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Highway shootings. Cars used as battering rams. Commuters arriving home to scream at their spouses, hit their children, and kick their dogs.

Montreal delivery man gets 30 months in jail for fatal road-rage slap

MONTREAL (CP) — A deliveryman whose road-rage punch caused fatal head injuries to a pedestrian was sentenced Thursday to 30 months in prison. Thomas Arsenault, 41, had been found guilty late last month of aggravated assault in the death of Jan Pierre Nielacny, 50.

Nielacny was hit so hard during the June 2002 confrontation that he fell backward and cracked his head on the sidewalk. He went into a coma and died from his injuries 18 days later. An autopsy showed he died from a brain hemorrhage.

Crown prosecutor Helene Di Salvo said the judge didn't believe Arsenault showed any compassion for the deceased pedestrian. "By letting the victim lie down on the ground in his own blood, I guess that the judge didn't find that to be sympathetic," Di Salvo said outside the courtroom. "He let the victim just lie there and he was not trying to help him. He just left the scene."

Arsenault had testified he was taunted by Nielacny as he drove slowly through hot summer afternoon traffic. Arsenault said he got out of his truck to confront the man but only slapped him when Nielacny raised his hand as if to strike him.

Witnesses said the blow was more like an uppercut and Arsenault walked off after Nielacny hit the ground. A jury had found Arsenault not guilty of the more serious charge of manslaughter.

Di Salvo has previously described to road rage as "a scourge," advising motorists to think "100 times" before getting out of their car to confront someone.

© The Canadian Press, 12 December 2003

While psychologists, sociologists, and the police study why there is road rage, the real question is …

Why NOT Road Rage?

Or Why Is There No Such Thing as Fast Enough?

Copyright © 2003-2009, 2011-2014 by David E. Ross

While the following rants are based on my personal experience commuting and otherwise driving in southern California, they really apply universally across the United States. From the above news item from Montreal, they even apply in other nations.

Being First

There we were — my wife and I — barreling down I-405 in the carpool lane. While the maximum speed on any California freeway is 65 mph (except in some rural areas), I was already doing 70 mph. A pickup truck pulled up behind me. Tailgating me, the driver started flashing his high beams at me to go even faster.

I know that, if I were driving 75 mph, it still would not have been fast enough. The real problem was not my speed; it was the fact that my car was in front of the pickup truck. As with many others on our highways, the driver of the pickup truck has a compulsion to be first. As long as I was in front of him — even if I were going 85 mph — he could not be first.

First for what? I don't think he even knew. But it turned out that he was first to the congestion about three miles ahead, where traffic was moving at a brisk 10 mph. I have been in similar situations where the driver behind me insisted on being first to the red traffic light ahead.

For some, there is no such thing as fast enough.


The Line

There you are, in the supermarket on the day before Thanksgiving or some other major holiday. You have filled your cart, but so have many other shoppers. Now you wait in line to reach the checker and her cash register. Just as you are about to start putting your groceries onto the conveyer belt, someone noses her overflowing cart in front of you, cutting into the line. If someone tried that on you — not with just a single item but with enough to feed 20 people for a week — how would you react? How would you react if someone else then tried to follow her without waiting in line? I have never seen this happen. Even my very polite, mild-mannered wife would push the offending cart back out of the line (possible into the gut of the offending shopper).

sign for interstate highway There you are, east-bound on the I-10 at 7:45 a.m. Already, there is a line of cars waiting to enter the I-405 south-bound. Or you are north-bound on the I-405 at 5:30 p.m., and there is a line of cars waiting to enter the US-101 west-bound. You too want to go where all those other cars are going (south on the I-405 or west on the US-101). Do you get into line two miles back? Or do you cut into line just where the transition road separates from the main freeway?

Aside from the fact that a shopping cart — even an overloaded shopping cart — does not weight two tons, what is the difference? Why is it totally unacceptable to cut into line at a supermarket check stand but apparently acceptable to cut into line at a freeway interchange? If you can wait in line in the supermarket, at the bank, or at a movie theater, why can't you get into the line and wait at a freeway interchange?


Undecided

First you say you do, and then you don't.
And then you say you will, but then won't.
You're undecided now, so what're you goin' to do?

