. If someone’s been tailgating you for a while, you know they’re possibly going to do something irrational, so perhaps be ready to slip off out of their way.

All of which relies on your belief in a bit of karma. We all think that scofflaws are going to get away with their bad behaviour, and the injustice rankles. However, if you read the Twitter accounts of some of our local RCMP spokespeople, you’ll see that these morons inevitably end up cutting off an unmarked police cruiser and getting the fine they so richly deserve.

Let the road rage wash right past you. Laugh, if you can, at the dummy raising their blood pressure, and simply slow your roll and wait for the universe to sort itself out. Be careful, everyone, it’s a jungle out there, and you can’t drive a tank to work. Not yet.

Porsche show rolls into Dundarave

This Sunday is Father’s Day, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind everyone about the annual Dundarave Porsche Show and Ride put on by the Porsche Club of America show and ride, held for the 14th straight year in the 2400 block of Dundarave Village. Even if dad’s only dreaming about a Porsche, it’s worth a visit.

Better yet, why not spring for dear ol’ dad to get a ride up the mountain in a Porsche? The club event is a fundraiser for Cystic Fibrosis Canada, and all proceeds go towards the charity. You’ll get a front-row seat to the cruise up Cypress, and you’ll be contributing to a good cause to boot.

Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and automotive enthusiast. If you have a suggestion for a column, or would be interested in having your car club featured, please contact him at Follow Brendan on Twitter: @brendan_mcaleer