Take a deep breath before you head out on that holiday drive -- all the better to help keep your cool if you have an unwelcome brush with ROAD RAGE. Our Cover Story is reported by Kris Van Cleave:
Punches thrown in the middle of a Houston intersection ... grown men and a woman brawling in front of stunned onlookers ... then one of the drivers purposely ramming his truck into the other car before speeding off.
Road rage, it seems, is everywhere (and caught on video) as drivers use bats, fists, guns, even golf balls in street showdowns that can sometimes have tragic consequences.
"I would hope he wasn't doing it with the intention of killing someone, or paralyzing someone, but that's what ended up happening," said Stevie Vanausdale.
For Vanausdale, road rage wasn't a video that went viral; it was a life sentence.
"I want people to learn from what we did," she said. "Because we were good kids. We were honors students. We were varsity athletes. We were good kids with bright futures."
Futures that forever changed one June night in 2006.
Then-17-year-old Stevie and four high school friends went for a drive, and one of the boys in the backseat threw a water bottle at another vehicle. It was a mindless teenage prank, but in response car ended
up chasing the teens at 90 mph down a country road. The driver of the car Stevie was in lost control and hit a tree (left).
Stevie's best friend, who was sitting next to her, died. Stevie was paralyzed from the waist down.
Both drivers went to jail.
"I think people don't realize that the moment that could change their life is something so miniscule," Vanausdale said. "And I would say it's really hard to realize that that one water bottle changed five families, five individuals, forever."
A survey by AAA found nearly half of drivers believe aggressive driving is a very serious threat to their personal safety.
Fatal road rage incidents are up more than 30 percent since 2010, and were the cause of more than 1,700 deaths between 2010 and 2014.
But anger behind the wheel is not a new phenomenon; it's played out in popular culture for decades.
In the 1950 Disney cartoon "Motor Mania," a mild-mannered Goofy turns Jekyll-and-Hyde when he gets behind the wheel.
But the very real violence of road rage is no laughing matter.
Mike McCloskey, an expert on aggression and a professor of psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia, says one of the aspects about driving that makes some people so angry is that it is stressful: "The days of taking a leisurely drive have kind of gone. Now when you're driving, you're really trying to get from A to B, and you usually haven't given yourself enough time to do that. So just the trip itself is very, very stressful."
"Is there something about being in the car, though, that makes people feel more comfortable to express that anger?" asked Van Cleave. "You don't see people screaming at each other in the grocery store because somebody's in the express lane with one extra item. In the car, you see people lose their minds."
"Yeah. The car kind of affords us a certain level of safety and anonymity. Even though we may be on the road with a whole bunch of other people, we kind of feel like we're in our own little cocoon in our car."
This weekend 33.9 million Americans are expected to hit the roads, and McCloskey says millions of them will be driving angry: "The statistics suggest about one in three people engage in some form of road rage."
"That's a lot of road rage."
"Mind you that the majority of that is relatively minor," said McCloskey. "It's the honking your horn real loud, flipping someone off, screaming. But for a small portion, like a couple percent, they engage in much more violent, destructive behaviors -- trying to run people off the road, trying to attack people."
That's the kind of rage Evan Wilder ran into in 2014 when he was cycling home in Washington, D.C. Evan was riding, legally, on a shared roadway when a pickup cut him off, sending him crashing into its bumper.
That's when the driver became irate. "It was like this wall of anger from this guy, coming at me," Wilder recalled.
Three years earlier, he was almost killed when a truck sideswiped him.
"That happened so fast," Wilder said. "By the time it happened, you don't even know what's going on, what had just happened."
"Is this hard to watch?" Van Cleave asked.
"Yes. This is hard to watch," he mused. "His intention was to strike me with his truck."
When Mike Shen moved from New York to Los Angeles, he was shocked by some of the rage he encountered on the crowded roads -- including his own.
"When I came out here, I was literally rolling down the window -- I was like, 'Do you walk the way you drive?'" he told Van Cleave. "I'm like, 'Stay on the right.' And you can't do that, 'cause here the ego is so attached to people's vehicle, and people start really shouting back, people pulling cars in front of me. I was like, OK, someone's going to get hurt."
The father of three decided it was time to put his own anger in park. So he started a blog instead called L.A. Can't Drive. He calls it a "platform for cathartic release."
Van Cleave asked, "Do you really think L.A. can't drive?"
"Yes, hands down. They absolutely cannot drive," Shen replied. "I've seen people -- actors constantly driving with their knee, reading scripts. I have a picture I could show you of a woman holding a cat on the freeway. She was going, like, 20 miles per hour slower than everyone else in the left lane."
The site is home to video and pictures of Southern California drivers behaving badly: swerving through traffic, blowing red lights, or using the shoulder as a passing lane -- the kind of behavior that often provokes road rage.
There is, Shen said, a lot of anger and frustration on the roads. "And it's understandable. I'm not immune to it, I feel it."
Van Cleave asked McCloskey, "How do we decrease the risk of road rage?"
"Before you even get in the car, give yourself time," he replied. "Don't cut everything to last-minute. One of the biggest things that exacerbates road rage is someone being stressed out, and time-urgency. When you're in the car and someone does something and they cut you off, they're driving too slow, they're tailgating, whatever it is, one of the simplest things to do -- and it sounds trite, but it's helpful -- just take a deep breath.
"If nothing else, it buys you some time. Puts things in perspective. This is not a major thing -- unless you do something to make it a major thing."
Of her experience, Stevie Vanausdale said, "I don't remember exactly what our intentions were that night, but I do know that we did NOT think through the consequences."
Vanausdale now works with a group called ROARR (Reaching Out Against Road Rage). She hopes by telling her story to high school students, her tragedy can be their life-saving cautionary tale.
"Just stop for one moment before you engage in that, and think," she said. "Because I think if any of us had done that that night, maybe Charlie would still be here and maybe I would still be walking. That's one thing that I really wish I would have done."
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