Road Rage Rising, But Why Now?

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Story Updated: Mar 30, 2012



On the night of Jan. 8,, Miles Romanski went out with his brother in part to celebrate the upcoming birth of his first child. He never made it home.

Blocks away from his home in Peoria, Ariz., Romanski became entangled in a road-rage incident with another motorist driving a 2006 Dodge Charger. At least one shot was fired from the car, fatally striking Romanski in the head.

His wife was with him at the hospital before he died. "I sat there and I held his hand, and I watched him die," Michelle Romanski told a local TV station. Police are still seeking a suspect in the case. It is often hard to find the assailant in such cases without security cameras because the victim is often severely hurt or killed and witnesses are seldom around.

What is road rage exactly? Usually, it is a momentary emotional response to a trivial situation while in the car. But it can also be when someone decides to take out their aggression on another person using the car as weapon.

Road rage incidents are hard to quantify and study, but experts suspect they are on the rise. A survey from the Automobile Association Driver Education Foundation asked respondents how they felt "behavior of motorists" had changed in recent years.

Sixty-two percent said it had become "worse," while only two percent said "better." Thirty-four percent said it had not changed.

In a recent survey, conducted by the AAA Foundation, of 3,147 American drivers, 55.1 percent of respondents said that aggressive drivers are a "very serious" threat to their personal safety and 33 percent said they were a "somewhat serious" threat.

Traffic experts struggle to produce hard-and-fast road rage statistics, because measuring the intent of motorists to injure their fellow drivers can be difficult. Most studies attempt to measure road rage using aggressive driving statistics, but their criteria, too, can be hard to agree upon.

Incidents have become frequent and bad enough in Michigan that the state has been messaging "Prevent Road Rage. Don't Engage" on highway digital signs around metropolitan Detroit.

Pegging reasons for a rise in road rage is very tough. Some law enforcement and psychologists point to economic stress on more people these days due to unemployment and under-employent, as well as the left vs. right political/cultural divide in the U.S. that seems to be exploited and fed by the media and political campaigns on a daily basis.

Road Rage Often Kills

Aggressive driving can be measured from the obvious – making rude gestures, tailgating and honking the horn – to the more nebulous – such as driving 10 miles over the speed limit.

Another study from the AAA Foundation analyzed more than 10,000 suspected road rage incidents over seven years and found they resulted in at least 218 murders and 12,610 injuries.

The reasons for the incidents were "often trivial," according to the study. When drivers explained why they became violent, they told researchers, "she wouldn't let me pass," "they kept tailgating" and "he practically ran me off the road – what was I supposed to do?"

According to the study, 37 percent of the violent incidents involved use of firearms, 28 percent involved other weapons and 35 percent involved the use of the car itself as a weapon.

Back when the term "road rage" was coined in the early 1990s in Los Angeles, incidents of violence were isolated. Now, anecdotal evidence suggests they're everyday occurrences.

• On Wednesday, March 21, a woman in suburban Detroit died of a heart attack after a road-rage incident in which her husband chased her through a residential area while both drove their cars. Their chase ended when Diane Bergiel, 55, crashed her Chrysler PT Cruiser into a telephone pole.

• On Friday, March 23, two women argued in a parking lot in Stockton, Calif. Footage from a surveillance camera shows a pedestrian reach into the car and hit the driver multiple times. The SUV driver then ran over the female pedestrian and pinned her against the storefront wall, according to CNN.

• On Saturday, March 2, Michael Bambouyani, 25, a serial offender in Chicago argued with the driver of a Nissan Altima, got into his SUV and rammed the Nissan repeatedly until it broke down in the middle of the street.

Bambouyani then drove down the block, and according to the Chicago Sun-Times, "made a U-turn then stood on the gas to build up as much speed as he could before smashing into the Altima a final time." Three people in the Altima were hospitalized.

• On Sunday, March 25, one man was shot in the head after what police called a road-rage incident in southern Texas. Sheriff Lupe Trevino told the Brownsville Herald that, "after the road rage thing, they pull over and argue about it and the argument resulted in one of the guys grabbing a shotgun and shooting the other guy in the face."

All had the hallmarks of a road-rage incident – a momentary emotional response to trivial situation, the results of which will be long lasting.

Two months after her husband's shooting, which remains unsolved, Michelle Romanski gave birth to the couple's first child. She named the baby girl Mylez, after her father.

It was a bittersweet moment.

"He won't get to hold her, he won't get to walk her down the aisle, he won't get to take her to her first day of school," she told the TV station. "He won't get to be anything to her."

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