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Parking rage is a serious issue

When I’m trying to get a point across, I do what everyone else does: I quote a movie.

OK, so do you remember “Fried Green Tomatoes” from, like, a thousand years ago? No? Allow me to refresh you.

Kathy Bates plays a middle-aged housewife who is taken for granted by everyone around her. She reaches her breaking point when a pair of young T.A.R.T.s (that would be Trendy, Arrogant, Restless, Twentysomethings, of course) beat her to a parking spot at the grocery store and gloat, “Face it lady, we’re younger and faster.”

As they walk away, Bates stares at their little red car, her chest heaves, then a look of mischief crosses her face and before you know it she plows into that car … six times.

“Face it girls,” she says, “I’m older and I have more insurance.”

Yep, the pursuit of the perfect parking spot can make some people do crazy things, psychologists say. And, unlike the movies, those “things” are far from humorous.

Dr. Leon James, also known as Dr. Driving, calls it “Parking Rage” and, according to the good doctor, it’s so common it will make you think twice about taking your beater to pick up a dozen eggs.

“Parking rage, like road rage, is due to a breakdown or weakening of people’s internal control of their emotions in public places,” said the author of “Road Rage and Aggressive Driving.”

Apparently, they also lose control of their bodily functions. According to one automotive Web site, a woman persuaded her 9-year-old nephew to relieve himself on the tire of a car that she believed stole her spot. All together now: eeeeeeewww!

But what’s causing this “erosion,” as Dr. Driving describes it?

“It’s part of a general problem in our society in relation to anger and how we express it. We learn as children to express anger and disrespect, and this tendency is strengthened as we mature.

“There is a mental attitude that encourages cynicism towards authority and moral virtues such as kindness, tolerance and compassion,” said James. “When we get challenged in parking lots by someone else’s actions, we feel enraged. Many people lack the skills to cope with this rage and so they express it through aggressive or violent behavior.”

I’m guessing these are the same people who as children ate paste and tore the heads off of Barbie dolls because I’m sure everyone gets a little hot under the hood when they come across a car taking up two spaces or fume when they find a door ding. But we don’t all take out our frustrations — or ask our 9-year-old nephews to do the dirty deed for us — on the car or the driver who ticked us off. So who is the most likely to overreact?

Autoglass, a windshield repair company that carried out a parking rage survey several years back, found that men are more likely than women to retaliate for bad parking, call the police or escalate a dispute.

Police say that they’re called to shopping malls across North America several times a week to break up squabbles.

Other times, they take matters into their own hands.

A woman, dubbed the “Parking Rage Princess” by the British media, was convicted several years ago of dangerous driving after using her car to push another vehicle out of a space. Make all the jokes you want about life imitating art, but Police Constable Bill Williams, who was first on the scene, said that this sort of action is only funny on the big screen.

“When you watch the footage it can seem comical, but it isn’t,” he said of the incident, which was caught on a parking-lot surveillance camera. “What makes this dangerous driving is that the driver’s 12-year-old son got himself at the back of the car and was trying to use his body weight to stop it from being pushed into the high street. The consequences of that could have been terrible.”

Rhonda Wheeler is a journalist with Wheelbase Communications, a worldwide supplier of automotive news, features and reviews. You can e-mail her by logging on to www.wheelbase.ws/mailbag.html.

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