Clarence Fanto | The Bottom Line: Keep rage and distraction at bay; focus closer to home
LENOX >> These days it seems as if our personal Irritability Index is running on high. Big things bother us, but because we are powerless to change them, we turn to little things. Pretty soon little things drive us crazy.
But there's one form of anger that's most troubling because of potential lethal results.
Most of us see it constantly. As one member of the Berkshire constabulary put it (epithets omitted), he encounters it every time he gets behind the wheel.
Now comes a study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety showing that nearly four out of five drivers "expressed significant anger, aggression or road rage at least once in the past year."
That means that about eight million American motorists displayed extreme examples of road rage, including purposefully ramming another vehicle. The data was gathered from 2,705 licensed drivers who reported driving in the past 30 days.
According to the foundation's research director Jurek Grabowski, "Inconsiderate driving, bad traffic and the daily stresses of life can transform minor frustrations into dangerous road rage. Far too many drivers are losing themselves in the heat of the moment and lashing out in ways that could turn deadly."
Because of overcrowded highways and byways, the Northeast region is especially prone to driving while angry. Even in the Berkshires, where traffic seems heavier every summer because of construction projects and the influx of visitors, motorists come close to snapping much too often.
My theory, far from an original one, is that this behavior only reflects the larger dislocations of our society, whether it's extreme inequality (economic and racial), fear of homegrown terrorism, and widespread revulsion against both major-party presidential candidates.
Drilling down into the AAA's statistics, the study finds 104 million drivers purposely tailgated during the past year; 95 million yelled at another motorist; 67 million made obscene gestures; 49 million tried to block another vehicle from changing lanes; 24 million deliberately cut off another vehicle; 7.6 million exited their vehicles to confront a driver, and 5.7 million either bumped or rammed another vehicle on purpose.
Male drivers, 19 to 39, were found to be the most prone to displaying extreme anger. They are three times more likely than females to confront another driver by getting out of their cars or by ramming another vehicle.
AAA offers obvious and common-sense tips; the one I find most helpful is to not respond, avoiding eye contact, keeping away from encroaching motorists — in other words, turning the other cheek. The foundation suggests, perhaps optimistically, showing tolerance and forgiveness: "The other driver may just be having a really bad day, so assume it's not personal."
The findings are part of the foundation's annual "traffic safety culture index."
As if driving isn't dangerous enough these days, technology is making walking a problem.
Not covered because it's a brand new phenomenon is the outrageously self-involved behavior of some "Pokemon Go" enthusiasts, staring at their screens, oblivious to other people and their surroundings, invading private property, using their devices in totally inappropriate locales such as the Holocaust Museum and Arlington National Cemetery.
Police logs hereabouts are beginning to show "suspicious behavior" entries, such as encroachment into "no trespassing" locations, often in the middle of the night.
As a reliable observer of the human condition commented to me, "the country is going to hell and people are playing a stupid screen game."
Perhaps some hyperbole there — the '60s and early '70s were worse, as was the prolonged aftermath of 9/11 and the unspeakably misguided Iraq war that followed.
But the carnage of the past two weeks is bound to make all of us anxious, jittery, eager to hunker down in our safe spaces, shutting out the rest of the world.
While that can only be a temporary balm for the soul and spirit, a retreat to the bunker seems very appealing.
Except there are concerts to attend, work to be done, and family to support and nurture. If we can make our own gardens grow, perhaps the outside world may seem a bit less out of control.
Contact Clarence Fanto at email@example.com.
The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.
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