Road rage accelerates for holidays

Neither pear-tree partridges nor roasted duck are the type of holiday bird drivers sometimes serve up this time of year.

Auto insurance companies, law enforcement officers and psychologists caution that aggressive actions and responses – gestures, words or actions – behind the wheel can lead to nothing but trouble.

“If you let yourself be carried away by road rage, the vast majority of the time you’re going to wind up with a bad decision,” said Gary Sollars, chief executive officer of Charlton Manley Insurance, 211 E. Eighth St. “And bad decisions lead to bad accidents. We find a lot of accidents stem from just losing your good judgment for a brief time.”

According to a recent national survey of 1,000 motorists by Leflein Associates in Ringwood, N.J., 50 percent of drivers said they have participated in aggressive behavior when they’ve been cut off, tailgated or “given the finger.”

Thirty-four percent of drivers honk their horn, 27 percent yell, 19 percent give the finger, 17 percent flash their headlights, 7 percent mimic the offense and 2 percent admit to trying to run the other driver off the road.

Not much has changed in the years since a similar survey was taken in 1999, said Ray Palermo, director of public relations for Meriden, Conn.-based Response Insurance, the national auto insurance company that commissioned the survey.

The new survey includes information about driving while using a cell phone. Surveyed cell phone users are 15 percent more likely to honk, 10 percent more likely to yell and 9 percent more likely to give the finger than those who don’t use cell phones.

Lauren Schwab, of Chicago, shown driving down Massachusetts Street on Thursday, says that she regularly experiences road rage in Lawrence. A recent national survey found that 50 percent of drivers said they have participated in aggressive behavior when they've been cut off, tailgated or given

Since 2003, aggressive or antagonistic driving has been attributed to 714 accidents, resulting in 15 deaths, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation.

“On holidays, there’s always more people on the roads, so there’s always more potential for accidents to occur,” said Lt. Robert Baker of the Kansas Highway Patrol.

Lauren Schwab, 23, a senior at Kansas University and a server at Vermont Street BBQ, admits she can be an aggressive driver.

“I just have absolutely no patience on the road,” said the southside Chicago native. “I speed up and cut people off. If somebody is tailing me, I slam on the brakes.”

Such aggressive driving manifests itself around the holidays when people are more stressed.

“I think we’re particularly prone to project our feeling of anger or stress on strangers at this time of year,” said Marciana Vequist, a licensed psychologist at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center in Lawrence. “People are not paying as close attention to their driving as they usually do and other people are more stressed out and would overreact.”

The antidote to this aggression, to some, is simply to back off. Some drivers have a sense of humor about those who rant at perfect strangers to gain a few extra seconds.

“It’s hilarious,” said aspiring chef Jesse Murphy, 24, of Lawrence, who thinks that no response is the best for angry drivers.

“I prefer giving a ‘thumbs-up’ to giving ‘the bird,'” said Casey Thornburgh, 23, a recent graduate in film from KU who grew up watching her dad honk and tailgate drivers.