Archive for Thursday, December 9, 2004

Jump in road rage reports bypassing Lansing, for now

December 9, 2004

Road rage is more than just a catchy phrase.

Here's what it is: You're driving along, minding your own business. Suddenly there's a car on your bumper. You slow so it can pass. The car passes, but then abruptly pulls in front of you and slows down. You pass it, only to find the car riding your bumper once more.

That's just one description of road rage.

Area law enforcement officers say road rage is frightening, it's dangerous, it's illegal - and it happens, even in Leavenworth County.

Lansing Police Chief John Simmons said his office on average received about two to three reports of road rage a month.

He said he didn't consider the number to be significant, and he credited his department's enforcement of traffic laws with keeping the incidents of road rage down.

"We provide a very visual reminder to people traveling through town," he said.

But road rage does happen.

According to Tonganoxie's acting Police Chief John Putthoff, complaints of road rage in his town usually are triggered by incidents on U.S. Highway 24-40 or Kansas Highway 16, and continue into Tonganoxie.

Recently, a driver complained to police officers that she had been the victim of road rage on U.S. 24-40 between Basehor and Tonganoxie during the evening rush hour.

Officers stopped the other driver, a woman driving a Jefferson County pickup truck, just west of Tonganoxie. Although Putthoff said no charges were filed against the driver of the pickup, he encouraged drivers to take road rage seriously.

"Call the local law enforcement agency or dial 911 if it's serious," Putthoff said. "And some of them do turn serious."

A growing concern

Sgt. Andy Dedeke of the Leavenworth County Sheriff's Office said reports of road rage were becoming more common.

That's likely because of the increase in traffic, as well as the increase in the number of drivers who carry cell phones, Dedeke said.

While incidents of road rage frequently involve strangers, they also can involve acquaintances who act out their anger when driving.

"Sometimes it's somebody that knows the person, extending from a divorce or other situation they're currently involved in, and it carries over to the road," Dedeke said. "And a lot of times there are legitimate cases of road rage where we have made an arrest and where the county attorney has prosecuted. It's not a traffic offense. It's generally a criminal offense at that point."

Simmons, the Lansing Police chief, said, "Everybody gets behind the power curve at some time when they're in their car."

Taking out

frustration

Kansas Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. John Eichkorn says acts of road rage could include speeding, making abrupt lane changes without using signals, stepping on the brake suddenly and making lewd gestures.

"We see aggressive driving on a daily basis," Eichkorn said.

The problem escalates when both drivers participate in the offensive acts.

Eichkorn advises drivers to refrain from making eye contact with an aggressive driver. And, he said, drivers shouldn't respond by driving aggressively themselves. This only makes the problem more dangerous.

Eichkorn encourages drivers to report aggressive driving. They can call 911 for the nearest dispatch, *46 for the highway patrol or *KTA for turnpike authorities.

And here's a particularly important piece of advice from Eichkorn: Don't let an aggressive driver follow you home.

"If somebody continues to engage and you're attempting to stay out of it, it's recommended that you not take them home with you," Eichkorn said. "If that person continues to follow you, it's recommended to go to a public place where you can seek help - a fire station, police station or hospital. Most of the time people like that will not follow you into places like that - but by all means don't take them home."

Eichkorn said people involved in road rage are generally good people who are feeling stressed.

"It's not the type of person who robs liquor stores or who molests children or engages in the type of activity that we would think of as criminal," Eichkorn said. "It's generally law-abiding citizens that get tied up in this."

People tend to pack more into their lives than they can handle, he said. And more people are living in metropolitan areas where there's more traffic, Eichkorn said. They might already be stressed from work or family life, he said. And on top of that - there's traffic.

"I think that in getting from point A to point B, generally we don't have enough time," Eichkorn said. "Just from the daily demands of life, a lot of times will place stress on us and that stress a lot of times is played out behind the wheel of a vehicle."

And tragically, Eickhorn said, the results can lead to collisions.

"Some of these crashes do turn deadly," Eichkorn said. "Those good people may have no intention for these things to happen, but it gets carried away and now it's much bigger than they ever thought it would be."

There's another hazard in deliberately annoying other drivers.

"You don't know if they have a weapon or not," Eichkorn said. "For some, it would not be beyond them to start shooting, and we've seen that happen, too."

Use that phone

Reports of road rage are taken seriously, said Dedeke, traffic patrol officer for Leavenworth County Sheriff's Office.

The 911 dispatcher will ask for the location of the vehicles, a description of the car and any license plate information available, Dedeke said. An officer will be sent to the location as quickly as possible.

Depending on the offense, the aggressive driver will be cited at the scene and released, if it's a traffic offense. But if it's deemed a criminal offense, the driver will be arrested.

"Jail time and fines depend on the seriousness of the offense and the driver's personal history and is decided by the courts," Dedeke said.

A cell phone is the best way to get even with an aggressive driver.

"Everybody has a cell phone now and they certainly don't hesitate to use it," Dedeke said. "Which in the case of road rage is great - they report it right away."

Officers take these reports seriously.

"There have been cases where people have been run off the road and there have been cases where there has been a handgun involved," Dedeke said. "So it can range from something pretty minor to very serious."

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