From a 1950s song

sign for California state highway I was on my way to work, driving through Malibu on the Pacific Coast Highway (Cal-1, two lanes in each direction). The pickup truck immediately behind me changed lanes six times while I did not change even once. As we left Malibu, he was still behind me. If he was trying to be first, he was very unsuccessful. Perhaps, this weaver has attention-deficit disorder — fidgety, indecisive, mentally unable to stick to one lane.


For a while, I was in a carpool for commuting to work. On the route we took, the McClure Tunnel connects Cal-l with I-10, with two curving lanes through the tunnel in each direction. The driver that day entered the tunnel straddling the line between the two lanes. When I asked him about this, he explained that he was not sure which lane he wanted because — with the curve — he could not see the traffic beyond the tunnel. (Also, he actually enjoyed cutting into line just before an interchange.)

I finally realized that I would have less stress driving myself every day than I had being a passenger with this guy. Also, I might less likely become a victim of a freeway shooting. End of carpool!

The Offenders

Below, I identify those who cause road rage by being rude jerks, oblivious to the presence of other vehicles, or just deluded into thinking they are exempt from traffic laws. I identify them by their license plate numbers, which are California plates unless otherwise indicated.

Do you recognize yourself here? Watch out! You could wind up like Thomas Arsenault or, worse, Jan Pierre Nielacny.

5ECH706, 7A72624: tried (unsuccessfully) to be first in very heavy traffic; tailgating; frequent abrupt lane changes without signaling.

5AVA399: another driver who absolutely had to be first … to the red traffic signal just ahead, by using a bicycle lane as a passing lane

5CST674: cut into line at a freeway interchange, cutting across two lanes of traffic.

4GEV437: undecided, changed lanes at least 7 times in less than a mile.

5CLW265, 4WYR804, 5ECW452, 5GXC59, 5W36604, 5RBU256, 5PHP796: more undecided, weaving in and out without accomplish anything.

4ZXV032 (two different occasions), 5EBP405, 3BFD050, 2ZCF098, 4KWK977, 4KPB721, 5UZK261, 4NTZ436: to make left turns, held up exiting traffic on a driveway posted Right Turn Only.

6Z95238, 3N73854, 5EIA246, 4EKD076, 4A90380, 3PPW847, 7K30322, 4YKV948, 5HND400, 4TQB970, 4CUA817, 5XLU729, 5BJR493, 4UEL378, 5A48041, 5PYF964, 5ZIA289, 6S3365, 3XXB172, ROSIE50, 6JPV186, JPANET, 8W63879, LUV RIV, 6AXP381, 6ROH791, 6CAC108, 6YFU272, 6MUB499: made right turns without signaling, confusing oncoming traffic that wanted to turn left.

KAR4KO, 5F16858, 5XQP731: turned without signaling, could not signal because — with one hand steering and one hand holding cell phone to ear — did not have a hand free to operate the signals

4EZN822, 5V30148, 4TIA406, 3FPR002, 4GXG350, 5AVC534, YUUROUT, 7R28016, 5IUC257; 4YZH256, 46UH296, 5ECU496, 5GSC020, B DT FRE, 5FBD662, 8J10402: cut in line to enter freeway.

2RRL295, 4JUS689, 6V44898, 4HYL781: pigs, parked vehicles across two parking spaces.

P45442 (Texas temporary license plate): oblivious, driving in the center of a two-way aisle in a parking lot, almost side-swiped me, too busy talking on cell phone to be concerned

5R86340: turn signals must be broken (not used when exiting freeway, turning left at end of off-ramp, frequent lane changes on surface street, turning at intersection), also one brake light out (Vehicle Code violation)

6FLM768: another "broken" turn signal (not used when turning or changing lanes)

KOROPI: pig, parked in a traffic aisle (not a space) in a parking lot, blocking adjacent cars from pulling out of their spaces and reducing a two-way aisle to only one lane.

