I was a passenger one day, riding with a friend who is normally a fairly good driver. The slow car in front of us was beginning to frustrate both of us though because the driver was going way below the speed limit in the fast lane. Cheryl tapped the horn to encourage this slowpoke to hurry up or move over and was rewarded with a single finger and just slightly SLOWER progress. Cheryl muttered under her breath as she got even closer to “Mr. can’t find the gas pedal” and started looking for a gap to change to the right lane and go around. No small feat since everyone behind us was doing the same thing and there was quite the stream going past us on the right. Eventually however, we did get around and I breathed a sign of relief because she has us so close to the guy that we were practically pushing him. You know the feeling; so close that you want to climb into the back seat! My relief was short lived though, because Cheryl immediately swung back into the fast lane in front of the slow driver and put on the brakes.
“What are you doing?” I asked calmly over the sound of the horn from behind.
“Teaching him a lesson” she said tersely staring him down in the rear-view mirror and responding to his horn honk with the same spirited finger that he had extended to her moments ago.
This fortunately was the extent of the exchange as Cheryl gassed it back to her customary 15 to 20 km/h over the limit and left him behind but I was left wondering if there really was any learning happening as Cheryl intended.
In truth, Cheryl wasn’t trying to teach this guy a lesson, she was simply retaliating for what she saw as either stupidly slow driving or the insult to her that the finger represented. The finger that Mr. Slow Driver gave her was just retaliation for her horn honking, so who really started this?
Can we really teach another driver a lesson by trying to irritate them as they may have irritated us? Of course not, after all, when was the last time you learned to be a better driver as a result of a lesson delivered by one of your fellow road users?
Retaliation for actual or imagined slights or plain and simple bad driving is the first step down the path to serious road rage incidents. They are in the headlines all the time! Someone gets out of their car at an intersection and assaults the guy who “just cut me off”.
Of course, we would never stoop to such lows but our attempts to teach others by retaliating in response to their behaviour are provocative and invite escalation. Does the target of your lesson carry a baseball bat (or worse) under the seat to provide his lessons? You may be inviting violence that you never anticipated. I remember when I was just a teenager and two guys in a car followed my dad home one night, for some reason and we all got into it in the driveway! Crazy dangerous stuff!
If you want to teach others how to drive, the best practice is to teach by example; do your best to stay cool and strive for the best driving you are capable of. At best, you just may inspire someone else to take more care, but at least you will avoid escalating what could have been an honest error into a serious road rage incident.