Take lessons of kindness out on the road with you

The Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday celebrated on Monday stands for tolerance, understanding, kindness and nonviolence. As we move forward, let’s think about a niche of the nonviolence portion that made news in Platte County during the past months, tragic news in one case.

You’ve heard the too familiar line, “I never thought it would happen here.” 

We certainly feel that way about violence in our mostly peaceful, semi-rural suburban county. But a couple of road rage incidents in the county, one involving a death by shooting, have occurred on our pavement.

A 22-year-old Wichita man is charged in Platte County Circuit Court with second-degree murder for allegedly shooting to death a 35-year-old man from Texas. This occurred in October at the Interstate 29 and Highway 152 interchange. 

Whatever occurred in traffic escalated to motorists stopped on the road and making threats.
In a second case, in November, a woman is charged with third degree assault, a misdemeanor, for allegedly kicking a tire and hitting the door of a car driven by another woman. This occurred on NW Barry Road near Line Creek Parkway. A turn in front of someone led to braking, a horn honked, drivers stopping their cars for a moment and threatening behavior.

These cases are sobering to anyone, but they’re extra meaningful to commuters traversing these same roadways twice a day, or even more if headed out to shop or socialize. These cases are downright chilling to drivers who have participated in road anger because it shows how close they may have been to fatal road rage.

Rational, reasonable behavior cannot be counted on from every human mind making decisions on the highway. People and their lives are too complex, and in these times, more drivers than ever are packing guns.

I personally feel some guilt and fear from the two cases now making their way through court.

People that ride my back bumper when I’m doing 70 mph on the interstate, in traffic, as they toggle their gas pedal impatiently, really hack me off. So does the driver in the big pickup whipping across multiple lanes above the speed limit. 

As does the person tailgating or driving too slow while yakking on a cell phone.

Reckless, aggressive or inattentive drivers are dangerous. They cause accidents that ruin a victim’s day and tie up traffic for thousands of other motorists on our packed highways. Even worse, they sometimes cause injury or death. 

One study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found aggressive or illegal driving a factor in 56 percent of fatal auto accident.

Mean or careless driving in the past has prompted me to give out glares as I’m being passed. When really boiling, I’ve provided the one-finger salute to the other driver that makes clear my feelings.

I’m going to try to turn over a new leaf in the New Year because I don’t want to get shot or rammed on purpose. Maybe more important, there’s already enough meanness in this world, and I don’t need to add to it.

The man charged in the road rage shooting case was out of his car with a gun. According to court documents cited by The Platte County Citizen, he stated that the other driver threatened to kill him, and he thought the other driver was going to drive into him, so he fired at the vehicle in self-defense. 

After firing the fatal shots, he drove to another location, called police and turned himself in, saying he wanted to do the right thing. I feel sorrow for both families, lives terribly changed needlessly.

The AAA Foundation has a nice online page about avoiding road rage. Basically, don’t make gestures, avoid eye contact, steer clear, give the driver plenty of room, use turn signals and be a courteous and safe driver yourself. A biggie, adjust your attitude and forget winning. 
If someone is threatening you, drive to a safe place and call police. 

Road rage isn’t new, but in a high-speed society with a lot of tension and more firearms, it feels more dangerous. Be calm, be safe, dole out kindness on the road, for goodness sake.

Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at editor@plattecountycitizen.com.