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Back off from road rage, dial *277 or *911

Posted: Tuesday, Oct 9th, 2012

Captain George A Dingfelder

Special to the courier

ALAMOSA—“Over 900 incidents of road rage on Valley roads were reported in the past year,” said Captain George A Dingfelder of the Colorado State Patrol.

Looking at the data sheet, he said, “Between October 1, 2011 through September 30, 2012, there were 916 traffic complaints of road rage or an aggressive behavior.”

No specific coding for road rage is available for the State Patrol but the data is collected under traffic complaints.

The captain of the San Luis Valley 5B troop defined road rage as a “driving behavior, a combination of different behaviors like careless or reckless driving.”

Most traffic complaints or road rage reports stem from people running late for an appointment.

“Take your time – I mean . . . if you are late, you’re late. Your boss would rather you be late than to injure yourself and someone else. Be courteous, back to the kindergarten rule and be courteous – do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

These incidents can be serious. Charges could ultimately be: vehicle assault; homicide charges; or reckless driving.

“These are pretty major felony charges,” Dingfelder said.

If a driver finds herself (or himself) in a situation with hand gestures flying, he says, “Don’t inflame, don’t add to it; don’t use hand gestures back. Don’t be involved. Call 911 or *277.” The statewide system of *277 gets the call to dispatch centers.

Dingfelder recommends drivers take a deep breath and calm down.

“A person’s bad driving or aggressiveness isn’t going to get them there any quicker.”

He cautions drivers not to give in to aggressive driving. Instead, he urges the driver to “take a few seconds to calm down; don’t throw up the hand gestures; don’t do what they are doing; be the bigger person; let the law enforcement handle it.”

“Road rage can be very upsetting and scary,” he said. “You just don’t know, don’t know if they are armed.”

Dingfelder said that in the Valley, some of the calls involve “weapons pointed at each other.”

He relayed a story that happened several years ago in the Colorado Springs area where a young teen was so upset with a driver that when the two vehicles pulled to a stop, he promptly marched over to the offending driver and slugged him. The other driver quickly pulled out a gun, shot and killed the teen.

He admitted, “It’s hard not to inflame it.” Sometimes “good people” may find a violating driver “comes up behind them and it is hard not to respond in kind.” But the captain suggests drivers take a deep breath and ask, “Is this going to help the situation?”

“Keep your hands on the steering wheel, and call 911,” he said.

The captain’s further advice is, “Get yourself out of the situation. Don’t stop on a dark road. Call 911, explain what is going on and know your location and that will speed up the response.”

He added that the system is actually set to acquire a caller’s GPS (global positioning system) coordinates when available.

Immediate response to road rage should include, “Keep going and get out of the situation; pull in to law enforcement.”

This response would also apply should a driver encounter police impersonators.

Road rage and traffic complaints are one in the same, Dingfelder explained.

Clues to road rage include aggressive driving and multiple traffic violations. The situation escalates when there is slamming breaks, finger pointing, and other gestures.

He stressed that knowing one’s surroundings is important as is getting the license plate so that law enforcement can follow up.

He said, “The number one point is get yourself out of the situation. The person’s safety and the safety of the other public is number one.” The Colorado State Patrol will follow up and do investigation and the driver should not be followed or confronted.

“If you follow them, you are adding to the irate situation. Do get what information you can including date, time and your surroundings.”

Dingfelder explained that making a road rage or traffic complaint is important. The dispatcher asks if the caller would sign a complaint. The State Patrol didn’t observe it and so in order to prosecute a traffic complaint, the person should be willing to go to court. Even if the person doesn’t want to sign a complaint, law enforcement will follow up. Where possible, law enforcement wants the signed complaint. Sometimes a trooper in the area does observe the road rage and handles the situation.

Dingfelder’s tips are, “Leave five minutes earlier; enjoy the beautiful San Luis Valley scenery as you travel to where you are going. . . .The best place for your hands is on the steering wheel, not up in the air. . .Think before you point or use that finger.”

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