Furious drivers maneuver across California highways
March 15, 2006
Onlookers to the murder trial of Timothy Brooks next week will be curious to learn what happened between the time Robert Ash allegedly cut Brooks and his wife off in his vehicle on Highway 89 to when the two men were engaged in a fight a half an hour later in Tahoe City that ended with Ash dead.
The confrontation has been described as a “road rage incident” by law enforcement, which brings up the question of how a conflict between drivers could escalate into an incident of that magnitude.
According to Truckee-area California Highway Patrol Officer Steve Skeen, road rage is defined as “anything out of what a normal person would do (on the road),” which includes tailgating, passing unsafely, driving aggressively, yelling, obscene gestures, etc.
“It does happen (locally), but not that often,” Skeen said. “Not too many people pull over and get in fights. A lot of it is giving a bird or gesture and escalating to what happened in Tahoe City.”
Skeen said he knows of more severe instances in Los Angeles, the Bay Area and Reno, where gunfire or stalking was involved.
“If there is an issue of someone following you or aggressive driving, call 9-1-1 or pull off,” Skeen suggested. “You don’t know what is in this person’s mind or if they had a bad day. If there is a public safety concern, we want to know about it.”
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Although road rage has become part of the driving lexicon since the 1990s, Sean Comey of AAA of California says it is not as common in Northern California as it is in other places in the U.S. and the world.
“If you’re on the wrong end of a disagreement of road rage, it can be frightening,” Comey said. “It’s about swallowing your pride. Often, if you don’t engage an aggressive driver, the situation will diffuse.”
In California, road rage is a punishable offense and could land someone in jail, with a suspended license and a hefty fine.
“If we see someone driving aggressively, it can be a misdemeanor and they can go to jail,” Skeen noted, adding that an ordinary citizen can sign a citizen’s arrest if the act is not done while an officer is present.
Government data shows that 1,200 people were killed in road rage-related shootings in the U.S. last year. In 1999, AAA commissioned a study that looked at how to prevent aggressive driving and road rage and noted that it was “on the rise.”
Now with the prevalence of cell phone usage, tuning iPods and GPS units in cars, distracted drivers add to road rage instances.
“We are looking out for it,” CHP’s Skeen said. “It is a huge problem statewide.”