Despite falling low on the public safety agenda in recent years, road rage incidents are still a common occurrence, officials said.
Most of the roadway incidents pass after a few dangerous moments replete with honking, obscene gestures and threats. But injuries and deaths do occur.
"I have seen it happen before that tempers become so great that somebody pulls a gun," said officer Eric Parsons, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol in Modesto. "You need to be careful about getting into that confrontation, because you never know who has a gun and the situation may escalate into a place you don't want to be."
Road rage is defined as a driver's uncontrolled rage that results in violence or threatened violence against another driver. Often it's sparked by aggressive driving such as tailgating, abrupt lane changes, cutting off another driver or honking.
Of the 250,000 people killed in traffic from 1990 to 2006, reports showed that 218 were a direct cause of angry drivers.
An extraordinary case of road rage -- involving a truck driver and motorcyclist -- occurred on Highway 99 in Stanislaus and southern San Joaquin counties on July 5, 2000.
Starting with a confrontation near the Highway 120 exit in Manteca, the incident stretched nearly 20 miles and ended when trucker John Fagundes of Turlock rammed motorcyclist Michael McLatchy of Stockton on the Vintage Faire Mall offramp in Modesto, severing McLatchy's right leg.
Fagundes pleaded no contest to felony hit-and-run in December 2001, after a Stanislaus County jury found him not guilty of attempted murder and aggravated mayhem. He was given credit for 16 months' time served, placed on probation for three years, ordered to pay $3,000 in fines, and instructed to attend anger management classes.
Road rage generated numerous headlines and several studies in the 1990s. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported in 1996 that 2,000 violent incidents of road rage were reported by police nationwide.
Victims demanded tougher laws, and psychologists advised motorists not to lose their tempers in traffic.
A national survey in 2006 suggested that many drivers were still on edge. The survey commissioned by Response Insurance, an auto insurer, found that 50 percent of drivers subjected to aggressive driving responded with aggressive behavior.
Of those who reacted aggressively, 34 percent honked their horn, 19 percent gave obscene gestures, 17 percent flashed their lights, 7 percent responded in kind and 2 percent admitted to trying to run the driver off the road.
Stanislaus County sheriff's Detective Darwin Hatfield said road rage incidents are common, but they rarely result in homicide.
"I've investigated a few, but nothing as severe as this," he said of an incident in Turlock on Monday in which a man died after being severely beaten in an apparent road rage conflict.
Parsons advises drivers to turn the other cheek.
"If it gets to point where the other driver is being aggressive, I tell people to take an exit and get off the freeway," he said. "If they are following you off the freeway, then dial 911. We can get an officer there to defuse the situation."
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2321.