Road Rage: Protecting Yourself
Updated: Jan 24
Confrontations on the road have particular aspects that are not present in other self-defense situations.
First of all, road rage is becoming more common. You might literally face this situation a couple of times a day during your commute. According to the Automobile Association of America, millions of Americans reported participating in “angry and aggressive behaviors” while driving during the last 30 days.
Secondly, the speeds of vehicles are the most dangerous. In no other situation will you be subjected to the tremendous forces exerted by automobiles at speed. Even firearms can’t deliver the massive damage that speeding cars produce.
So, when you give in to your fight or flight response and gun the car to run away, you are dramatically increasing your risk. The chance of injury from a motor vehicle accident rises exponentially when it travels over 40 miles per hour. You should resist the temptation to try and outrun your attacker.
However, with thousands of pounds of metal, safety glass and plastic surrounding you, your car is a cocoon-like capsule that can transport you to safety. As long as you keep the doors locked and keep moving it is extremely difficult for someone to hurt you.
What can you do if you are in caught in a Road Rage situation?
First and foremost, slow down! You have better control of your car, risk of injury is less, and the attacker’s car has less force to use against you. I will tell you that slow speed pursuits are actually more difficult than high-speed chases. Slow speed pursuits can be really, really frustrating for the officers involved. They are painfully difficult to stop. Plus, there is a certain circus atmosphere with pursuing cop cars with sirens wailing following a slow moving car. In the high-speed pursuits, the criminal usually crashes. Higher speeds are also necessary for police to use PIT maneuvers which can be used to make the target vehicle spin out. Lesson for us? Slooooooowwww dooowwwnnnn.
Increase space. Our tolerance for speed in automobiles is interesting. You can be on almost any street and see numerous examples of drivers clipping along at more than 40 miles an hour. On freeways it seems like it's more common to see speeds of up to 85 miles an hour routinely. Modern vehicles are smooth and quiet, even at high speeds. We are comfortable driving fast. The outcome of these speeds is the insidious rate of travel which we don't compute. We typically think of speed as in miles per hour, yet the deadly part is speed when measured in feet per second. To do a rough calculation in your head of how many feet per second you are traveling, simply multiply your speedometer by 1.5. In other words, if you are showing that you are traveling at 50 mph you are traveling 75 feet per second. That’s 25 yards. In a second. Studies by major car makers have also shown that humans tend to underestimate the time they need to brake and the force which they need to use. In response, some manufacturers are using sensors to automatically brake your car earlier and with more force than humans typically use. Give yourself room to avoid and maneuver away from someone acting like a maniac. The very act of letting off the gas also takes the temperature down from the confrontation. Take a deep breath and back off.
Call the police on your phone. Make sure the bad guys see you calling! The first person to call is usually spelled out as the "complainant" on the police report.
Do not stop or get out of your car. Even if you are bumped or they try to pin your car against the curb or median, keep going! Back up and drive around them, drive up onto the curb, whatever you have to do, but keep going. If you are trapped with the other vehicle blocking your path and you have no alternative, you can push your way past the other car. Here’s how to push your way through a road block :
Come to a stop.
Shift into low gear.
Creep up to the lightest part of the car — the end opposite the engine.
Aim for between the rear tires and the end of the trunk.
Make soft contact and then accelerate to begin pushing.
Rock the steering wheel back and forth from side to side while accelerating to try and keep your front tires from getting stuck on debris.
You don’t want to smash the other car, that will likely set off your airbags. This can cause injury to you and your passengers. There are also certain makes of cars which shut off your vehicle. However, some makes are still drivable when the bags deploy. Typical speeds to set off airbags varies from 5 mph to 15 mph. One other item of note is that newer vehicles are being equipped with sensors that automatically put on your brakes when they recognize an obstruction. Depending on your car, you may be physically unable to push past vehicles or attackers when the sensor is turned on. Check with your mechanic or your dealership to see if your vehicle has this option. I've got that sensor turned off on my vehicles.
Stay in the flow of traffic. There is safety in numbers. You have a chance that others will be observing, calling the police or even, in some cases, helping you. I know of a case where the road rage incident continued over several city blocks with one car hassling another. When the driver on the defensive called the police on his phone and reported the suspect vehicle, dispatch told him there were already about a dozen calls in on that vehicle from other, non-involved drivers. In another case I witnessed, other drivers got out of their cars and physically restrained a driver attacking another’s car. I've also witnessed a victim of road rage effectively using other cars and trucks to shield themselves by staying at the speed of the surrounding traffic.
If you are armed, do not show your weapon nor shoot from -- or at -- a moving vehicle. There is a minefield of legal problems here. Do not be tempted to fire a warning shot or show them your gun to "scare" them off. You face multiple, multiple legal and logistical problems when you try to shoot and drive at the same time. Legally you can be charged with brandishing or felony assault. Logistically, managing your vehicle at speed while also manipulating your firearm is extremely difficult and you can be found negligent in the outcome. NOTE: if the men are forcing their way into your car, do not hesitate to employ the amount of force needed to stop the attack. This scenario is almost certainly when all vehicles are stopped. It's tough to imagine a situation when attackers are breeching your vehicle while in motion.
Did you notice the date/time info on this video at the bottom left indicates the driver is traveling at 96 miles per hour? It will be difficult to tell the judge you were in fear for your life when chasing someone at almost 100 miles per hour. If anything the passenger (left) has a better case of claiming he was in fear for his life because of your driving than because the person you were chasing brandished a firearm. Did you also note that the driver has a two-handed grip on his firearm -- but a no-handed grip on the steering wheel?
Record the incident. Have a passenger record everything on their phone. Doing it yourself is as difficult as the point above -- concentrate on driving first. There's a reason executive protection teams task a driver with just driving. A very viable option is to run a dashcam. This is the model of dashcam I use. Your dashcam can run continuously to protect yourself from liability during all of your drives. The fact that you are recording will also serve as a reminder to be a polite, considerate driver -- with the advantage that all of their antics is captured for evidence. It serves as a reminder to not be a knucklehead yourself.
Buckle up. Stay alert and stay clear of potential road ragers.
Your life could depend on it.