4YEK274: another pig, driver decided he or she needed more room to get out of car so parked partially in the space to the right, blocking driver's access to the car already there

MINEME3: still another pig, took two parking spaces in a crowded parking lot

6T63063, 4TEF159, 5WQV820, 5M21123, 5DWN643, 5UBS870, 3EQL574, 5JHK861, 5UDE181, 4PEF427, 7V8119, 7R72983, 4BTT907, 6Z73667, 6LRC859, PLHNTY, 6WVM014, 3PXW724, 5LDE301: used "right turn only" lane as a through lane, barging back into through traffic

6ZHK145: used "left turn only" lane as a through lane, barging back into through traffic

4P89490 (United Parcel truck), 7H47163 (other delivery truck): lazy driver — drove, parked, and drove some more on wrong side of street so that he didn't have to cross street to deliver packages

5JQV874: oblivious (merely a jerk?); changed lanes with no regard for traffic already in the lane to which he changed (Yes, he signaled; but that did not give him the right-of-way.)

487SMF (Nevada plate): caused gridlock

5RHN009: too fast is not fast enough, tailgating and flashing brights at vehicle in front that was already over the speed limit

4HGG780, 8D29762, 7X09024, 5MKG559, 4VRG703: made illegal U-turns around a median barrier to enter freeway from left lane (If they had been in the right lane, they could have entered the freeway in the same direction with legal right turns.)

6HLM198: made a right turn from a left-turn lane

8U80944: made a right turn out of a shopping center parking lot directly into the left-turn lane on the public street, cutting off through traffic on that public street

Please do not contribute more offenders to be listed. Since I am responsible for the list, I want to witness firsthand the offenses before branding someone as a jerk. The drivers of the vehicles identified above are indeed jerks.

Updated 20 August 2014

Darwin

One morning as I drove to work, I saw woman on a bicycle keep up with the flow of motorized traffic by ignoring every single red traffic light in her path. I would bet that, if she were struck by a car having a green light, she would call her lawyer before calling her doctor. Why do bicyclists — and joggers too — think they are not only exempt from basic traffic laws but also immortal?

That same morning, I saw a red Volkswagen beetle (an older, authentic VW beetle, not one of those new pseudo-beetles) race a dark BMW to the next intersection, where the two-lane road becomes a one-lane road. The VW won a dubious victory: He was then stuck behind a slow pickup truck pulling a trailer. At the next intersection, the VW used the "Right Turn Only" lane as a passing lane (someone else who thinks he is exempt from the traffic laws). Later, the BMW passed the pickup truck by pulling into the lane for oncoming traffic — and there was indeed oncoming traffic.

Unfortunately, none of these individuals qualify for the Darwin Award. Instead of killing themselves, they remain capable of breeding and perpetuating their stupidity genes — and possibly injuring or killing others on the road. Candidates for the Darwin Award do include those drivers who incorrectly — and fatally — thought they could beat a commuter train through an intersection.


Pigs

Here's a size 8 I can fix. Gotta let it out to 46.

Alan Sherman

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An exchange of letters to the editor of a local weekly newspaper gives us a view into the mind of a pig. The original letter was from a man who complained about getting a ticket for parking in the fire lane in front of a local drug store. He was picking up a prescription for his very ill sister, whom he left sitting in his car. The sister was so ill, he could not park in the sun; but the only shade was right in front of the drug store (cast by the building itself).

Several letters appeared a week or two later, suggesting that the sister was so ill she should have been taken home first and allowed to go to bed before the driver went to pick up a prescription. Other letters questioned what the driver would have done if everyone else thought the same and no parking spaces — albeit illegal — were available in front of the drug store because the red curb there was already occupied with cars.

What no one pointed out was that this was a fire lane. For his own convenience and for the comfort of his sister, the driver put lives and property at risk by blocking fire trucks. And this was not merely for one or two minutes. I shop at that drug store, and I often wait 20 minutes or longer to pick up a prescription.

22 June 2004

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SUV owners claim exemption from vehicle pollution laws because their vehicles are trucks … until they enter a parking lot. Then they claim their behemoths are compact cars and allowed in parking spaces designated only for compact cars. Two SUVs side by side take up three compact parking spaces.

When I started my software career in the early 1960s, I was a computer programmer at UCLA. As an employee, I had to pay $72 per year for parking. My parking sticker allowed me to park only one vehicle in only one space, and the sticker was valid only in the parking lot near my office. Arriving at work one day, I could not find a single space in the lot. Paying extra to park elsewhere, I went back to that lot, to the car I saw parked at an angle, taking two spaces. Using a felt-tip marker, I wrote a message on that pig's fender, where I knew the ink would penetrate the paint. I did not feel good about this. I felt great!

