Honolulu Star-Bulletin Local News

Temper, temper!

Some drivers go ballistic as traffic increases
and holiday pressures build

By Debra Barayuga

The light turned green, and Heather Razo surged forward with the rest of the morning rush-hour traffic on Kamehameha Highway. She wasn't expecting a car on her right to enter her lane, causing her and the other motorist to slam on their brakes.

The other driver was clearly upset, spouting some choice words to Razo via her rearview mirror. Razo inched closer to the woman's bumper, trying to make out what she was saying.

"You did it - not me," Razo angrily gestured back. "I was here, you weren't."

It's a scenario that plays over and over on Oahu's roads. Tempers flare. Blood pressures rise.

But minor incidents such as these can turn violent and are occurring more frequently on Oahu's roadways, in line with a national trend.

Some examples of the violence that occurred during one weekend in late October:

Such incidents of non-accident road violence are few and far between. Before the October cases, the last one was the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Travis Collins in a "stink-eye" incident on the H-2 in July.

But similar confrontations happen more often than people hear or read about. With the stress of the upcoming holiday season, people have reason to be wary, police said.

"More people are starting to lose their patience around the holidays," said Lt. Bill Kato, head of the major crimes detail.

It's not just happening here. Reports of traffic incidents that turn violent are increasing nationwide, according to a recent study sponsored by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Since 1990, incidents have increased nearly 7 percent a year, the study found.

The results are based on 10,037 incidents between Jan. 1, 1990, and Sept. 1, 1996, culled from police reports and newspaper stories. Of those incidents, 218 people were killed and 12,610 injured as a result of aggressive driving, the study said.

But these cases represent only a "small tip of a very large iceberg," said David K. Willis, president of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The events that lead to these violent incidents are mostly trivial and involve ordinary citizens, the study said.

"But violent traffic disputes are rarely the result of a single incident. Rather, they seem to be the result of personal attitudes and the accumulation of stress in the motorist's life," Willis said.

According to the study, 44 percent of the violent altercations involved the use of a firearm, knife, club or tire iron.

Here, traffic incidents involving weapons also appear to be increasing, Kato said.

Recently, a Laie resident narrowly missed getting shot after he took offense with the occupant of a slow-

moving truck who made an obscene gesture at him as he passed them near Kahana Bay.

As he slowed to confront the occupants, the truck passed him and a passenger in the truck bed pointed a rifle at him and fired.

Leon James, a professor at the University of Hawaii, knows these feelings that can incite violence only too well. He's been teaching a class in "traffic psychology" for the past 10 years.

It all began 15 years ago when his wife told him his grandmother - who allegedly clung on in the back seat whenever he drove - considered him a bad driver.

"That's ridiculous," was his response then, but then he thought more about it. "My reaction was so negative, I said, wait a minute. I'm an ordinary person, but I was getting negative thoughts. It's very general - any driver has these thoughts and feelings," James said.

Motorists who encounter other drivers intent on a confrontation should remain calm, lower their pride and get out of their way, said Dr. Robert A. Hyman, medical director of the Pain Management Clinic of Hawaii at Kuakini Medical Center.

If that's not possible, call for help or drive to the nearest police station. "If it escalates into something, it can cause real permanent damage to you," Hyman said.

These confrontational motorists can't differentiate what is right or wrong at that specific moment, he said.

People who fly off the handle easily, who are constantly tired or sad or have low energy levels, should check with their doctors to see if they may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder, which occurs this time of year, Hyman said.

It gets worse around the holidays, when people are pressured to be happy because everyone else is happy, pressed to get to places on time or to have money to buy gifts they think they have to give.

"This is a time people get into stressful situations, especially if they're not paying attention to their own health issues," Hymans said.

He advises people to get a good night's sleep and eat correctly - and to exercise, which can lower stress.

If you suspect you suffer from seasonal affective disorder, see your doctor, or go to a community health center or stress management clinic.

"Especially during this Thanksgiving and Christmas season, seeking help might help not only you, but the person you meet on the highway."

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