That old nag Dr. Joyce Brothers says that during a road rage confrontation, “men are at the same mental level as an ape,” a being who “… protects his space, at all costs and without logical thought as to the consequences.”
It’s not hard to see how dealing with a driving environment chock-a-block full of cars, many of them driven exceptionally poorly by exceptionally inattentive, inconsiderate and sometimes passive aggressive motorists can make a guy go ape.
People who drive significantly below the posted limit, but who refuse to pull off to the side of the road (it only takes a moment) to let the mile-long line of cars stacked up behind get by; the dude who squats in the passing lane and refuses to move right. The dickweed on his sail fawn; the suburban yenta in her SmooVee. These people create rolling roadblocks, obstructing the flow of traffic – oblivious to other drivers or actively trying to thwart them.
They get a pass.
But it’s the “road rager” who, in frustration, executes a passing maneuver on the right or over the double yellow who gets tarred with abuse (and tickets) for reacting understandably to an obnoxious situation. It’s never the passive-aggressive left lane hog. He is “doing the speed limit” and “driving “defensively.”
Dr. Brothers goes on to advise various stratagems to cope with road rage that basically boil down to putting up with the hateful mess that is today’s driving environment.
Qualudes would also work.
No one seems interested in talking about the underlying problem that is ultimately responsible for the road-rageous traffic situation. It isn’t poor driver education or bad driving as such. It’s simply that America is getting crowded.
Just prior to World War II, for example, the population of the entire United States was less than 150 million. It was still only about 170 million in the mid-late 1960s. But in the past 40 years, the population of the U.S. has surged to more than 300 million today. Looked at another way, we’ve experienced a doubling of the population it took more than 400 years to build up in less than the course of a single lifetime.
There are many people alive today who were born in a nation with fewer than half the occupants it has today.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s projections (assuming a modest birth rate and constant immigation levels), we’ll be at 390 million by 2050 – a short hop in the time-traveling DeLorean from now. That’s the equivalent of adding a major city the size of Chicago and its outlying suburban sprawl to every state in this country. Some 2.5 million people (net, after accounting for deaths) are added to the rolls each year – a rate of increase that will cause our present population to double once again in about 100 years.
And these people will be driving.
On the same basic road infrastructure designed to accommodate 160 million. The Interstate system, for example, is about the same today as it was decades ago. It’s hard to even maintain what we have, let alone build new capacity.
Perpetual gridlock in and anywhere near any major urban area of the country is the result.
Cities such as New York and Los Angeles were isolated islands of congestion as recently as 30 years ago, when even the nation’s capital was still a relatively sleep Southern town and once you got 10 or 20 miles out, you were in the country with not much around but cows and farms. Today, the “greater Metropolitan Washington Area” stretches for 50 miles from downtown and suburbs such as Loudoun and Fairfax County are choked blue with people and cars. It takes an hour or more to travel the 10 or so miles from an outlying ‘burb into the city – a trip that took 15 minutes in the 1970s.
We’re not yet bulging at the seams with humanity like China or India. But we are rapidly losing open spaces – and open roads – on both the East and West coasts, as well as in most of the South. Cities that were rural cow towns 30 years ago – Phoenix and Denver, for instance – have become major metroplexes just like D.C. and Noo Yoik. Indeed, America is fast becoming one vast New Jersey – a paved-over continent of homogenous big box stores, chain eateries and tightly packed McMansion tract housing developments.
“Rush hour” in places like Washington, Atlanta and Los Angeles actually lasts several hours each way – with an ever-diminishing window of reasonably free-moving transportation possible between about 10:30 a.m. and around 2:30 p.m.
It is this endless, inescapable hassle – the constant press of people everywhere – that is at bottom the source of what is generally called “road rage” but which is really just the accumulation/venting of levels of stress that are right at the edge of our ability to deal with.
Axiom: As population/crowds/lines/hassles become more common, so will “rage” of various types.
We are being packed tighter and tighter into a finite space – and compelled to battle one another for scant resources like rats in a Skinner box.
And it is only going to get worse.
Denouncing road rage (or defending it) is not the issue; coming to grips with a rapidly changing America that is becoming a profoundly different place from the one that existed as recently as 20-30 years ago is.
The Census Bureau predicts growth rates through the tricentennial (2076) similar to those we’ve experienced from the WWII era to the present. That could mean 400 million Americans (perhaps more) within the lifetimes of many currently fuming in gridlock.
Just imagine it: 100 million more people than we already have. And probably another 100 million cars on the roads.
Even a relatively modest increase in the current population to 350 million or so will forever flush the transportation environment that gave rise to the automobile as a passion.
The car culture is dying because driving a car is no longer much fun.
Excepting those living in the handful of states likely to remain relatively diffuse in terms of population concentrations, the idea of buying a 150 mph sports car is becoming the equivalent of walking around in a “Star Trek” uniform and pretending you’re in command of the Enterprise, battling Klingons.
What’s the point?
“Road rage” can be viewed as the last-gasp thrashing around of the American Dream – a physical rebellion against the loss of open spaces, the ability to go wherever, whenever – and enjoy the trip.