On Dec. 13 in the Metro section, Dr. Gridlock ran the startling tale of a Prince George's County woman, Darlene Rowe-Stukes, who, when cut off in traffic, leapt from her car and tried to break into the offender's vehicle. Ms. Rowe-Stukes wrote that she was bent on "pulling her out of her car and beating her to a pulp."

She failed to break into the car and wound up kicking in the woman's headlights before storming back to her own car. Ms. Rowe-Stukes later realized that this was bad behavior and that she could have been shot in such an encounter. Her letter brought a spirited response from the readership:

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

How much road rage would we have if driving were so expensive and severely restricted that we all had to ride bicycles? How combative could you be when so much effort would be required?



Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Several years ago, when U.S. Route 1 still merged into Interstate 95 from the left at Woodbridge, and the HOV lanes had not been extended, something occurred which became a road rage epiphany for me. I had been driving in a vanpool for a long time, and the increased traffic congestion and aggressiveness of drivers had taken its toll.

I was in the left lane, driving my 15-passenger van, when a pickup truck zoomed down the entry ramp lane from Route 1, shot past me on the left, and cut in front of me at the last possible moment. It caught me by surprise, and I jammed my brakes to avoid hitting him.

I immediately shot the driver the universal one-finger welcome sign, at which point he stopped his truck in the middle of the Purple Heart Bridge and walked back to my window.

All this in the middle of evening rush hour! He told me I'd better watch out what I did with that finger; I told him where I was going to put it if he didn't get back in his truck and get moving.

I was in a blind rage. I chased him at speeds of up to 85 mph, all the way to the Stafford exit, where he got off in one direction and I in another.

All of this while my wife and 12 passengers watched. All the way home, I had thoughts of wanting to kill the man, and wishing I had gotten out of the van and pushed him over the bridge railing.

I was still trembling when I got home. When I finally calmed down, these wild thoughts really hit home. I realized that if I had a gun, I would have shot the man for cutting me off in traffic. I was that much out of control.

This has changed my outlook forever. Nothing bothers me anymore, and I don't mind who cuts me off in traffic. They can have all the room they want. My life, and the lives of my family and passengers, aren't worth the aggravation.



Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I hope I don't make this woman's day worse, but the person who wrote to you about her road rage needs to do something for her family. She needs to take anger management courses.

The moment she started attacking the other driver's car, she put herself not only in danger, but seriously in the wrong. She was lucky not to be killed. She will be luckier yet if she is not cited for destruction of property and assault, because she earned convictions on both counts.

If this woman had managed to break the car window and batter the other driver, she would be spending Christmas in jail. Maybe a number of Christmases in jail.

She needs to think about how much her family needs and loves her, and she needs to get a real tight grip on that temper. Maybe we need to worry less about what the other driver can do to us, and more about what we are doing to ourselves.


Mount Rainier

Dr. Gridlock is interested in recommendations for anger management courses, particularly for road rage.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Both you and Darlene Rowe-Stukes seemed to reach the conclusion that her actions were wrong only because there exists the possibility of getting shot by someone crazier.

If you could know for sure the other person wasn't going to kill you, would it be okay to pound some sense into them? Certainly not.

Using anger as an excuse to verbally or physically abuse someone is wrong, independent of the consequences of doing so.

I know what it's like to be infuriated at someone's stupidity--I've gotten angrier than I should sometimes. However, I've never considered leaving my vehicle to pursue that anger. The reason I don't has nothing to do with a fear of getting shot and everything to do with a desire not to be that kind of person.



Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I was disturbed to read the story of the woman who gave vent to road rage after another driver almost caused a bad accident. The woman concluded that she shouldn't have tried to drag the other driver from her car, or kicked out her headlights, because she could have gotten killed.

While that's unfortunately a possibility these days, it's not the right lesson to draw. No matter what the other driver did, this woman's own behavior was antisocial, not to mention criminal.

She seems to think that fright and anger excuse the attempted assault and property damage, and that she should control herself only because other people might be dangerous. She's wrong on both counts. I'm surprised you didn't call her on it.


College Park

I didn't get the same message from her letter, Leslie. "She seems to think that fright and anger excuse the attempted assault and property damage" is not a premise I can accept. She seemed like a penitent person to me.

It's okay to take a different view. Plenty of people have agreed with you. Maybe the letter--and my answer--should have gone further.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

On those (fortunately rare) occasions when I have made an error and endangered someone who is sharing the road with me, they often react with rage and then their driving endangers both of us.

I've had people screaming, shaking their fists, tailgating or glaring at me instead of watching the road. They are so angry at me for creating a momentary distraction that they are distracted from safe driving themselves.

Please remind your readers that even if they don't get shot for yelling at someone, if they are consumed with rage at something that happens to them on the road, they could become the next dangerous driver.


New Carrollton

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I was trying to get into the left lane, and I checked my mirror, signaled and pulled into the lane. At the next light, a woman pulled up on my right and angrily indicated that she wanted me to roll down my passenger-side window. I did, and she proceeded to scream at me that I had cut her off.

I knew that I hadn't--that she must have sped up when she saw me pulling into the left lane--but I said as sincerely as I could, "I'm so sorry. I really didn't mean to!" She yelled again, and I again apologized. She finally gave up.

I think it really knocked the wind out of her sails when I didn't fight back. Sometimes being polite is the best revenge!



Dr. Gridlock's assistant, Jessica Medinger, contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Monday in the Metro section and Thursday in Southern Maryland Extra. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, P.O. Box 3467, Fairfax, Va. 22038-3467, or e-mail him at drgridlock@washpost.com. The doctor's fax number is 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.

CAPTION: Traffic congestion--as seen earlier this year at the Springfield "Mixing Bowl"--drives commuters to more than distraction.