Travel over the July Fourth weekend is expected to reach its highest level ever in the history of the D.C. metro area, and experts are warning those travelers to be mindful of road rage after three incidents in which people were severely injured or killed.
About 1.1 million people will be traveling over the weekend. Of them, about 87 percent will be traveling by car, according to projections by the American Automobile Association’s Mid-Atlantic offices released Wednesday.
With a series of high-profile road rage incidents in recent weeks, AAA Mid-Atlantic Spokesman John Townsend was reminded of a study his organization released last year. The key finding: "nearly 80 percent of drivers express significant anger, aggression or road rage."
"It's shocking, it talks about what people confess to in cutting other drivers off, or honking at another driver or making obscene gestures," Townsend said. "It's becoming pandemic and pernicious on the highways and it can easily lead to aggressive driving, road rage and those kinds of things."
One high-profile road rage incident on a Southern California freeway, between a motorcyclist and a driver, was caught on camera. The resulting crash sent an innocent person to the hospital on June 21, authorities said.
"It can just become very volatile,” Townsend said. “People have gotten out of their car to verbally confront somebody because they were upset and the numbers are just astonishing, and it involves millions of American drivers.”
In a recent incident in Northern Virginia, a driver got out of his car and beat 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen to death with a baseball bat, according to police. Hassanen was returning to an all-night prayer session during Ramadan. Police believe she was a victim of road rage.
To a certain extent, "road rage is part and parcel of the commute in the Washington metro area," Townsend conceded. "We're going to have about 39 million people driving by car for the holiday season....so, we may see a spike in those incidents."
Another road rage incident occurred in Philadelphia on Wednesday, June 28. Officials say a pickup truck driver murdered 18-year-old Bianca Roberson, after she merged lanes at the same time as the other driver.
“The man in the red pickup truck shot her directly in the head,” Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan said Thursday. The incident has evolved into a manhunt for the truck driver.
These incidents are on the extreme end of the road rage spectrum. Indeed, AAA’s study last year highlighted varying degrees of road rage responses, some all too common. For instance, 67 million drivers admitted to “making angry gestures,” and 7.6 million admitted to “getting out of the vehicle to confront another driver.”
"What we say to people is that when you are traveling, add 10 to 15 minutes to your trip so in case you're stuck in traffic, in case there's something unforeseen that happens, you don't panic and get upset," Townsend said.
And when the unavoidable does happen, and a fellow motorist loses their cool with you, "do not engage the other driver,” Townsend said. “It's only going to escalate the situation."