Retaliatory Bird Flipping Will Escalate The Road Rage

by admin on July 6, 2010

I have a story of road rage to share.

I grew up, and learned to drive, in Seattle, WA, which is a pretty tame city when it comes to drivers. However, one afternoon, about a year after I’d gotten my license, I was driving downtown for one of the many festivals held at Seattle Center during the year. As I was 17 or 18 at the time, I admit I was driving a little on the fast side, but only about 5 mph over the speed limit. I was driving down a road with two lanes going each direction and a middle turning lane. I was in the left lane and I noticed a car on one of the side roads waiting to make a left turn onto the road I was on. They pulled out into the center lane a little ways in front of me. I could tell they wanted into my lane, but I knew I had the right of way and it would probably be more dangerous for me to slow down and let them in than for me to continue at the speed I was going and let them pull in behind me. There were very few cars around and I knew they wouldn’t have long to wait. So I continued without decreasing my speed.

The car pulled in behind me, then immediately crossed into the right lane and drove very quickly around me and cut right in front of me. Keep in mind I was going just over the speed limit at this point, so they were definitely speeding. I saw that the car was full of kids about my age, maybe in their late teens or early twenties. All of them turned around and showed me their middle fingers, opening the windows to flip me off, including the driver. Shortly after that, we came to a red light. The car in front of me stopped, and without the arduous task of paying attention to the road, all the occupants turned their attention to me, flipping me the bird and yelling. I was young and knew I wasn’t in the wrong, and had never experienced road rage before. So I did something I regret and will never do again: I flipped them the bird back. Well, this really set them off, and as we went around the turn after the red light, I somehow got up next to them again. I could see out of the corner of my eye that they had rolled down the windows and had what looked like several bags from McDonalds. They started throwing hamburgers and fries at my car. At that point, I was a little scared and figured the best thing I could do would be to ignore them and slow down to let them get well ahead of me. Just before they took off in the direction of downtown, one of the kids threw what I think was an orange at my car. It made quite a thud and I’m sure was big enough to cause problems for any cars behind us. I’m surprised it didn’t dent my car.

That experience taught me a very valuable lesson, and now I will never, under any circumstances flip another driver off or do anything to encourage road rage.    0703-10

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Tyler July 6, 2010 at 8:26 am

Very true indeed — when in a situation like this, NEVER RETALIATE. You don’t know how crazy some people can actually be, and you never know who could be carrying a weapon. The best thing to do in situations like this is to stay calm, try to ignore the person, and get his/her license plate number to report him/her to the police.

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Jala July 6, 2010 at 8:40 am

It sounds to me like you’ve been taught a very good lesson. So many people (not just kids, but even adults) think that road rage is harmless, but you never know who carries a gun in their car. It’s better to just let someone over and let them be agressive, than to risk hurting yourself. Also, if you’re ever in that situation again, please dial the police and let them help you. In this day and age, almost everyone carries a cell phone, and it’s better to diffuse the situation that way, than with someone getting seriously injured or killed.

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josie July 6, 2010 at 8:40 am

You didn’t accomplish anything productive by giving the finger in return. However, their repeated actions just showed what total idiots they all were. And such a waste of good french fries too. Anymore, its just better to ignore people and let them drive on by…never know who has a pistol in the front seat.

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Princesssimmi July 6, 2010 at 8:41 am

Lesson learnt: don’t retaliate. If you go too fast, they beep you. If you go too slow they’ll cut you off. If you drive like a sane person they’ll flip you the bird. If you drive like a maniac they’ll call the cops. You can’t win.

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Lady.L July 6, 2010 at 11:05 am

That reminds me of something that happend to me. I was driving down the road and someone who was in a bigger hurry that I was tried to turn in front of me. I gunned it for fear of getting hit and the other car pulled in behind me. As soon as there was a wide spot in the road, they sped up and cut in front of me and reacted in the same manner: fingers flying, yelling and throwing things. In a case of “don’t get mad, get even” I grabbed my cell phone and called the police. I reported that the car ahead of me was driving recklessly, describing the behavior, and giving them the license plate and description of the car. I turned off into a church parking lot to so I could distance myself from the offenders and waited a few minutes to calm down. I started back on my way and, a few miles down the road, I saw my offenders on the side of the road with a patrol car behind them. Poetic justice.