United Parcel trucks often park in handicapped spaces while the drivers make pickups and deliveries. US Postal Service trucks park in tow-away zones on major thoroughfares during rush hours — in curb-side traffic lanes — to collect mail from corner mailboxes. If the nearest parking space to the supermarket entrance is at least 150 feet away, why not park in the fire lane right by the door? All such drivers answer to the name Porky.


Signaling

It's too bad that there are so many nice looking cars on the road with broken turn signals. Oh! It's the drivers who are out of order. They just don't know how to use their turn signals.

My daughter (who lives in Canada) sent me the following E-mail:

Date: Mon, 08 Dec 2003 07:11:45 -0600
To: "David E. Ross" <david@xxx>
From: "Heather M. Ross" <hmross@xxx>
Subject: Cell Phones Suck

Don't share this with Mommy because it will freak her out.

We were driving home on the freeway from the craft fair yesterday when a van in the next lane suddenly switched into our lane right in front of us. No signal. Given that we were going the speed limit of 90 km/hr if Nancy hadn't reacted as quickly as she did we would have at least been seriously hurt.

Now, the reason I am sharing this with you is that the guy changed back into his lane after he passed slower moving traffic, again not signaling. He then changed into the off ramp lane and as we passed him saw that he was talking on his cell phone!!!

Had we not been so rattled we would have caught his license plate number and called the police. I thought maybe you would want to include this on your road rage page.

This illustrates why drivers frequently fail to signal: they are busy talking on their cell phones. With one hand holding the phone and the other steering, a driver does not have a hand available to work the turn signals.

*** Begin Right Sidebar ***

A quick quiz —

How many hands does it require to steer your car, hold your cell phone to your ear, and work the turn signals? How many hands do you have? If you don't have enough hands to do all three, which do you not do?

Note well: Steering and signaling for turns are required by law. Talking on the phone while driving is not legally mandated and, in some jurisdictions (increasing yearly), is legally prohibited.

*** End Right Sidebar ***

Talking on the phone is no excuse! The law does not mandate that you be always available by phone, let alone constantly talking on the phone. But the law does indeed mandate that you signal when you turn.

Give the rest of us a break. Turn your phone off and put it down. Concentrate on driving. In many areas, driving while talking on the phone is legal; but even in those areas, you can still get a ticket for not signaling.


The intersection of Kanan Road and Conifer Street (near my home) illustrates another cause of rage. Kanan is a major thoroughfare with two lanes (plus a left-turn lane) in each direction and a wide, landscaped median. Conifer is a neighborhood "collector street" with a through lane (also for right turns) and a left-turn lane. Most of the west-bound traffic on Conifer at this intersection turns left to go south-bound on Kanan. Most (but not all) of the east-bound traffic on Conifer turns right, also to go south-bound on Kanan. There is a traffic signal at this intersection; since most of the traffic is on Kanan, Conifer gets only a limited amount of green light and then only in response to a car stopped at the intersection.

There I am west-bound on Conifer, third in line to turn left. Coming in the other direction are four cars, none of them signaling. This causes the cars in front of me to hesitate; they won't turn left because they think the approaching cars are through traffic. Hah! All four of the cars coming from the other direction do turn right. But by the time the two cars in front of me realize it is safe to turn left, the light has turned red.


Of course, signaling by itself is not enough.


Turning, and Turning, and Turning …

At an exit driveway from a shopping center or other parking lot, a sign will say Right Turn Only or No Left Turn. Left turns might be unsafe, or traffic might be so heavy that left turns are difficult. Road rage results when drivers (not their cars) hold up exiting traffic because they choose to ignore the sign and want to turn left anyway.

*** Begin Right Sidebar ***

When I was there, the oldest supermarket chain in Pennsylvania was celebrating its 75th year. At the same time in California, a supermarket chain was celebrating its 100th year. Being one of the original 13 colonies and then one of the original states did not put Pennsylvania ahead of California, which was admitted as a state some 70 years after the Revolution.

*** End Right Sidebar ***

I once heard "right turn on red" described as a significant contribution by California to American culture. I was in Pennsylvania in the mid-1970s, and the Legislature there was debating whether to legalize the maneuver in that state, a maneuver that had already been legal in California for decades. The comment was made with sarcasm.

