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This question reminded me of a similar short story that I believe I read in one of the various SciFi magazines, IASFM possibly, since I had a large collection of those, most from the 80's. It is definitely not "Why Johnny Can't Speed" although it is very similar.

It's set marginally in the future, or a semi-dystopian "future now" relative to when it was written. A man and his family are driving along the highway in a very standard family car hovercraft when someone in an obviously high-powered vehicle becomes aggressive towards him. (He is cut off, tailgated, something, I forget exactly what.) There is a sequence of detailed road combat - with the man and his family increasingly terrified at the situation - until the man finally manages to take the punk and his hovercraft out by throwing his and his wife's safety helmets out of the vehicle so that they get sucked under his adversary's hover skirt. He is then horrified to realize that he is now on the top-10 list of road warriors, having just picked off one of the highest-ranked members and thus earning his position. His car console lights up with messages of challenges from many other lower-tier warriors as the map shows them starting to converge on his location.

It differs from "Why Johnny Can't Speed" in that it's accidental (well, it's his fault, but he didn't realize what he was doing) that the man gets involved in the car wars situation, he distinctly does not have a combat vehicle, and there was no family death involved.

edited to change some details as indicated by comments

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    I remember the story -- but neither the title nor the author. I'm pretty sure it appeared in either Galaxy or Analog. – Mark Olson Dec 5 '17 at 18:43
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    Hmm, pretty sure it's a Philip K. Dick story. I read about a year ago. It was in one of his five "Collected Works" volumes. – Vanguard3000 Dec 5 '17 at 18:44
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    I've read this, also. The cars are hovercraft, and the final victory comes when the protagonist driver (terrified, not raging) forces his door open far enough to stuff his and his wife's helmets out, and the attacker's car runs over them, disrupting the air cushion and leading to a ground strike and subsequent spectacular crash. – Zeiss Ikon Dec 5 '17 at 18:58
  • @ZeissIkon Yes! You are absolutely correct regarding the hovercraft and helmets trick! I'll update the original post. – dmg Dec 5 '17 at 19:02
17

"Along the Scenic Route" by Harlan Ellison

This story takes the concept of "road rage" to a new level. A man traveling on a freeway is threatened by another car, and now they are locked in a duel (fully sanctioned by the State) using all the gizmos that technology can provide.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6425933-along-the-scenic-route

The husband wins, possibly by largely sheer luck as his car is severely underpowered compared to his opponent and all but wrecked. I believe he consequentially promises his wife that he won't duel again.

At which point the radio informs him that the opponent he defeated was one of, if not the top ranked duelists in his region. Subsequently he's shot way up in the duelist and has all kinds of high-ranked and wannabe duelists just lining up to try and take him down.

https://forum.rpg.net/archive/index.php/t-552818.html

  • This is it! I'm a little surprised it's a Harlan Ellison story since almost none of the elements I recalled from the story reminded me of his style at all. A little googling now that I know the name indicates it comes from his collection, Deathbird Stories and not a 'zine. – dmg Dec 5 '17 at 20:25
  • Whoops! That's the one from what I remember. @dmg Sorry I mislead you with my Phillip K. Dick comment; I recalled having read it about a year ago, when I was working my way through Dick's short fiction (I tend to read 3 short stories between novels to "decompress"), but I guess it must have been before that, when I was reading The Essential Ellison. – Vanguard3000 Dec 5 '17 at 21:21
  • I have so many times since I read this story in the 70s wanted that car-to-car radio link in order to trash talk the idiot driver in front of me driving 50mph on the damn freeway. Or some moron blocking me while sawing back-and-forth trying to get into a parallel parking space. – davidbak Dec 6 '17 at 0:45
  • @davidbak Better the guy driving 50mph than the guy threading the needle of cars just to get in front. – JAB Dec 6 '17 at 4:13
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    @Vanguard3000 it's all good, like I said in my comment, it so didn't make me think of Harlan Ellison that it could have been virtually anyone. – dmg Dec 6 '17 at 4:16

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