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Dangers of Denver’s Roads: RAGE

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ROAD RAGE. It’s estimated that nearly 80% of all drivers have experienced an extreme level of anger while driving.

For the second time in five days, I’ve been involved in a frightening road rage incident in Denver. Sadly, this morning the offender caused a terrible accident in a busy intersection throwing a vehicle from oncoming traffic into my neighbor’s yard. My daughter, on her way to school, was horrified. Thankfully, a kind lady walking her dogs came over to help calm her from frantic tears. The offender had pulled up behind us, honked, inched forward a couple of times aggressively, then zoomed around us. We had been waiting for a safe break in traffic to turn left. It all happened fast, and I tried to give the offender a warning, but it was too late, and we had to watch the collision with front row seats.

The loud honk, followed by the crunching of cars, one almost flipping over before jumping a curb and landing in the grass, was horrifying, especially for my ten-year-old. The officer said the offender’s driver’s license was invalid and he had an extensive record including 12 open tickets. Sadly, he had his young son in the car with him. Everyone was ok.

The other incident of RR happened last Wednesday, after I had dropped Noelle off at cotillion. I was alone and headed to REI downtown. I heard someone behind me honk, but traffic was heavy so I thought nothing of it. As I merged onto the Interstate, a guy pulled up aggressively next to me and was shouting and gesturing. He was dressed like a young businessman, so I wasn’t immediately alarmed and even wondered if I had a flat tire or something wrong with my vehicle. I rolled my window down and he told me I had hit his car. My mind was racing, I was sure I would have noticed something like that.

I took my exit, because it was right there, and he followed me. He started to get aggressively close, flashing his lights and honking hard. That was then that I knew this wasn’t a normal situation. I panicked, missed my turn, and ended up doing a U-turn in a well-lit intersection by the Downtown Aquarium (before I headed too far into a Denver neighborhood I was unfamiliar with). The guy stopped his car perpendicular to me in the middle of the intersection and jumped out. I rolled my window down and told him to back off (with tears, I’m sure) and that I had the police on the line (which was a lie). I took a photo of his license plate as he tried to point to some damage on his car, there was none. Realizing this, he started calm down and said “Well, you at least cut me off.” followed by, “I’m not crazy.” He threatened to call in a hit-and-run, which I welcomed as I drove away. When I stopped shaking and truly did call the police, there was no report of a hit-and-run. The photo I had taken was blurry and I was a mess, I clearly need to be better prepared. And that makes me sad.

I currently live and work in both Hawaii and Colorado. In Hawaii, there’s a driving concept referred to as Aloha (this term is used for many beautiful things). Driving With Aloha is letting someone in when you may not legally have to, or even pausing on a busy road to help keep side traffic moving. People go out of their way to help everyone, shakas and smiles are frequently exchanged.

In Colorado, driving is a different experience. People are in a hurry and don’t often exchange courtesies on the road. I sometimes see an act of Aloha, but it’s a rarity. I hear a lot of angry honks and see people rushing around without much consideration for others. I’m sure I’ve been quite guilty of all of these things myself, and that’s an awful thought.

Road rage, however, is something bigger. I’m not sure I can explain it, and I don’t think I experience the sentiment as some people do. I know that road rage scares me. I saw today that the consequences are very real.

I don’t like to talk about it much, but I almost lost my mom, brother, and baby sister in a car accident on a two-lane highway when I was in high school. It wasn’t a case of road rage, it was an unfortunate accident. It was life-changing. I was left to care for my two-year-old sister while my mom and brother fought for their lives in the hospital (Jordyn had a fabulous nanny and several adults helped me in many ways). Two years prior to that, I was in a rollover accident with young drivers (too young) that resulted in friends teaming together as we lifted a truck bed off of a fellow teen trapped in the ditch. It was also a life-changing event and a hard lesson learned. While my mom and brother were still recovering in the hospital, I was in a school bus crash. It was much less serious, but lots of glass and a beam from an old woodshed broke through my window (slow motion per bus speed, thankfully). That one is a bit funny now, especially the look on everyone’s faces – I’m from a small town, so everyone knew my situation and was very compassionate. I didn’t freak out or even cry then (shock is a helpful emotion), but I’m pretty sure all of it instilled a permanent feeling of insecurity in a moving vehicle.

Even after 23 years, seeing the photo of our family’s car after the accident makes my stomach turn. The smell of fresh blood mixed with my brother’s bottle of cologne, shattered inside his duffle bag in what was once the trunk, is memorable enough that I often try to forget. One of my good friends quit wearing that scent for me back then, I’m still grateful. The car metal trapped most of my family; I walked away, out the unfolded convertible top, with a couple of bruises on my shins. It didn’t ever feel like a great blessing that I was fully aware and unharmed, but it helped me realize some things that teens often forget. My brother told me, after surgery and when he was conscious again, that he was glad it was him and not me. It was a feeling I wish no human ever has to endure.

It may be hard to imagine when you are feeling pissed off at the person annoying you on the road, but in an instant, your next decision could change lives forever.

Embarrassing confession: I get irrationally scared as a passenger in a vehicle sometimes, my best friends know that, most of them understand.

I suppose I think things happen for a reason, and I certainly believe in purpose and a higher good. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to make my bad memories go away. I definitely don’t feel comfortable talking about it. But, as a subject that continues to cross my path, I felt I should share my stories, talk about my concern, and do what I can to help make our roads in Colorado a safer place for everyone.

This morning was hard for my daughter and me, but it was far worse for the victim of road rage. Please help raise awareness of the dangers of road rage and spread a little extra Aloha on your drive home today.

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