An ordinary Kent traffic jam became an internet moment Tuesday when a Jeep driver’s sneak along the shoulder drew a battering-ram response from a get-back-in-line Subaru driver.
Washington State Patrol photos of the cars pinned against each other rocketed across the web, striking a chord with droves of people frustrated by mind-numbing traffic.
In the wake of the collision of volatile frustrations, a psychologist and anger expert warned that South Sound drivers should remember the possibility of similar unpredictable delays — and tempers — as the region continues to outgrow its infrastructure.
Tuesday’s drama began early in the afternoon, with two miles of stopped cars in Kent, all trying to get east on state Route 516, all stewing in place because a problem with the railroad tracks crossing the road somewhere beyond sight.
Enter a police car, cruising up the shoulder of the road with emergency lights aswirl.
The officer passed Adalberto F. Gonzales, a 34-year-old man in a 24-year-old Jeep Cherokee stuck five miles from his job at a freight company.
In good traffic, his drive to work had just 10 minutes left. Tuesday, he needed a shortcut. He pulled out onto the shoulder and motored along behind the cop.
In a much newer Subaru farther ahead, Gonzales’ brainstorm enraged Ruslana Kakhrumanov, 33, as she sat mired in the same mess.
A State Patrol report filed later that day described her emotions: “She was not happy about Gonzales driving down the shoulder and passing all traffic while she had to sit like everyone else.”
Kakhrumanov’s sole prior traffic infraction in state court records is a $126 red-light camera ticket she paid in SeaTac municipal court in 2014. The events of Tuesday brought her a couple more.
She pulled her Subaru into the path of Gonzales’s Jeep. The cars crashed together. Gonzales drove onto the roadside grass; when he tried to steer back up, the Subaru bumped the Jeep twice more.
“She said she thought he was trying to leave the scene,” the report states.
When the collisions subsided, the cars were pinned together, Gonzales’ Jeep wedged under two wheels of the diagonal Subaru. Photos of the wreck became grist for dozens of retweets and hundreds of message-board ripostes.
Negligent-driving citations went to each. The State Patrol later gave Kakhrumanov a misdemeanor charge of reckless driving, spokesman Trooper Rick Johnson said.
Neither driver returned a call from a reporter.
The frustration each expressed to police about the traffic is hardly unique.
Aggressive driving, such as veering onto the shoulder, is a common behavior of the traffic-frustrated, as is cutting someone off, said Roland Maiuro, a psychologist and clinical director of the Seattle Anger Management and Domestic Violence Programs.
Tailgating, weaving through traffic and running a traffic light count too, he said.
“All of these things are recognized increasingly as a concern,” Maiuro said.
Studies show that frequently, aggressive driving leads to overt violence. AAA reported in 2016 that two-thirds of drivers nationally believe aggressive driving is worse than three years prior.
Asked about their own behavior over the previous year, 3 percent of drivers AAA surveyed admitted they had gone so far as to bump or ram another car deliberately, and 4 percent said they had gotten out of the car to confront another driver.
That act can lead to dangerous places fast.
Acts of road rage involving firearms have more than doubled since 2014, according to an analysis published in April by The Trace, a news nonprofit. The 1,319 incidents across 2014-16 in which road rage led to firearm use included 136 slayings.
The State Patrol says to call 911 immediately to report aggressive driving. But what do you do in a region behind on its transit infrastructure when jammed-up traffic wreaks havoc on your life plans?
Maiuro said to accept it as an inevitability and plan accordingly. He advises cold beverages, a snack and satellite radio or another audio distraction — language lessons or books on tape — to draw attention away from frustrating things on the road. Try to fall back in traffic, or pull off to a restaurant.
“They are moments to bridge you through a difficult situation,” he said. “It will pass, and what’s important is to get through the situation.”
Avoid aggressive music when the highway turns hard, he said.
“You wouldn’t want to have any Nine Inch Nails or anything playing,” the psychologist said.
AAA and Maiuro reported that in their studies of aggressive driving, nearly every type of bad behavior is mostly carried out by males, usually younger ones.
Maiuro said his data analysis found one exception: the “moral enforcer,” he said, is more often female.
“That is the person who sees the other driver was violating some code of propriety or rules of the road,” Maiuro said, “and (thinks) they need to to be corrected or punished in some way for having done so.”
This appeared to be the case with Kakhrumanov in Kent, he said.
Long-term, Maiuro said the escalation of aggression on the open road is a symptom of a large cultural shift in how we view driving. He called it “kind of funny” to recall how a few decades ago, people would take the family for a drive as a pleasure outing.
“You would just think, now, ‘I don’t want to get in the car. I don’t want to go anywhere right now. I just want to stay at home and relax’ and do anything to avoid having to drive somewhere,” he said.
“The culture has changed. Being in a car has changed.”