“I don’t use my horn, in case the other guy’s got a gun!”
This is only one way in which American road safety culture is adversely affected by the fear of violent retribution, but let’s deal with this aspect first.
If I had a dollar for each time I have been told about the other person having a gun, over the years that I’ve been running a driver training business in which our instructors teach thousands of drivers from many of America’s Fortune-500 corporations, I’m sure my family could have had a very nice vacation on the proceeds!
News of severe road rage incidents in which someone gets shot are relatively rare but it’s very understandable that these events get people’s attention.
It’s a sad fact that far too many people nowadays think of the horn only in the context of someone being angry at someone else, but of course that is certainly not what it is there for. In fact, in technical circles, it is even known as the ‘audible-warning instrument,’ specifically to emphasize its only legitimate purpose.
Warning someone ahead that you are approaching, when they are not paying attention or it’s possible that they can’t see you, can save their life, your life, somebody else’s life, or even people in all three of these categories.
The secret is to be looking well ahead and look for the early signs of a risky scenario. If you see a problem in plenty of time, then you can use two short presses on the horn — a quick “bip-bip” — rather than a the long, last-moment “blaaaarp” that sounds aggressive and frightens people. (You also have the option of slowing down, of course, which is certainly a good way to enhance safety.)
But: “He still might have a gun and get angry if I beep!”
Okay, that’s not impossible, but let’s now look at the odds.
Excerpt: “cases of road rage involving a firearm more than doubled to 620 in 2016 from 247 in 2014, with 136 people killed in those three years.” That’s an average of 45 people a year killed in the USA in road rage incidents involving a gun. [These are the latest figures we have been able to find, so far.]
By comparison, in those same three years, 106,035 people in America were killed in road crashes. And this makes all of us at least 780-times more likely to be killed by a crash than by a road-rager with a gun!
So here is the key point: Using the horn at suitable moments, to help avoid collisions, undeniably does save lives and reduce injuries. This fact is beyond dispute.
Informing the Police About Dangerous Drivers
Many people ask us how or why America has much higher road-death rates than most other developed countries. There are actually quite a lot of factors that are likely to contribute to this sad situation, and what follows is one of them.
For at least three decades, the most consistent countries in having the lowest death rates have been Britain and Sweden. Understandably and delightfully, other countries have worked hard to catch up to this life-saving success, and Norway has made huge efforts, as a result of which it is currently in the top spot. So lets look at something that happens in these countries that is less commonly found elsewhere, and is extremely rare in the USA: In the three named countries, people freely tell the police about bad drivers, and even about neighbors who drive dangerously or drunk.
“If you were to ask victims’ families what they would think about being able to report dangerous drivers to the law without any fear of subsequent violence as a result, I bet I could tell you what their answer would typically be!”
In Sweden and Norway, the drink-driving blood-alcohol limit is just .02% BAC, and a large proportion of people are very adamant that others must not drink and drive.
In Britain, this situation is quite common, plus it is also a country that encourages drivers to submit videos from their dash cams which show other people driving dangerously, and the police will use those videos as evidence to take offenders to court, in large numbers. (This may be happening in other countries, as well, but for this article I will stick to those I know about.)
There is even a centralized website in Britain, for this very purpose, and it is in constant use.
Now, I’m going to guess that many Americans will be horrified that Swedes, Norwegians, Brits and others will readily “blow-in” other people, or even their own neighbors.
It is a major cultural difference, although we can’t be certain how much of it is a straightforward recognition of how serious the dangers caused by bad drivers can be, and how much is governed by the fear — or lack of fear — of reprisals. Here in the USA, I think it is beyond doubt that such fear is a big part of the issue.
We have a large number of people who ‘follow’ Road Safety USA on Facebook and at this website, who tragically have been among the current average of 100 American families a day who have lost loved ones in crashes.
If you were to ask them what they would think about being able to report dangerous drivers without any fear of subsequent violence as a result, I bet I could tell you what their answer would typically be!
The use of video footage from members of the public, whether people like the idea or not, is a very effective way to help cut crashes and casualties, but it’s an approach I don’t expect to see here in the USA any time soon.
No doubt some people will say that their individual right to privacy is far more important than other people’s right not to be killed by a dangerous driver.
And who knows, they might have a gun!