COMMENTARY: Raging Cherokee

by Nov 17, 2023OPINIONS0 comments


One Feather Editor


Road: “A wide way leading from one place to another, especially one with a specially prepared surface which vehicles can use.”

Rage: “Feel or express violent uncontrollable anger.”

Road rage: “Violent anger caused by the stress and frustration involved in driving a motor vehicle in difficult conditions.” (Oxford Languages)

I want to talk a little about road ownership. I imagine the immediate reaction of our readers will be that all of them “own the road”. The problem with that thinking is that, while we may pay for the road, we tend to think that each of us has the right to make up our own set of “road rules” to live by. But if you have ever been caught by the Cherokee Indian Police Department or N.C. State Highway Patrol, going faster than the marked speed limit, doing a “rolling stop” at a stop sign, or not following some other traffic law, you understand quickly that while you may pay for the road, you are definitely not in control of the road’s use.

As was the case in the long, excruciating debate dealing with the Cherokee Charter and Cherokee Code versus a people’s constitution, where the Cherokee Code affords privileges, not rights.  The difference between a right and a privilege is that if you have a right, it cannot be taken from you. No one can tell you to stop being it or stop doing it. Personal sovereignty. But a privilege is conditional, you meet certain standards to keep it, and it can be taken away from you. Personal dependency.

In fact, we, tribal members, answer to North Carolina law regarding our driving habits. Cherokee Code Section 20-1a states that “In order to ensure consistency in the application and enforcement of all civil and criminal traffic and motor vehicle laws on the Cherokee Indian Reservation and in surrounding areas, the Tribe adopts Chapter 20 of the North Carolina General Statutes and any amendments to that chapter which may be made in the future. In so doing, all persons operating motor vehicles on the Cherokee Indian Reservation must abide by these provisions, including North Carolina licensing and registration requirements.”

How about driving any way we want to, drinking, popping, or smoking whatever we want to? Nope. Oh, you physically can do those things, and possibly sneak around and do those things. But legally, if you get caught, you quickly find out that your thoughts of personal sovereignty and individual “rights” won’t buy you a whole lot. In fact, you quickly learn that what you thought was your right is just a privilege that a police officer or judge may easily take away from you. Those state regulations that we must follow, state that your first conviction for driving under the influence results in a one-year license suspension. A second conviction will get you a four-year suspension and the third DWI conviction could mean that you can’t drive legally in the state of North Carolina and the Qualla Boundary permanently.

According to the Fines and Fees Justice Center, there are 1.2 million license suspensions in North Carolina for nonpayment of traffic fines and court costs and for failure to appear in court for traffic offenses. The EBCI Tribal Traffic Court, Nov. 2, 2023, the docket lists 161 charges for various alleged infractions of traffic law. I know, “innocent until proven guilty”, but you must believe that a least a few of those charges are going to stick.

All this to say many of us think we own the road. Possibly not all the time, but sometimes. The older I get, the less I tend to think that, but I still have my moments. It happens when someone is going too fast or too slow for my taste (I often ponder why most speed limit signs mention an upper speed limit and not a lower speed limit), or when someone is playing “let’s see how close we can get without kissing” using their front bumper to pucker up to my rear bumper, or when there is no room for a delusional road-owner to merge between me and the car in front of me, but they merge away, causing the slamming on of breaks and the tempers to flare. Oh, and let’s not forget the folks who don’t have the right of way who pull out into 40 to 60-mph traffic.

And I don’t respond well to those kinds of things. And I am guessing that most of us take a dim view of that behavior as well. We think, “How can they possibly think that they own the road when everyone knows that I own it?” So, we shine our bright lights, blare our horns, yell out our windows, and make hand gestures that we know we will have to confess and repent of next Sunday. And hopefully, that is as rowdy as any of us get. Because there are some drivers who, for reasons that will be unknown to us until it is too late, will become enraged to the point of losing all rational thought and control of their bodies, whether they are “in the wrong” or not.

Some fun facts from 82 percent of drivers in the U.S. admit to having road rage or driving aggressively at least once in the past year; 59 percent of drivers reported showing anger by honking; 45 percent of drivers report changing lanes without signaling; 42 percent of drivers claimed they’ve yelled or cursed loudly at another driver; 38 percent said they’ve used rude or obscene gestures against other drivers. Some of us, including myself, should be feeling a little embarrassed about now.

It gets worse. 7 percent got out of their vehicles to verbally confront another driver. 6 percent threw objects. 6 percent got in a physical altercation with another driver. 5 percent sideswiped another vehicle. 5 percent bumped or rammed another vehicle on purpose. And 5 percent forced another driver off the road.

“A total of 12,610 injuries and 218 murders have been attributed to road rage over a seven-year period. In 2022, someone was shot and killed in a road rage incident every 16 hours.”

I can’t change the behavior of someone else. I can change my own thoughts and responses. We all must think about the potential cost of engaging other drivers about their driving habits. Some might laugh it off. Some might ignore us. Others respond with a verbal response or a hand gesture. But there are those who might be willing to endanger your life and theirs in a physically violent response. And we don’t know which person and at what moment in their lives we are encountering them.

I, and you, must always be alert and assume that if a person is willing to ignore the laws designed to protect us on the road, they will likely be willing to do more aggressively bad things. And try to keep that knowledge in the front of our minds when we encounter those people on the road.

The Cherokee Indian Police Department does all that it can to monitor traffic on the Boundary, but it is impossible for them to be everywhere there is traffic all the time. So, it is up to us to deal responsibly with the speeders, erratic lane changers, and just the general obnoxious behavior of some drivers. The first thing for us to do is examine our own behavior to ensure that we aren’t a part of the problem. The next step is to have a plan to not engage in that behavior even when we feel like we are in the right in a situation. Is it worth the potential danger to you, your family, or other passengers who may be with you to engage another driver? I am going to bet that 100 percent of the time, it is not. Let the moment of irritation pass and get on with your life. Getting to your destination a little later is better than never.

There is also a remedy in North Carolina (and therefore tribal) law to help lessen the danger on the road. Chapter 20 of the North Carolina General Statutes also has a provision for aggressive driving. “Any person who operates a motor vehicle on a street, highway, or public vehicular area is guilty of aggressive driving if the person drives carelessly and heedlessly in willful and wanton disregard of the rights and safety of others.” This includes committing two or more of the following: running through a red light, running a stop sign, illegal passing, failing to yield right-of-way, or following too closely. “A person convicted of aggressive driving is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.”

Going to the opposite end of the spectrum to end on a happy note, I have been “bucked”. Well, at least my wife’s car has. You see, she drives a Ford Bronco. And, apparently in response to the new “duck” a Jeep craze where if think someone’s Jeep is “cool”, you leave a rubber ducky on their windshield to show your appreciation of their fine ride, Bronco enthusiasts have come up with a rubber unicorn to reward Bronco drivers for having a fine pony. Someone in the parking lot of Hobby Lobby thought my wife’s Bronco was worthy of recognition, thus the “buck”. You can’t help but feel a little happy and proud when someone loves on your vehicle. Instead of road rage, it was parking lot adoration. Kudos to those who come up with ways to be kind to each other rather than fighting for road supremacy. Let’s do the former and forget about the latter. We will all live longer, happier lives.