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How to help avoid getting caught up in a road rage incident

You're driving along, listening to your favorite podcast or music. Suddenly another driver cuts in front of you at an entrance or exit ramp, squeezes ahead of you in bumper-to-bumper traffic or makes a rude gesture at you when you've done nothing wrong.

When people are running late, are already frustrated and angry about something else or just feel they're the victim of someone else's rudeness, they may respond in kind. What may start as an exchange of angry words can quickly escalate to someone deliberately striking another person's car. Sometimes, people pull over, get out of their vehicle and physically fight. In some tragic cases, like one that occurred two years ago in Nashville, people have been fatally shot in "road rage" incidents.

Although "road rage" itself isn't a crime, the behaviors exhibited in these incidents may be. You can't control the fact that you may occasionally encounter an aggressive or rude driver. However, you can control how you respond to others' actions. Here are some tips to help prevent becoming a road rage victim -- or perpetrator:

  • Don't take things personally. If another driver behaves rudely or aggressively, they probably would have done so to whomever they perceived to be keeping them from getting where they're going.
  • Don't try to get even. Driving just as aggressively as the other driver or stopping them to give them a piece of your mind won't solve anything.
  • Remember that your car is a weapon -- a potentially deadly one. If you intentionally hit someone, the authorities won't consider it a run-of-the-mill traffic collision.
  • Don't engage the other driver. Avoid eye contact, and don't respond by showing that you can be just as creative with swear words as they can. Put as much space between you and the other driver as possible. Most aggressive drivers will go on about their day, probably to annoy someone else.
  • If a driver follows you and seems intent on engaging you, call 911. Don't get out of your vehicle.

If you got caught up in a road rage incident and find yourself charged with assault or another crime, it's crucial to seek experienced legal guidance. A conviction for a violent crime, even if no one was seriously hurt, can have a significant impact on your life, career and family. You don't want to fight these charges alone.

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