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Why road rage is so common in St. Louis and how you can try to avoid it

Sunrise over rush hour traffic on Interstate 64 in St. Louis County.
David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
Sunrise over rush-hour traffic on Interstate 64 in St. Louis County.

Jonathan Lawrence was shot three times during a road rage incident in St. Louis in November. It began with a seemingly ordinary interaction: After arriving home, he saw a driver speeding down the street, and he yelled for the driver to slow down.

“So he stopped, and I said, ‘There’s kids playing on the sidewalk.’ He said, ‘I don’t give a f— about them kids,’” Lawrence said. “So I kind of threw my arms up, said, ‘OK, let’s go.’ … And [he] aimed out his driver’s window and let off five rounds.”

It was a shocking moment — but one common for local motorists. A month prior, drivers exchanged gunfire on Interstate 44 in St. Louis County. One man was shot in the hand.

The number of road rage injuries and deaths involving guns has increased every year since 2018, according to a report released by Everytown for Gun Safety in March.

“What’s frightening is everyone could have a gun,” Melissa Smith Foerschler shared on Instagram. “People have holsters installed on their car doors so they have easy access while driving. A mechanic told me they bring their cars in for service and forget their loaded guns in their door.”

AAA spokesperson Nick Chabarria said data show that aggressive driving — which the organization defines as tailgating, cutting someone off, running red lights, changing lanes without a signal, weaving in and out of traffic or speeding in heavy traffic — has only gotten worse in the past five years.

“Even though we had emptier roads in 2020, fatalities in Missouri, and nationwide, increased year over year,” he said. “There were more risky drivers out on the roads during that time. So even though there was less car volume overall, the drivers that were on the roads are more likely to take risks, and therefore more likely to end up in a crash.”

Aggressive driving, he added, often leads to road rage incidents. Previous AAA data found that 78% of drivers in the U.S. admit to having significant anger, aggression or road rage behind the wheel.

“In cars there's a sense of immunity from the norms of polite society,” said Dr. Helen Friedman, a St. Louis clinical psychologist. “Not only that, there's objectification of others. So we see others as just a bobblehead behind the steering wheel, as opposed to someone’s mother [or] somebody's son.”

Dr. Helen Friedman is a clinical psychologist in St. Louis
Dr. Helen Friedman is a clinical psychologist in St. Louis

She said a good first step to curbing road rage is to stop taking other drivers’ behavior personally.

“Somebody in road rage takes somebody else's actions very personally, or makes assumptions, and then wants to seek revenge,” she said. “Watch what you tell yourself about a situation. … Often, people tell themselves horrible things and rile themselves up — and anger begets anger.”

Lawrence is still in recovery from being shot in November. He received trauma surgery on his left tibia, and today, he’s able to take a few “baby steps” without a cane. He told St. Louis on the Air that, given the chance to go back in time, he would approach the aggressive, speeding driver on his street in a different manner.

“I should have deescalated,” he said. “Had I tried a little harder to try to defuse that, I probably wouldn't be in this situation I am today."

He added: “A saying that helped me out a lot growing up is ‘Seek first to understand and then to be understood.’ So maybe we should start giving each other a little slack on the roads.”

To hear more analysis from Dr. Helen Friedman and road rage stories from across the St. Louis region, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast, or by clicking the play button below.

What St. Louisans can do to de-escalate road rage incidents

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production intern. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.