Summary Report Aggressive Driving and the Law May 1999

Executive Summary




Appendix I

Appendix II


Breakout Session Findings and Recommendations

Presented by Breakout Session Moderators
The following recommendations and remarks reflect the consolidated comments of the breakout groups--two per topic area--that met over the course of the 2-day conference. Twelve groups met on six topics the first day, then merged into six groups the second day to combine and consolidate their recommendations under each topic area. Presented in plenary session the second day, these combined recommendations are summarized below by topic area.

Statutory Approaches
Heeding the pre-breakout admonition not to get "bogged down" in trying to define aggressive driving, the combined Statutory Approaches breakout group modified the NHTSA definition only to provide a context for its discussions. It defined aggressive driving as "the operation of a motor vehicle involving three or more moving violations as part of a single continuous sequence of driving acts, which is likely to endanger any person or property."

The group advised that states should look at their own laws to determine whether they can adequately deal with the aggressive driving problem at both the misdemeanor (not involving a crash) and felony levels (crash involving serious injury or death). It felt that most states should consider an aggressive driving law, if only for its social aspects. Also, states should examine their laws with the idea of combining offenses to derive a unique aggressive driving charge as something separate and distinct. The group felt this was a state and not a Federal issue and should be addressed by states individually, i.e., states need to come up with their own statutes, as did Arizona. Other states, like Maryland, do not even have a good reckless driving law. The group recommended that states consider the following points when enacting aggressive driving or related statutes:

  • Conviction for an aggressive driving violation should involve a significant number of points and/or a minimum license suspension.

  • Enhanced penalties should accompany repeat violations or those involving serious injury or death.

  • The states and Federal Government should pass enabling legislation to permit use of advanced technology for enforcement.

  • All states should implement public information and driver education programs on aggressive driving, to be taken during prelicense driver education classes and again prior to license reinstatement. Initial driver training programs should include aggressive driving and rage management training.

  • Steps should be taken to have the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances--publisher of the Uniform Vehicle Code--develop a model provision pertaining to aggressive driving for consideration by the states.

  • An analysis should be prepared and distributed of each state's statutes, both misdemeanor and felony, that are available to deal with aggressive driving. These statistics should be compiled and made available to other states.

Applied Technology
Highlighting highway construction as a top priority, though not necessarily a realistic option, the Applied Technology breakout group advocated the use of photo red light technology for traffic light violations and cited laser technology as having good possibilities if it is standardized nationally and accepted by the courts. The group also suggested the use of "tip lines" as a good public information and prevention tool. These and its other recommendations follow:

  • Investigate the feasibility of using new laser equipment, currently in use in Europe, that can measure the distance between approaching vehicles.
    This technology may enable law enforcement officers to better enforce laws against "following too closely." This device will have to go through the process of establishing its accuracy and reliability to the satisfaction of police and judicial communities. It will need to be standardized nationally and accepted into evidence by courts in order to be effective.

  • Promote the wider use of photo red light enforcement cameras.
    This is a proven technology that has achieved public acceptance and has been shown to reduce crashes. Photo railroad crossing enforcement was also recommended as a good tool.

  • Promote the wider use of unmanned radar speed display devices.
    Some communities find that these machines have a calming effect in high-traffic speed areas and provide a good preventive measure.

  • Expand the use of observation platforms such as aircraft, in-car video, and other equipment that aids the apprehension and prosecution of traffic violators who would otherwise be difficult to contact or to testify about.
    These vary in acceptability across the country, and must be accepted on a regional basis to be helpful.

  • Establish "tip lines" to report aggressive driving. Tip lines allow people to "get it off their chest" and make for a good public information and prevention tool.
    Some members of the group find tip lines beneficial, in that the public feels they are contributing to the solution of a perceived problem. In any event, tip lines are helpful in identifying trouble spots and can assist in targeting traffic enforcement efforts. [An audience participant suggested allowing the witnessing driver to start prosecution against the violating driver via the tip line.]

Other (technology-related) Recommendations

  • Encourage jurisdictions with 911 systems to add *77 or 311 systems to facilitate handling of nonemergency traffic-related communications.

  • Establish data links (automated reporting) from traffic officers' reports to the prosecutor's office, and otherwise facilitate better communications among different disciplines.
    This innovation would improve the speed and accuracy of officers' citations and complaints and would assist in the discovery process.

  • Promote the use of electronic report writing.
    This technology promises to speed up citation and report processing, improve accuracy, and reduce duplicative effort, and is therefore more time- and cost-efficient. For instance, driving under the influence (DUI) arrests require the completion of multiple forms containing much common information, which would be entered only once. This technology includes "smart licenses."