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jenna July 6, 2010 at 11:13 am

I agree with Josie, except on one thing.

McDonald’s french fries are by no means “good”!

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gramma dishes July 6, 2010 at 11:23 am

Many years ago I was driving in unfamiliar territory while quite emotionally upset. I came to a T street. I wasn’t really thinking. I stopped the car for a moment and then, assuming that it was a three way stop, continued out onto the other street.

Needless to say, it was NOT a three way stop and I ended up pulling right out in front of another car. Fortunately, he was driving “heads up” and was able to stop in time to avoid hitting me, but if he had it would definitely have been entirely my fault.

He immediately pulled up beside me screaming about what a d— a– I was and giving me the finger. Actually, although I didn’t appreciate his way of expressing himself, I knew he had reason to be angry with me. So I just nodded and mouthed “I’m sorry”.

He look incredibly shocked, but the behavior he had been exhibiting immediately stopped and we both continued down the road uneventfully.

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Enna July 6, 2010 at 11:48 am

I agree with Josie – it’s not just about “who might have a weapon/who could be crazy enough to hurt you” it’s about being mature – if you retaliate you could end up behaving just as badly as them. If the driver was on his/her own and drove badly/behaved badly you could put it down to them having a bad day or them having a scatty moment so long as it is something minor and not clear impatience. Also I’d say since you were speeding – albeit a “bit” over that is still bad – you are still breaking the law and driving dangerously – not as dangerously as driving 10 miles over the speed limit but still dangerous. Unless you were driving competely within the law yourself you can’t complain too much – they might not have had enough time to react due to your increased speed, espeically since you did not try to slow down.

Again I agree with Josie- what a waste of MacDonalds and I don’t even eat meat! That kind of behaviour – chucking food at you that they’ve spent money on is cutting their noses of to dispite their face – they’ve wasterd their money and now will go hungry too. And like with the above coment if they behave badly it will catch up with them in the from of a police car. I find it amusing when people tailgate, speed off over the limit then you meet them at the roundabout/traffic lights where they’ve had to wait. Often impatient drivers don’t gain anytime by speeding depedning on the traffic ahead.

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Louise July 6, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Lady.L, that’s a great story!

I find it infuriating when someone cuts me off or turns in front of me. The worst I do is give them a glare. Honking, hollering or doing anything like that is a waste of time and puts me in a bad mood for the rest of the day.

I think that when people act like they did in the story — screaming, giving you the finger, etc. — the best thing to do is ignore them. Don’t turn your head. Don’t look them, except maybe monitor them out of the corner of your eye. What they want is your attention, so don’t give it to them. It’s faultless behaviour on your part, and it has the added bonus of driving them crazy.

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Vrinda July 6, 2010 at 1:37 pm

The idiots in the other car started this nonsense. I hope they got what was coming to them. They were dumb enough to start it all by sticking their middle fingers out at the letter writer, and to throw their food at him/her.

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Princesssimmi July 6, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Actually I just remembered a story. I was driving to work, and I was driving through a school zone, so I was being very careful because children often run onto the road there. Well, a bus ran the stop sign at the T intersection I was coming up to, causing me to slam on my brakes (I had right of way). I followed the bus, and we arrived at a red light, which he ran. Once it went green, I caught up, to see him weaving between traffic and nearly take out a motorbike. I quickly grabbed my phone and dialled the number for the bus company, gave them the bus number, licence plate
number, and the street we were on. A few minutes later when I passed the bus on the bridge I noticed it was full of SCHOOL CHILDREN. What a way to set an example!

I actually saw two school kids from my cousin’s school run across the road between two cars a few weeks later and emailed the principal about it. I was polite but expressed my concern about how they nearly got hit. Apparently the principal called a school meeting and told all the kids off. My cousin still gets mad when I mention it :)

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Serenity July 6, 2010 at 5:18 pm

What gets me is when ppl get annoyed that you’re trying to be considerate of someone else. Just 10 minutes ago, i was driving home, and stopped to let someone go left in front of me. No big deal, I had already had to slow to practically a stop bc the car in from of me was turning, and this dude was waiting to turn, I figured might as well let him go. I waved him on, he waved back…and the dumb b**** behind me honks at me bc she had to wait 4 precious seconds for him to turn.

