You have to be careful when you toss around the words "road rage" in California, because people are shot and killed fairly often on the freeways out here. Police say that's partly because the freeway system is so huge it's like a city unto itself, a city that once in a while has a shooting death.
But there is a kind of non-violent, low-level road rage building out here, and it has to do with special privileges for owners of hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius. It's been dubbed, "Prius Backlash."
First, the background: Under legislation signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, drivers of the highest gas mileage hybrids -- only certain Toyotas and Hondas -- can now use California carpool lanes even if the driver is alone. If you try using those lanes alone in your Escalade, or even your Jetta, you'll get pulled over by a cop on a motorcycle, and the minimum fine is $271.00.
So not only is that nerdy guy you made fun of in high school now getting 52 miles per gallon, he's getting special treatment from Arnold himself, which allows him to zip past you in the carpool lane, while you sit stuck in traffic.
And here's the complicating factor: Not only is this a special privilege for people who buy certain cars, but the hybrid owners, as a group, have a reputation for driving slowly. Sometimes maddeningly so. That's because they get better gas mileage at lower speeds, and if they didn't care about gas mileage, then they wouldn't be driving a hybrid in the first place.
This is why Prius drivers like Jane Velez-Mitchell (Yes, the TV legal analyst who sometimes appears on CNN Headline News) say they've been yelled at, honked at, cut off in traffic and generally messed with.
Some advice: Don't mess with Jane unless you want an earful.
"I do get hostility, especially from SUV drivers," she told us. "And let's face it, they've made a really bad choice in their vehicle. ... If your little Prius is standing in the way of their Escalade, they get angry. Well, that's not how it works. Just because you drive a big Escalade doesn't mean you're more powerful or more important or should be able to get in front of me."
Folks on the other side of this divide say, essentially, "Lady, will you shut up and drive?"
You'll find these anti-hybrid sentiments on car forums like the one on edmunds.com, where someone writes, "Hey all you hyper milers, if you want to go slow and save gas, get a bicycle." The same writer, complaining at how cautiously some Prius drivers accelerate off the mark to conserve gas, claims hybrids are so slow "the Semi next to them with two trailers and towing the USS Nimitz has no problem out-accelerating them."
Despite the backlash, Velez-Mitchell has no plans to ditch her hybrid for a gas-guzzling speedster...or a semi.