GRIDLOCK GUY: A horrifying example of the wrongs of road rage

Young drivers often have to make mistakes to learn the limits on the roads. Sometimes those mistakes result in tickets, getting grounded, running out of gas, or small crashes. But errors of inexperience can also end tragically for the driver, passengers, or those surrounding. A seemingly small misjudgment recently almost cost a Gwinnett County teenager his life and landed an adult with a bad driving record in jail.

Gwinnett Police said an 18-year-old’s returning of a middle finger to 57-year-old Duane Sudderth took an unforeseen and dangerous turn. After the exchange on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard in Sugar Hill, Sudderth allegedly yelled to the driver he would rape the teen’s 15-year-old passenger, the driver’s sister. The victim also said Sudderth tried to run him off the road.

Police said the two teens pulled into a private driveway on Buford Dam Road when Sudderth then pulled in behind them and allegedly began beating the teen driver through the window. At some point, the teen somehow and for some reason got out of the vehicle and Sudderth beat him unconscious, police said. After coming to, the victim called the police and authorities used license plate cameras to find the offending vehicle and make the arrest.

Before we talk about this more, I need to admit something. Rarely in my life have I been more ashamed of my own reactions than when I have had road rage. And it really is a reaction. I usually do not get angry enough to show another driver that emotion until they show it first. But goodness, when they do.

I have aggressively arced or sped past the offending vehicle. I have purposely slowed down in front of someone tailgating me - an aggression that headlined last week’s column. And, like the victim in the above story, I have regrettably returned the bird - many times.

Years ago, I was driving on I-285/southbound (Inner Loop) near I-20 in DeKalb County and was driving too slowly for someone’s speedy taste. I slowed down in protest and then exited onto I-20/westbound, expecting them to just whip around me when they found an opening. But the car instead pulled up alongside. The male driver pointed a silver gun up near his mouth and blew it like it was smoking. I tried to slow down to allow him to pass, but he slowed with me and stayed alongside for several miles. Thankfully, he did not follow me all the way to my trivia-hosting gig. That was scary.

There was a rash of roadway shootings in Atlanta during and just after the COVID-19 shutdowns. Many were objects of road rage. And we can safely assume people shot in those incidents were not expecting that outcome after a bad lane change or showing the finger to someone else.

This is not at all victim-blaming. At all. But this is a grim reminder of unintended consequences of what seems like harmless outrage.

In this age of just replying blindly to someone’s disagreeable social media post and suffering no real fall out for doing so, we may be more desensitized than ever to the fallout from showing road rage. Many people also seem very numb to the idea of just fighting or shooting someone, too. Two angry, apathetic drivers is a bad mix.

When the Gwinnett teen got his buttons pushed and gestured back, it triggered a completely unexpected response. Traffic anger usually lasts a few seconds and then everyone moves along anonymously. Instead, this young driver learned that provoking just one wrong person - even though that hot head allegedly started it - can be life-threatening.

Rarely does anyone feel better after a behind-the-wheel outburst. Ill will begets ill will. The best way to fight fire is with water, not fire. Ignoring another driver’s crazy actions or calmly calling 911, if necessary, are the only ways to respond to these outbursts. Turning the temperature only burns both parties.

The Gwinnett County road rage victim learned a tough lesson at a green age. What happened was horrible and unwarranted. But the alleged road rage-turned-battery teaches a sobering lesson: paying anger back on the streets is never the right answer. I am glad that I did not have to learn the same way.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive SkyCopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. Download the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App to hear reports from the WSB Traffic Team automatically when you drive near trouble spots. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.

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