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Ellen CA July 6, 2010 at 5:33 pm

When someone cuts me off or turns in front of me, I DO honk my horn. Not the long, angry, blaring honk but a warning toot. Perhaps they didn’t see my car and they should be more careful next time. I just want them to be aware that they have put me in a dangerous situation.
Often their reaction to the honk is the “oops, sorry” wave.

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WrenskiBaby July 6, 2010 at 6:08 pm

I wish there were a universally understood gesture for “I’m sorry.”

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Amazed July 6, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Some years back, I was driving exactly the speed limit in an area where I had received a speeding ticket before. Thus, I was very careful not to exceed the speed limit. A Porsche raced up behind me, and tailgated me for some time, then went around me, passing me on the right, illegally using a right turn only slot to get past me. She then sped off into the distance.

Well, just as she passed me on the right, a highway patrol car was on my left, going the opposite direction. I saw the highway patrol car make a U-turn, then come back in my direction, with red lights flashing. I pulled over, good citizen that I am, to allow him to pass. Some miles down the road, yes, I saw the highway patrol car and the Porsche. I’d like to bet she got the “book” thrown at her.

Had she just stayed behind me, she would have had a passing lane in about a half mile, and the highway patrol car would have been nowhere near.

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Manoomin July 6, 2010 at 10:02 pm

Serenity–the issue with being considerate is that, as nice as it may be, sometimes it results in disrupting the correct flow of traffic. The reliability of people stopping, proceeding, and turning when it’s appropriate is what keeps the roads at their safest. Driving really does involve trusting people to follow the rules.

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Kathleen K. July 7, 2010 at 8:51 am

I wouldn’t dismiss the idea of someone might have a weapon and hurt you. There are a lot more guns in this country than people realize. Most gun owners are responsible people but you won’t know if you meet a irresponsible one until it is too late.

I remember in High School I turned on a green yield light instead of the green arrow. I cut off a woman and felt horrible about it. She started speeding up, pacing me and screaming at me. At first I just tried to ignore her and then I mouthed “I’m sorry” and looked contrite. It didn’t matter she kept pacing me and yelling at me. I remembered her saying “I have a child in this car.” At that point, I thought- What you are doing is far more dangerous to your child than my mistake which was over in 30 seconds. Luckily, I turned off into my neighborhood and lost her in the maze of streets. Talk about scary.

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Tyler July 7, 2010 at 9:08 am

Gramma, a very similar thing happened to me in my mother. When I was at college orientation, my mom was the one driving around the campus, and both of us were very unfamiliar with the area and weren’t used to people walking out in front of us in the road (which, if you don’t know, college campuses are notorious for this). Well, long story short, we came close to very accidentally hitting a guy. He actually followed us all the way to where we ended up stopping and parking and proceeded to yell at my mother, to which she politely responded, “I’m very sorry, sir!” After that, he genuinely had NO idea what to say and just mumbled and stomped off. It’s amazing how rude people have no idea to respond to politeness and courtesy.

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Fanboy Wife July 7, 2010 at 12:19 pm

I once was passed by a pair of idiots in a no-passing-zone at night in the country. The passenger opened the door and leaned out to give me the finger. I’m surprised he didn’t fall out or the truck didn’t hit a deer with how fast they were going. Most of the time, I’m so shocked at how terrible drivers can be that I wouldn’t even have time to give the finger back.

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Serenity July 7, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Yes, manoomin, I am well aware of that. However, as i thought I clearly pointed out, this wasn’t a disruption in the traffic to let the guy turn at all. It was slow moving traffic, in a neighborhood, and as I pointed out, I had already had to slow to almost a stop to let the person in front of me turn right. it would have been ridiculous to speed back up again without letting him turn. The person behind me was rude and impatient, not cut off or being forced to stop suddenly. Big difference.

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Emmy July 7, 2010 at 5:52 pm

I find it ironic that this bunch of hypocrites upset over you not letting them through so they decide to cut you off. Also, they were yelling and giving you the finger, yet became even more indignant when you gave them the same salute. I do feel the OP’s reactions were wrong, but she probably responded quickly in anger without thinking it through. Better thing to do in this situation would be to memorize the license plate number and the car description, pull over, and give the cops a call.