The general rules in California for making a right turn when the signal is red are:

Turning right from a freeway offramp against a red signal into heavy traffic and cutting across two lanes of traffic into a left-turn lane 20 feet from the offramp is not legal and can earn the driver a ticket. I saw this happen, but unfortunately I could not see the vehicle's license plate to add to the list on this page.


Gridlock

One of the most enraging situations — for both the perpetrators and the victims — is gridlock, when traffic on intersecting streets becomes so heavy that a car entering the intersection on a green light cannot clear the intersection before the light turns red and cross traffic gets the green light. In many areas, this maneuver is illegal (California Vehicle Code §22526). In all areas, this maneuver can leave the perpetrator stuck in traffic and vulnerable to being attacked.


Up and Down

The urban areas of southern California consist of valleys and coastal plains separated by ridges and spurs of the Santa Monica, San Gabriel, and other mountain ranges. Freeways have many significant grades. The ones I have traveled the most include the Sepulveda and Santa Susana passes. The Camarillo side of the Conejo Grade — a little less than two miles of switchbacks — is reported to be the steepest freeway segment in the entire state. Surface routes often used by commuters include Kanan-Dume Road and the canyons of Malibu, Topanga, Coldwater, and Laurel, all of which have steep grades. In many cases, these highways and roads do not have merely a single up and down grade. Instead, there are a series of hills.

Trucks are not the only vehicles that have problems with the up grades. I see a number of automobiles afflicted with under-powered engines and inefficient transmissions. To climb a grade, they must race well above the speed limit before they reach the bottom. Where the road goes up and down several times, they struggle up and then race down in an attempt to avoid the struggle on the next hill.

On the other hand, my VW Jetta has plenty of power and an efficient transmission. I have yet to find an up grade where I can not only hold my speed but even accelerate. I merely set my cruise control and sail up the hills as fast as I go down.

Of course this creates problems for the vehicles behind me — but only on the down grades. I block their attempts to race in preparation for the next up grade. The answer is not to tailgate me or honk to make me go faster when I'm already cruising above the speed limit. The answer is to recognize the limitations of your vehicle. Go downhill at a reasonable speed. If you cannot then climb the next hill at the same speed, pull to the right and travel with the trucks. Don't annoy the rest of us — and create road rage — when your car can't handle the hills.


Signs and Signals

warning sign: 'Construction Ahead, Right Lane Closed' Of course, road rage can be caused by things besides other vehicles.

Have you ever seen a sign like the one on the right? You are already in the left lane, so you don't have to change. But some jerk is racing along in the right lane, ready to cut in front of you at the last moment. You are maneuvering to prevent him from cutting in. Oops! The sign is wrong. It's the left lane that is closed. The jerk was correct after all, which only increases your frustration and anger as you are forced to change lanes.


traffic sign with arrows indicating (in sequence from the left) 'left turn only', 'left or through', 'right or through', and 'right turn only' The sign at the left is at the start of the offramp from the east-bound Ventura Freeway (US-101) to Westlake Boulevard in Thousand Oaks. At that point, there is only one lane. This long ramp curves significantly. With trees and other landscaping, a driver cannot see far along the ramp. Anyone would easily guess that the ramp splits. But who would guess that, after splitting, the right lane splits again? And who would guess that the far right lane then splits again? After all, at each split, no one can see the next split. Few would guess that through traffic — turning neither left nor right — should stay in the far right lane past the first two splits and then take the #3 lane at the third split. No one seems to know why — after the first split — the left and right lanes don't each split once instead of the right lane splitting twice.


traffic signal light

On the Pacific Coast Highway (Cal-1) between Malibu and Santa Monica, traffic signals are operated and maintained by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). Apparently, Caltrans has no program of preventative maintenance for traffic signals along state highways. And there is no communication from the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to Caltrans when a signal gives 10 seconds of green to through traffic on the highway and 40 seconds of green to traffic entering from a minor side street — even when traffic on the highway backs up for two miles behind this signal. Days may elapse before Caltrans repairs the signal. When a signal on the highway fails completely, an hour or two may elapse before a CHP officer shows up to direct traffic.

No, you should not wonder why there is road rage. Road rage is all around us. Instead, you should wonder why it doesn't cause even more violence.

4 December 2003
Updated 19 May 2007


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