On The Road – Road Rage

Recently, we’ve had more road-rage on our area roads, the latest being this one, caught on camera on the NY I-290.  This might seem tame, a pick-up all but forcing a sedan off the road, then the driver getting out to throw rocks at the leaving sedan, but for our area that’s pretty bad.

See, a whole lot of the highway system in and around Buffalo was designed in the 1950’s as part of the New York State Thruway System, and at that time, Buffalo had nearly 900,000 people in it’s metropolitan area, and was expected to continue to grow.  These roadways were designed to be forward-thinking, looking toward that expansion, but with the decline of manufacturing and the change in shipping that the Welland Canal (in Ontario) made allowing ocean-going ships to bypass Buffalo’s harbor and continue from Lake Ontario straight on to Erie and the rest of the Great Lakes, the population growth was no-where near expected (and for the city itself, a decline), meaning that our roadways are (generally speaking) overbuilt for the traffic they get.  Our ‘rush hour’ might delay you all of 5 minutes – maybe 30 if there’s a bad accident.

As a school bus driver, you really have to be good about keeping yourself calm.  School buses can clog up traffic, being the only vehicles that can stop ALL traffic (that’s right, ambulances, fire trucks, and police emergency vehicles have to stop for a school bus’ red flashing lights), and on narrow, tight streets being wider than cars, their very presence can make a road impassible for other vehicles.  We got a lot of ‘three lane’ roads (two-lanes of traffic, one of parked cars) that became ‘one-lane’ roads with the parked cars and snowbanks over this winter.

And over this past year of driving I have had numerous people bitching at me/my bus when I needed to make a turn onto a street they were on, and I had to wait for them before I could go, or when there was a ‘one-lane’ street where my bus was already moving in the one lane and they had to pull over into the parked cars on their side and wait for my bus to pass, or where I blocked up the road to wait for my 30 seconds at the stop where there was no student out and waiting for the bus.  And some of these people have cut around me really unsafely, slammed on their brakes in front of my bus, or not moved when a light turned green ahead of me, all while watching for my reactions, (I’m guessing) because they wanted to make sure that they were annoying me as much as I apparently annoyed them.

But, as a professional driver, you have to let that stuff go.  You have to recognize that sometimes the safest thing to do is let these idiots have space, and get out their aggression without reacting to their provocations.  And sometimes it isn’t easy.

Here are some sites that give advice on how to avoid road rage in yourself and your driving, and also avoiding being the victim of road rage:

And a lot of what they have to say boils down to a couple of important things:

  • Drive Safe: Don’t engage in dangerous driving yourself.  Leave space between you and other drivers, don’t speed or go overly slowly if you don’t need to.
  • Help other drivers out: If someone really wants to get around you and go speeding in a place you’re not, let them.  Try and pull over, or give them an opportunity to pass (though you might want to keep an eye on them ahead of you in case they’re really unsafe).
  • Don’t Engage:  Avoid direct eye contact, if you’re going to give them a gesture, make it a placating or ‘I’m sorry’ gesture rather than one that escalates things and makes them more angry.
  • Keep Your Own Calm:  Whatever troubles these other drivers have, don’t let them affect you personally.  If you are driving safely, and being reasonably aware of and kind to other drivers and someone gets upset with that, that’s their problem, not yours.

And while a lot of this sounds simple, it often isn’t.  School bus drivers want to keep to their schedules, especially if they have to do runs for multiple schools. My morning run includes two schools, and some at my terminal have three schools.  A 20 minute delay on my first school means that I’ll be 10-15 minutes late for all the pick-ups for my second school, for example.  And one of the things a school bus driver has to come to terms with is that if you’re safely driving your bus, you won’t make up time.  That said, some drivers fall prey to trying to get back on schedule and thus drop some of the safety.

For most drivers, this is akin to your being on time for getting to work, or to pick up your kids, or make that date.  Speeding on highways CAN make your trip faster over hundreds of miles.  Speeding on city streets generally doesn’t pay off, as stop signs and stop lights break down what you might gain, and, of course, your stopping time/distance grows as your speed does.

I think that driving a school bus and being forced to be so safety conscious and aware of how much space my vehicle is taking up on the road and where it is has made me not only a better driver, but a much calmer one.  I watch other people struggle and jockey for position on the road and let them at it.

The bottom line, if being safe makes me late, then I’ll be late.  If I’m going to be throwing rocks at a vehicle, it’ll be for a good reason like this:  Daring rescue saves driver of burning truck.

Update 03/22/15: They’ve caught the driver of the pick-up in the video above, and are charging him with first degree reckless endangerment, a class D felony.  It’s no joke!


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