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Kelly July 8, 2010 at 3:53 am

I have been involved in two serious road rage incidents- one in which the other party pulled a gun, and another in which my husband and I had to hide out at a restaurant while waiting for the cops to come. In the first incident, like the OP, I was very young and yelled something at the other driver, who almost hit me in a parking lot. Not to say that I deserved the response (the man was clearly strung out on drugs) but I certainly learned my lesson about not escalating these situations.

Didn’t help in the second incident, though. It was storming and my husband accidentally cut off a guy on an offramp, who followed us to the restaurant screaming threats. I apologized to the guy but that wasn’t good enough – he threatened to kill us. The cops finally came, made the guy say he was sorry, and we went our separate ways. Both incidents still make my heart race when I think of them.

My husband was always inclined to flip people off when we were first together, but I had to put my foot down on that – I would not accept that behavior when I’m in the car. Given my experiences I think that’s understandable. For the record, he did not make any gestures to the second guy, he just flipped out all on his own.

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Namari July 8, 2010 at 8:52 am

Kathleen’s story reminds me of a time when I was in college. I was at a stop sign at a dangerous T intersection, and I started to pull out to turn left. I barely finish getting into the lane when a woman whips around the corner and almost slams into me—I could see her swerving side to side with the force of how hard she must have slammed on the brakes. For the record, she should have been going 25mph, and there are multiple signs that warn DANGEROUS INTERSECTION before she approached it.

I went to turn left again, later down the street, and she stopped next to me as I was waiting and ranted a lecture at me about how I need to stop at stop signs and I COULD HAVE BEEN KILLED and I don’t really remember what else because I was just staring at her in shock. She almost killed me! I was driving safely! Then she drove ahead and ran a yellow light. -sigh-

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Simone July 8, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Look the point with road rage, regardless of whose fault the accident or whatever was, is that we are often all crowded into very small areas and need to make allowances for that. And we ALL sometimes make mistakes. These people have such a sense of entitlement that they are unable to see past the fact that for whatever reason they have been (often very briefly) inconvenienced. To them, it seems to be a genuine affront and if called on it they usually cannot see that their behaviour is in any way disproportionate. “I know I just wasted 5 minutes of my life chasing down this person and screaming abuse at them, but they stopped at the intersection in front of me for three seconds longer than necessary!”

Note to self: Raise my children right.

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Achi July 15, 2010 at 1:03 pm

I’m just trying to get over the fact that they threw an *orange*. What the flying-?! *So* random!!

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The Katt July 15, 2010 at 4:21 pm

WrenskiBaby, I wish there was a universal gesture for “I’m sorry,” too!

When someone cuts me off, I get upset, but I don’t flip the bird. I usually give a brief warning honk. Often, I get a smile and a wave in return. That just makes me more upset. It’s not a “Hi, isn’t it nice to see you?” situation, after all, it’s an “Oops, my mistake, I’ll do better next time” situation.

Of course, I’m not sure exactly what gesture I’m looking for. It isn’t the “smile and wave,” though. That doesn’t seem appropriate.

When I’m in the wrong, I flinch and try to mouth “I’m sorry” as big as I can. Hopefully, the other drive can lip-read.

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Jae July 20, 2010 at 2:18 pm

I agree that retaliating is probably the worst thing you could do.

I remember a time where I was pulling out of the court and waited at a stop sign for some busy traffic to go by. It was in the late afternoon on a Friday, so there was traffic everywhere. I had to turn left but couldn’t because one moment there would be room on the right lane but the left lane I had to turn on had cars zooming by. There was quite a line behind me but I wasn’t about to zoom across five lanes of traffic to turn left. People honked and one guy pulled up to my right side and called me a “dumb b.” I was shaken a bit but let it go and eventually went on my way.

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T. Nielsen Hayden August 9, 2010 at 12:05 am

For years now, I’ve been reacting to rude SOBs who honk or scream at me by smiling, waving cheerfully, and yelling “HI, MOM!” Few of them can lip-read well enough to know what I’m saying, but the tone comes through loud and clear. Every so often, I can see one of them react in shock, and and I know they’re wondering whether they know me socially, and have just committed a major faux pas. That’s fun.