  • Create or adopt crash reconstruction software.
    The software could be placed on the Internet for all to access. It would have to be standardized to elicit recognition and value from the court system. This approach would provide for cheaper, quicker, and more accurate crash reconstruction reporting and may remove periodic retraining requirements.

  • Explore the use of variable speed limit signs.
    These signs would allow the speed limit to be changed remotely and quickly to accommodate changing traffic conditions. (FHWA soon will conduct a project using this technology.)

  • Encourage communities to take advantage of computer-based distance learning and other techniques, particularly given the national trend away from expensive, school-based driver education programs.
    Driver education is declining across the country, and the Nation's kids are suffering because of it. Through technology, distance learning could help fill in gaps caused by budget cuts.

  • Promote ITS technology for its congestion relief benefits. Better roadway management will reduce congestion and frustration and related aggressive driving behaviors.

Charging Decisions
The Charging Decisions breakout group used the NHTSA definition of aggressive driving to guide its discussions. The group felt that no new statute was needed to deal with aggressive driving violations, as they are already covered by reckless driving laws. It called, instead, for written guidelines for use by prosecutors and law enforcement personnel in charging and disposing of aggressive driving cases. It also advocated education for law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges, to raise awareness of the aggressive driving issue. The group made the following additional recommendations:

  • The definition of aggressive driving should be included under reckless driving statutes and not broadened so as to narrow the definition of reckless driving. Aggressive driving per NHTSA's definition refers to reckless behavior and wanton disregard for other people. In states requiring legislative action, the aggressive driving behavior should be added to the reckless driving statute. In states that do not require legislative action, the term aggressive driving should be included on the charging document. The burden of proof for this offense should not require specific intent.
    Possible resolution of the decision to charge aggressive driving behavior as reckless could be determined by classification as Reckless I, Reckless II, etc., going from a misdemeanor to a felony, similar to Manslaughter I and II.

  • Aggressive driving behavior should be a criminal (jailable) act and not a civil infraction.
    Handled as a civil case, it is too easy for aggressive driving cases to slip through the cracks. These cases could miss review by a prosecuting attorney and appearance in front of a judge, with negative social consequences. Recordkeeping and data entry would also be better.

  • Written guidelines for prosecution and law enforcement should be developed by the prosecutor's office. Guidelines would provide uniformity and consistency with law enforcement officers in charging and disposing of cases.

  • Law enforcement should provide detailed infromation to prosecutors and prosecutors to judges, along with the citation/charging document. This approach will assist prosecutors in exercising discretion in the charging and disposition decision.
    Detailed investigative reports can either strengthen the prosecution of the case or provide the necessary information for an amended or reduced guilty plea where appropriate. This additional detailed information will also allow judges to more appropriately sentence convicted defendants. There might be a case, for example, where an elderly or inattentive driver is driving recklessly under a technical definition of aggressive driving--though for reasons totally incongruous with an aggressive driving charge. Pre-trial diversion should remain an option when appropriate.

  • Heightened awareness of the aggressive driving issue must be accomplished through professional education of law enforcement, prosecution, and judges.
    Perhaps similar success could be achieved for aggressive driving as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) achieved for impaired driving awareness.

  • Because of the consequences or potential consequences of aggressive driving, it should have a high priority among law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges.
    Priority can be elevated through securing additional grant funding and through education and training for prosecutors and judges.

  • The charging decision can rest with the arresting officer at the misdemeanor level but should be referred to the prosecutor at the felony level. The initial discretion should stay with the charging police officer.

Sentencing Strategies
This breakout group felt that sentencing strategies should accomplish both traditional and nontraditional sentencing objectives. The critical question to consider is whether punishment of aggressive driving would best be accomplished through civil or criminal penalties and what the ramifications would be in each case. Whether civil or criminal, it is first necessary to determine how the charge would govern the sentence imposed in each case. While the breakout group was split over the civil versus criminal question, three-quarters believed it should be the prerogative of the officer and the prosecutor, based on the seriousness of the charge. Ninety-five percent of the group believed that if charged as a civil infraction, the aggressive driving offender should still have to face a judge in court. The group's findings, beginning with sentencing objectives, are summarized below.

Sentencing objectives include the following:

  • Punishment or retribution.
  • Rehabilitation.
  • Deterrence--both general (i.e., public) and specific (i.e., offender), for the violator and society in general.
  • Restitution.
  • Protection of the public.
  • Incapacitation (getting the driver off the road, perhaps by incapacitating the vehicle).
  • Consistency (demonstrating fairness).
  • Treating individuals fairly, e.g., not allowing people to "buy their way out."
  • Fundraising (e.g., through surcharges). An aggressive driving charge should not be used to raise funds for the public coffers.
  • Moving cases. The sentence should be conducive to moving cases through the court system and preventing backups.
  • Judicial job security (public perception of judicial decisions). We do not want to turn judges into legislatively mandated "ogres" and, conversely, we do not want to prevent them from sentencing because of public opinion.
  • Creating a perception that specific consequences follow certain actions.

