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The question

I was driving to school when I looked in my rear-view mirror and saw an SUV so close behind me that I couldn't read his license plate. I tried to evade him by changing lanes, but he moved to stay behind me. I turned around to wave him off. He wouldn't move. At the next stoplight he pulled up beside me and unleashed a torrent of profane abuse. I did not react and he pulled away. I didn't get a license number, but I do have a good facial description. Now my question: How can I get this person off the road? He's driving two tons of steel with reckless endangerment and seems to be ignorant of 1. the Highway Traffic Act, 2. The laws of physics (4 x speed = 16 x inertia), 3. the Criminal Code, and 4. polite discourse. I can shrug him off, but I keep thinking: If he rear-ends a Yaris with a baby in the back seat, he's going to commit murder.

The answer

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Before I drop a bit of bad news on you (spoiler alert: There's not a lot you can do) I want to say:

Road rage is awful.

As human beings we have a deep-DNA aversion to having our progress impeded. Did you know the root word for Satan means "that which blocks your path"?

That's why people go berserk in traffic. You're sitting in a tin can on wheels, you want to be somewhere, but all of a sudden you're surrounded by other tin cans with no ability to go forward, backward or sideways. Something deep in the DNA militates against it.

And otherwise decent, moral, upstanding citizens do things they would never do outside their car.

Once my wife was driving along and got into some sort of contretemps with another driver. She gave him the finger (perhaps: I wasn't there but I could picture it), he gave her the finger, they started yelling at each other from behind their closed windows. Which is somewhat hilarious and awful because a) you can't even hear the imprecations you're yelling at one another, b) even if you could it doesn't matter, probably hearing what the other person is saying wouldn't change your world view/sense of self that much, and c) you'd never get into this type of confrontation if you met the person in the street.

Then he scooted around her and pulled in front and blocked her off, and slowed down to a complete stop – in the midst of a three-lane highway.

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Another time I recall as a pedestrian I was crossing at a light and I forgot something, turned to retrace my steps in the middle of the crosswalk, and this car was about to turn right but I blocked its path (Satan) and it had to stop short.

And this couple both started yelling and screaming at me from inside their little car-fishbowl, complete with gestures (fingers brushed under chin, third finger, held up, etc.) And they seemed like a lovely old couple, but I – a six-foot-five, tattoo-covered, unbalanced-looking man – brought the meat of my palm down hard on the hood. That woke them up.

Yet another time I remember getting into a contretemps with someone who felt (rightly, I confess) that I as a cyclist was breaking the rules of the road and approached me with a certain measure of hostility.

My reaction (again, to be clear, I was in the wrong): "What's the problem? Are you saying what I was doing was dangerous?"

Him: "Yes."

Me: "You know what else is dangerous? Approaching strange, six-foot-five, tattoo-covered, unbalanced-looking man in a hostile manner. It could be bad for your health."

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His eyes turned into saucers of fear and he scampered off.

My point is whether it be car-on-pedestrian, car-on-cyclist or car-on-car road rage – well, no offence, going to the police with a "good description" of someone who has not yet committed a crime is a fruitless pursuit, a.k.a. a waste of time.

At best the police will send you to a purgatorial hell of paperwork and laugh and cackle as you attempt to work your way through it.

Better, far better, is to set an example with your own driving and over all comportment.

Drive well yourself. At the same time: Accept that you will make mistakes on the road.

And more than that: Accept others will make mistakes.

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(The most hilarious thing about all the low-level road rage I witness personally is the drivers invariably are freaking out about stuff they do themselves.)

If you ever interact verbally with another driver politely suggest the rules of the road are a subset of the rules of civility.

And that he/she/both of you should adhere to them.

Are you in a sticky situation?

Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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