In New Orleans, a former NFL player was shot Thursday in a deadly episode of road rage.

It happened in broad daylight.

That same day, a 33-year-old New Mexico man was sentenced to 16 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder for shooting a 4-year-old girl in the head last year while engaging in a road-rage clash with the child’s father.

And in Dallas, a Frisco man was arrested last month on a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, accused of pistol-whipping another driver with whom he was involved in a collision.

This is America at its worst: a privileged nation with enough pent-up anger to turn traffic aggravations into violent confrontations with strangers. Many of these incidents end tragically.

Some, like the incident involving two Los Angeles women who got into a brawl last week, just leave you scratching your head. After getting into a fight in a parking lot, the women rammed their SUVs into each other.

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It’s amazing how quickly a slight - someone driving too slowly in front of you or too aggressively behind you - can turn into a life-or-death ordeal on the streets.

You may not even know why someone is flipping the bird at you, honking his horn or trying to force you off the road. I stopped at a red light once, glanced down at my directions to make sure I was making a right turn, and looked up to see the driver behind me fuming mad and pounding his steering wheel.

Then, as I turned, he darted into the lane by me, rolled down his window and tossed a wine bottle at my car, striking my side mirror.

When I stopped abruptly, he wheeled his car in front of mine and blocked my path. As I got out of my vehicle - not the smartest thing I’ve ever done - he sped away, whipped a U-turn and barreled down another road before I could get his license plate number.

I called police, who told me that because no one was hurt, it might take them a while to get there. So I left, shaking, feeling both disgusted and lucky nothing worse happened.

To this day, I have no idea what ticked the guy off, other than my brief stop at the red light. I suspect the empty bottle had something to do with it.

And yet, as a recent study found, many motorists are driving around with a chip on their shoulders.

Nearly 8 of every 10 drivers reported that they’d engaged in angry or aggressive behavior at least once in the previous year, according to a survey released last summer by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The road rage led them to follow another car too closely, yell at or cut off another driver, or throw up something other than a peace sign.

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“Far too many drivers are losing themselves in the heat of the moment and lashing out in ways that could turn deadly,” Jurek Grabowski, director of research for the AAA foundation, said after the findings were released.

Nearly 9 in 10 drivers consider aggressive driving “a serious threat to their personal safety,” the AAA study found.

Count me among them. If you have young kids, as I do, you realize how tricky these road-rage incidents can become when they’re on board. We’ve had drivers honking and tailgating us because we didn’t accelerate fast enough in our minivan.

That can frighten the heck out of a child, and possibly prompt you to respond. I’ve found myself blurting out something more than once, hoping no one could hear it.

But here’s what I tell my kids: You never know what these drivers are experiencing - whether they’re high, drunk or mentally unstable. And you simply don’t know what they’re capable of doing.

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The fatal road-rage shooting in New Orleans and the dead child in New Mexico are just two tragic examples of what happens when folks lose their heads in the heat of the moment.

If you don’t want to be a road-rage victim, you can either stay off the roads or, better yet, stay cool and steer clear of the angry masses.

James Raglund is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News.