Tailgating, traffic, near-accidents and perceived slights from other drivers are often enough to incur a hostile response from anyone behind the wheel.
Whether on the bustling thoroughfare of South Washington Street, the winding Highway 108, or on the paved streets lined with homes, businesses and wildlife, incidents of road rage happen just about every day in Tuolumne County.
“It’s a slang term for what's happening out there,” said Tuolumne County Sheriff's Deputy Lt. Neil Evans. “Road argument doesn't sound good, right?”
And the alliterative quality of the term has allowed “road rage” to become something of a cultural touchstone. Not only is the term euphemized by its prevalence, it is by extension accepted as a fact of life.
“I think we've all experienced it a little bit, but most of us get a handle on it before it gets problematic,” said Tuolumne County Behavioral Health Supervisor of walk-in and crisis services Debora Dietz-Neves. “We feel so in control when we learn how to drive. Then we get on the road and see that we're not really in control anymore.”
When reacting to any range of road and vehicle dangers caused by another driver, yelling, cursing and gesturing from behind your car window can often feel like a harmless and justified response.
Colloquially, many refer to it as simply “blowing off steam.”
But that anger can, and often does, cross a threshold.
About 9 a.m. Friday, a man suffered major injuries at the intersection of Highway 108 and South Washington Street when another driver backed his vehicle into him.
The incident occurred after the victim, driving a black Mercedes sedan, tailgated a Honda Civic, said Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Andrea Benson.
After the man in the Honda changed lanes and allowed the victim to pass, the victim pulled over and threw his hands up in the air. The man in the Honda, looking behind into his rearview mirror, then stopped his vehicle, reversed, and slammed his vehicle into the victim and the victim’s vehicle.
A toddler was in the back of the Mercedes. The toddler was unharmed and was claimed by its mother at the scene, a news release stated.
As of Friday afternoon, the victim was in serious but stable condition at a Modesto area hospital, and was able to provide a statement to deputies, Benson said.
Scott Sanchez, 48, of Copperopolis, was arrested on suspicion of assault with deadly weapon and booked into the Tuolumne County Jail.
There is no specific police or vehicle code violation specifically associated with road rage.
Assault with a deadly weapon, or police code 245, is among a range of charges including vehicle code 23103, reckless or aggressive driving; police code 242, battery; police code 243(d), battery with substantial injury; police code 240, assault; police code 422, criminal threats (with the capacity to carry out that threat at the time); police code 417, brandishing a weapon; and police code 415, public disturbance, that are commonly associated with incidents of road rage, said Evans and Sonora-area California Highway Patrol Officer Jamie Pullen.
“Each incident, each situation is different,” said Pullen. “It may apply to one situation or not another.”
On April 10, a road rage incident on Rawhide Road in Jamestown devolved into a brawl after a man rammed his 2001 white Dodge Ram pickup truck into a 2007 white Dodge Ram pickup truck driven by Zachary Clark, 22, once while on the road and again after Clark pulled over to assess the damage.
When both men exited their vehicles, the man approached Clark and punched him in the face, deputies said. Dodging a second punch, Clark responding by punching the man in the face.
Timothy Nielsen, 37, was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and child endangerment (his 1-year-old daughter was in the backseat of his vehicle during the incident) by Tuolumne County Sheriff’s deputies.
On Jan. 15, Tony Alahverdi, 36, attempted to illegally pass another driver in his 2016 gray Toyota pickup truck in backed-up traffic near the Pinecrest area of Dodge Ridge.
Unable to get past the victim, Alahverdi brandished a firearm and threatened to kill him, officers said.
Alahverdi was arrested on suspicion of criminal threats after his vehicle was located by CHP officers later in the day.
But even in law enforcement data bank systems, incidents are classified by administered charges and violations. Road rage is only a designation that can be specifically included in a report written by an investigating or responding officer to detail the circumstances surrounding a crime.
That means tracking the frequency of road rage incidents is an insurmountable task, especially when some events go unreported, some are dropped to avoid court commitments and only a small portion devolve into violence.
Both Evans and Pullen agreed that notifications of road rage are reported on a daily basis to dispatch centers in the county.
“Normally a 9-1-1 call that goes straight to dispatch is something after the fact that someone acted inappropriately on the road,” Pullen said.
But a “few times a week,” Pullen said, officers do respond to a scene where de-escalation tactics are required to diffuse a hostile road situation.
“It can be a number of different things. A lot of it stems from minor traffic violations like someone cuts them off, or someone is tailgating too close or something like that,” Pullen said. “If someone gets mad by a perceived injustice, it turns into a road rage incident.”
Evans said that, when investigating road rage incidents, law enforcement will approach the situation just like any other, whether it be at a residence, on the sidewalk, or on the side of the road.
Essential to intervening on a potential fight, he said, was separating the hostile parties and disallowing any way for them to maintain eye contact.
“We just talk to them in the sense where we need them to concentrate on what we're saying,” Evans said. “Especially on a highway, that can be difficult.”
But as in the described situation, law enforcement is often not present at the time of a road rage incident and receives a witness or victim statement after the incident.
People that claim to be the recipients of road rage are required to make a citizen's arrest, and face the same “ramifications” that officers do when they make an arrest, Pullen said, which could include a false arrest, or lacking enough evidence to support a case.
“They are in effect the arresting officer, we are just the ones that are ticketing them for it,” he said.
More typically, he added, situations are usually calmer by the time officers arrive and most people opt out of pressing or pursuing legal charges, which are often misdemeanors.
Even CHP officers are sometimes the recipients of some sort of road rage, albeit to a lesser degree, Pullen said.
“We get flipped off all the time and yelled at all the time. But the typical road rage thing, probably not.”
Both officers agreed that there wasn’t any scientific basis to classify strict patterns in the incidence of road rage over a given day, or year. But circumstances that contributed to traffic congestion, which are often at the beginning or the end of a work day, Evans said, was a reasonable marker for when road rage was most common.
“People are in a hurry,” he said. “They are going to take advantage of somebody to get to work half a second sooner.”
Pullen said that, with the amount of traffic in the local area spiking over the summer months, the incidence of road rage would probably be more common than in the winter.
“It’s nothing scientific but, just from my personal experience, it tends to happen more in the summer when it's hotter. Tempers seem to flare a little more,” he said.
Dietz-Neves said that the causes of road rage, and rage in general, were rooted in high-level executive functioning skills and impulse control.
In critical or dangerous situations the mind can become warped by a primitive fight-or-flight mechanism. Oftentimes drivers will, seemingly unconsciously, lash out as some form of retribution. But when making a conscious, focused effort to control that instinct, Dietz-Neves said, violent or aggressive situations can be avoided.
“Somebody just did something while you're hurtling along going 60-plus and you could have died just then,” she said. “But does that translate into carrying that rage into the next car you see? Not necessarily.”
Rage has a common association with substance abuse disorders, she said, and are treated similarly using anger management services that deal with impulse control.
“People are encouraged to go into that to get a handle on what's going on internally,” she said.
There was also the aspect of a fear mechanism, that your life was somehow endangered, she said, which also contributed to the incidence of road rage.
But if someone lacked the coping mechanisms required to resist their violent or combative urges, she said, just about anything on the road could function as a road rage catalyst.
“I used to commute. My personal experience was recognizing that the level of stress that was built in to being on a crowded road and not giving myself more time to get to my destination,” Dietz Neves said. “I gave myself permission to be late if I need to be. You want to arrive alive.”
Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or email@example.com . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.