It makes the real crazies get even crazier. I saw one who was stopped at a light react so violently and angrily that her car shook from side to side, and garbage came out flying out both windows. Apparently it is very, very wrong of me to react that cheerfully when I’m supposed to be properly intimidated and cowed by their anger. As it happens, I don’t think it’s a plus to make them angrier, but it does establish that I’m not following their script, which actually lessens the chances that they’ll interact with me further. They’re comfortable with scripts. That’s why they have them. Departing from the script disturbs them.

The other thing I do, when someone has honked or shouted at me for failing to take off in an unsafe jackrabbit start so that I’ll be out of their way as soon as possible, is to stop, put my brake on, and look at them with a worried, earnest expression, as though I were trying to figure out exactly what they meant by honking at me. This takes at least three times as long as I would have taken just pulling out normally, but there’s not much they can say about it, because I’m doing my best to undertand waht they want.

I find that bullies in general are inclined to expect their victims to fill in the dialogue they don’t want to have to explain. I make a policy of not saying it for them.

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HannaLee August 22, 2010 at 2:54 am

I was in a car with my friend once, breaking no laws. We came to a red stop light with a car in front of us. The driver of the car in front of us got out of his car and started screaming at us and banging on the hood of our car about how we should “back up off his @$$”. I was in complete shock. I have been in cars with drivers who tailgated before and I have been tailgated before. We were doing nothing close to that. There was at least 6 feet in between our car when we were stopped and a great deal more when we were moving. He was trying to do serious damage to our car with HIS FISTS! At a stop light! We were fortunate; a cop had been behind us and seen the whole ordeal. Having been driving for 7 years now, and never having experienced road rage, this man’s behavior completely mystified me.

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Me January 8, 2011 at 7:58 am

In my state, it is illegal to pull out into the middle turn lane and sit there waiting to merge. One, it prevents people with the right of way from using the turn lane and two it’s confusing and dangerous. As this writer mentions, she had to decide whether she should slow down and let them in or retain her right of way. Unfortunately when people illegally pull out into the turn lane, it means the rest of us have to drive defensively in case they do suddenly swerve into us. I wish drivers like these would be more considerate of how their poor decisions endanger themselves and others.

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Michelle P January 8, 2011 at 11:13 pm

My sister is constantly doing the road rage; I have begged her to stop; you never know when someone will pull out a gun.

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lkb January 10, 2011 at 6:21 am

@HannaLee:
It seems there was a misprint in your post: “There was at least 6 feet in between our car when we were stopped”. Ummm, that’s a length about the height of a man, which is waaaaay too close. If someone had rear-ended you, you would have been pushed into that man’s car. I’d be upset too.

How many feet is a safe driving distance at 45 mph?
Five Car lengths, but only if you are on your toes. It depends on how alert you are at the time and if you can see and monitor the tail lights of the chain gang a lot further ahead than the car in front of you. If you are behind a car and it hits a stopped dump truck – can you stop? If you are tired – give yourself a lot of stopping room.

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lkb January 10, 2011 at 6:22 am

oops, should have said that in my previous post, the second paragraph was from answers.com

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irish January 10, 2011 at 12:48 pm

lkb, where do you live?! I have never seen as much as 6 feet between two cars when they were stopped at a red light. A decent gap is necessary when driving to allow for the time it takes to brake, but once you’re STOPPED, well part of the point is that you’ve closed the gap you allowed. As for being pushed into the man’s car if she were rear ended, well in modern driving it’s really not possible to predict and adjust for every mistake anyone could possibly make! I’ve often been unable to WALK in between two cars stopped at a red light, so 6 feet seems like plenty to me!

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ShellyLynne April 18, 2012 at 10:20 pm

I just wanted to comment on the distance between cars at a red light. I had a teacher in high school that said her rule of thumb was that you should be able to see the car in front of you’s tires touch the ground. That’s a rule I generally go by and it always feels like a safe but not ridiculous distance, and I drive a big truck so it’s more than it would be if I drove a car. The only time I creep closer is if someone behind me is trying to turn and can’t get to the entrance or turn lane.

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