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My name is road-rage victim

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He was spitting mad. Literally.

In slow motion, I could see each crystal-clear droplet of saliva fall from between his bared teeth where they landed on my driver's window, only to be smeared away by his pounding fist.

And in those split seconds -- the ones that seem to last forever -- I wondered: What am I going to do now? He was grabbing hold of my vehicle door handle, banging my window, yelling and hanging from my door as I tried to drive away.

It was a surreal experience. Like a scene in a book or movie. But this was no fiction; it was real life.

My name is Diana. And I was a victim of road rage.

I admit, I precipitated it by accidentally cutting him off.

I was attempting a left turn onto another street, the inside lane of which was blocked by cars turning onto my street.

After waiting to make sure the cars with signal lights were actually turning, I started my turn and didn't see Black Jeep Guy.

There was time for me to get across, admittedly not a whole lot. So I stepped on the gas and finished crossing.

Black Jeep Guy also stepped on the gas as soon as he saw me, which triggered warning bells in my head. Most people would slow down, step on the brakes and possibly honk the horn or make an obscene gesture.

I figured this guy is already strung tight so I watched in my rear-view mirror to see if he'd do anything. And sure enough. He made that U-turn to follow me.

Road rage. It's a term that was unheard of 20 years ago, but has become more common in recent years. In 2001, the Oxford English Dictionary added the term as an entry with the definition: "Violent anger attributed to the stress and frustration of driving a motor vehicle... an act of violence committed by one road user against another, which is provoked by the supposedly objectionable driving of the victim."

Nearly 60 incidents of death or serious injury have been connected to alleged road rage, according to one of the few studies I was able to find on the topic. The study was done 10 years ago by the Canadian Journal of Public Health and referred to results from 1998 to 2000.

The prevalence of road rage isn't widely studied, especially in Canada, so there are only a few additional studies or reports on the topic. The other noteworthy Canadian report I found is the 2003 Ontario-based one, called The Prevalence of Road Rage, also published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health.

The report is based on a Canadian telephone survey of 1,395 individuals, of whom 31.7 per cent reported shouting or cursing another driver and 2.1 per cent reported threatening to hurt someone or damaging a vehicle.

That low number of people admitting to violent road rage doesn't mean a whole lot if you're the one on the receiving end of that violence, like me.

Or like the 60-year-old man with congestive heart failure who was beaten in a 2011 case of road rage, as reported by CTV.

The way I see it, I could have been on the receiving end of a beating just like the man in the CTV story. If I had got out of my vehicle, like the driver of the black Jeep wanted me to, after he tried to trap me in a parking spot at the small but busy strip mall I drove to when I saw him following me.

From a safety perspective, I did all the right things the experts say a road-rage victim should do. I went to a public place. I stayed in my vehicle. I honked my horn to draw attention. I avoided eye contact.

Road rage, although not widely studied in the scientific community, is a common enough occurrence that many police departments (unfortunately not Winnipeg's) put tips on their websites about what to do if you're a victim.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) even released a brochure this year with advice on how to avoid road rage and what to do if you become a target.

It says: "A driver you may have offended can 'snap' and become truly dangerous. Do not under any circumstance pull off to the side of the road to settle things 'man to man.' "

If followed, the brochure says, "Drive to a place where there are people around, such as a police station, convenience store, shopping centre, or even a hospital. Use your horn to get someone's attention. This will usually discourage an aggressor. Do not get out of your car. Do not go home."

In my case, my aggressor wasn't discouraged by the honking of a horn or the public place. But I'm not surprised. Black Jeep Guy was set on getting even, considering the way he sped up when I accidently cut him off, and the way he did a two-wheel U-turn and cut off another vehicle to follow me.

This was one man who seemed determined to teach me a lesson, with his fists. I'm happy to write that he was not successful.

Diana Moes VandeHoef is

a Winnipeg freelance writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2013 A17

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