Forget about waving fists and wagging middle fingers. A few Alaska motorists are venting road rage with something more high-tech: Twitter.
AKBadDrivers, a Twitter feed that started last month, allows drivers to write in and publicly call-out red-light runners, tail-gaters, close-parkers, cutter-offers, errant-honkers, median-swervers, hit-and-runners, cell-phone chatterers, and all other manner of annoying and dangerous drivers.
Bad drivers, beware, these Twitter peeps post license plates.
Over about a month, the local feed -- a "micro blog" that allows people to share instant messages ("tweets") of up to 140 characters-- has gained around 250 followers, many who privately send in their short driving rants that are posted anonymously.
AKBadDrivers was born of commuter frustration to Annette Mullen, who started describing bad drivers on her personal Twitter feed from her spot in the passenger seat as she commuted in from Wasilla with her husband. Mullen sees all manner of dangerous maneuvers on the highway and has a personal pet peeve about people driving slow in the fast lane. Finally she was so mad, she had to let it out. Twitter seemed the perfect place.
"It's just a wonderful outlet for venting," she said.
Mullen's daughter, Molly Hutchins, first suggested she start an independent page devoted to bad driving. Hutchins helped her set it up and then get the word out, working through local Twitter networks. A few weeks into the project, morning show hosts on "Movin' 104.9" stumbled on it and had Hutchins and Mullen on. Their followers doubled overnight. Now they've been invited to be a regular feature (without reading the license plate numbers on the air).
"It just started as a release for me," Mullen said. "Apparently a lot of people need a release."
POETIC AND PROFANE
The two of them edit and contribute to the site -- they swear they don't text and drive, which is illegal, and they urge their followers not to either. They were a little surprised by the vein of frustration and creativity they tapped into. Sometimes Mullen laughs so hard at what people write that she has to get up from her computer and walk around. Profanity is allowed. They generally don't censor.
On a recent day one follower wrote in about a close-parking incident, and included a photo:
"Really, Highlander? No one is this skinny. I so do not love climbing in my passenger door. "
Someone else waxed poetic:
"Beware the roving blobs of plastic sheeting migrating across the street, wind at their backs. In search of human flesh?"
There was blanket advice:
"The horn is an effective, but underutilized tool for letting someone know they're a dumbass for backing up without looking."
WE'RE OVER IT
Firing off a nasty mini-note is a lot better than pulling over and beating someone up, the mother and daughter say. Being worried about being embarrassed online might actually make some subscribers more thoughtful about their driving, they say.
Annie Ciszak follows AKBadDrivers ardently. She enjoys the silent revenge factor. And agrees the site might make at least a few people more considerate.
"People don't tend to care if they cut someone off or do something stupid unless a) an accident results or b) they get pulled over," she wrote in an email. "I think I speak for pretty much everyone when I say we're over it!"
Oscar Avellaneda, who spends a lot of time on his bike and on the bus, became a fan a few weeks ago and now posts regularly. The bus is a great spot for bird dogging bad drivers, and being a rider lets him Twitter immediately from his phone.
But it's when he's on his bike that he gets most annoyed, because so many drivers don't know how to share the road with bikes, he said. They accelerate for no reason, they cut too close. They honk and cuss. They are mannerless.
"If we could take what people do on the road and put it in the grocery store we would really see what that behavior is like," he said.
Now when he feels anger well up, he doesn't think about yelling back or making a rude gesture. He just spends the rest of the ride composing what he's going to Twitter when he gets home.
Find Julia O'Malley online at adn.com/contact/jomalley or call 257-4591.