A recent article in the Chapel Hill News (Oct. 12) reported that in-school bullying is rare. To the contrary, road bullying is commonplace.
In less than 15 minutes during rush hour on I-40, you can witness firsthand drivers who tailgate, weave in and out of traffic without signaling, and cut over multiple lanes to exit. Road bullies are not a single species: they can be young or old, male or female, and drive anything from a family sedan to a minivan to a truck. The road jockeys NEED to get to their destination the fastest way possible while they chat on the phone. The more egregious ones flick obscene hand signals, or gesture gun imitations with their thumb and forefinger. In some rare cases, they will make contact with another vehicle.
Interestingly, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education defines bullying as physical or psychological intimidation which may occur repeatedly over time to create an ongoing pattern of abuse and harassment. Do you find it intimidating when another driver rudely speeds up to be first in line when a lane ends and then squeezes between you and the car in front of you without a signal? Is it mildly threatening when drivers won’t slow down or move over a lane to let you merge onto the interstate?
Mysteriously, many people who are not bullies in “real life” become instantly transformed when they sit behind the wheel of their vehicle with dark tinted windows. Just as cyber-bullies create anonymous profiles, road bullies prefer to remain anonymous. Their license plates are sometimes hazed over with tinted covers (illegal). There is no hard data on this, but traffic bullies threaten women and older drivers more frequently.
There are a few, just a few, steps to prevent road bullying. We need to raise bullies’ awareness that speeding does not show better driving skills, no signaling suggests an oblivious attitude and cutting others off is dangerous and rude. Bullies terrorize the 95 percent of all drivers who drive safely. Bullies need to realize they threaten other peoples’ safety and lives. As our roads become more crowded, we require more civility, not less. The bullies need to understand that other people who use the roads (including bicyclists and pedestrians) are victims of their tactics.
You can’t report road bullying to the principal, but according to Major Jennifer Harris of the Highway Patrol, you can pull over and report the potentially dangerous encounters by calling 911 or the Highway Patrol at *HP (47). If you can, be specific about the vehicle description, location (highway and direction of travel, exit or mile marker numbers), the driver description, and the tag number.
Next, be specific as to how you were the victim of a road bully. Unfortunately, only flagrant acts will seem worthy of reporting, yet it is a start.
Most importantly, avoid the crazies at all costs. Don’t retaliate. Move over rather than catch up and perform the same reckless moves as the bully. Don’t get caught up in their game. And slow down. It’s better to “be late” than “the late.”
Kenneth C. Mills