John Bacon, USA TODAY
The shocking death of former NFL football star Will Smith in apparent road rage in New Orleans marked the nation’s third highly publicized road rage incident in less than a week.
Smith, 34, a beloved player who won a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints, was fatally shot Saturday following an argument after his car was rear-ended, police said in a statement. In Minneapolis on Tuesday, a gunman shot a motorist multiple times in a road rage incident. And in Houston on Wednesday, a brawl involving several adults broke out over a parking space at the Houston Zoo.
While the circumstances and motive surrounding Smith’s death are not yet firmly established, the problem of road rage is clear cut and on the rise.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, based on police reports, show road rage or aggressive driving were reported as factors in 375 fatal crashes that resulted in 418 deaths in 2014, the latest year statistics are available. In 2009, road rage or aggressive driving was reported as a contributing factor in 196 fatal crashes, causing 235 fatalities. The numbers do not include violence after a crash.
Of course, the vast majority of road rage and aggressive driving incidents do not result in death.
Jeff Asher, a crime data consultant based in New Orleans, said Sunday there are no firm statistics on road rage. But he said curbing the problem has more to do with psychology than driving skills.
“It’s about conflict resolution,” Asher told USA TODAY. “It starts in childhood, with education. Teaching people to resolve their conflicts peacefully.”
In New Orleans, Smith and his wife were traveling in their Mercedes when they were struck by a Hummer H2 driven by Cardell Hayes, 28, police said. The two men “exchanged words,” the police statement said, then Hayes fatally shot Smith and wounded Smith’s wife.
Helen Cameron, a senior fellow at the University of South Australia’s School of Psychology, said men between the ages of 16 to 40 are the most likely drivers to succumb to anger while driving — the same group most likely to commit any other violent act.
“It’s part of socialization and it’s something we as a society have never learned to deal with,” she recently told Australia’s news.com. “Cars are funny because they give people a protective bubble but it’s not the cars that make people angry.”
A recent survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found 87% of respondents said they believed aggressive drivers were a “somewhat” or “very serious” threat to their personal safety.
AAA’s advice when confronted with road rage or aggressive driving: “Don’t engage.” AAA spokeswoman Tamra Johnson said relatively trivial incidents sometimes balloon into more serious altercations.
“People need to keep their emotions in check,” Johnson told USA TODAY. “Don’t offend, don’t engage that driver in anger.”
Contributing: Steve Reilly