Treating the offense as criminal will:

  • Clog the court system with jury trials.
  • Require appointment of public defenders. This will impact county and city budgets.
  • Impose a criminal conviction on the offender.

Sentencing options that give judges flexibility are the best and should provide for the following:

  • Withholding adjudication or expungement of conviction.
  • Graduated penalties for first, second, and multiple offenders.
  • Probation, so judges can maintain control over offenders.
  • Possibility of incarceration, at the option of the prosecutor or charging officer.
  • Enhancement of penalties for repeat offenders and mandatory penalties in certain circumstances, at the discretion of states or legislators.
  • Community service, with pre-plea and post-plea options available.
  • Education: Require people to complete certain types of treatment programs, such as the following:
    - anger management,
    - driver improvement,
    - victim impact panels,
    - alcohol/substance abuse, and
    - evaluation and counseling.
  • Restitution.
  • Driver's license suspension and revocation, particularly effective with young males.
  • Restrictions placed on driver's licenses as a way for the court to maintain control over an individual.
  • Impoundment or immobilization for repeat offenders, through such means as "clubbing" or "booting" vehicles.
  • Letters of apology written to those victimized by aggressive driving.

Manner in which offense is charged governs sentencing strategy available:

  • Half the group believed that aggressive driving should be charged as a criminal offense.
  • Half believed that it should be charged as a civil (noncriminal) offense.
  • Seventy-five percent agreed that it should be the prerogative of the prosecutor/officer to charge aggressive driving as a civil or criminal offense.
  • Ninety-five percent agreed that if charged as a civil infraction, the alleged offender should be required to appear before a judge rather than simply mail in a fine.

Audience Questions
Following the presentation of recommendations from the Sentencing Strategies breakout group, co- presenter Judge Karl B. Grube fielded questions from the audience.

Q. Did anyone bring up the twist on the Immigration law, i.e., that conviction may bring deportation?
A. No, but it's a good question to consider.

Q. How do you impose probation without the offense being criminal?
A. You do not give the option of criminal versus civil to the prosecutor.
A. There could be aspects of a civil case where you require people to do probation-type activities to take off points and/or complete "fixes"--as with child restraint offenses that can be mitigated by showing proof of purchase of a car seat.

Q. As judges, would you prefer to see a defendant's driving record before sentencing?
A. Yes, judges need to see a sentencing report as a prerequisite to sentencing.

Community Leadership
The Community Leadership breakout group derived the following recommendations affecting several aspects of community leadership, including enforcement, education, message, delivery of message, and resources.


People in the community, i.e., the citizenry, can influence executive decisions to make enforcement a higher priority. This approach involves the community, heightens awareness, and results in better compliance. A campaign to increase public awareness can be combined with stiff penalties (e.g., mandatory sentences) for aggressive driving, incorporating lessons learned from DUI campaigns. Uniform enforcement is the key to having an effective statute. Public support can be gained from giving aggressive driving messages a "human face." Victims have a great impact, and all PSAs should show results of noncompliance. Overlooked constituencies that need to get the aggressive driving message include church-goers, soon-to-be drivers, and commercial drivers.


  • Identify additional groups for education on aggressive driving issues so they can help "get the word out." These include the following:
    - Insurers and insurance consortiums--could elicit the involvement of health insurers as well, with municipalities.
    - Educators. Aggressive driving behavior involves a personality issue to be brought to educators' attention. School-based educational efforts can be started earlier, with 6-9 year olds. Driver education programs in high schools should be restored as well.
    - Law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges. Judges should be educated on the importance of traffic enforcement and encouraged to consider the significant impact that aggressive drivers have on the quality of life in communities. It is imperative to create public support for what law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges can do to address this problem.
    - Medical Community. Energize the medical community to make aggressive driving a public health and community issue, as with impaired driving.
    - Entertainment. Encourage people to make complaining calls to television shows that glorify and glamorize crashes and chases so as to educate the industry on the seriousness of aggressive driving, which tend to get trivialized in the name of entertainment.
    - Advertising. Advertisers need to learn to portray vehicles in a more realistic way, so as not to inadvertently encourage aggressive driving with vehicles designed less for mountains than roads, despite the send-up.
    - Community-oriented policing. People need to empower the police in their communities by telling them that they need local law enforcement.
    - Media and message. Innovative media and other strategies are needed to reach the high-risk population of 16-20 year olds. We must think differently and encourage media strategies that target the right group with the right message. Different media markets should be sought. Public television and radio spots reach wider audiences than newspaper op-eds, for instance.
    - Churches and civic groups. Churches and community-based groups should be made aware of the potentially valuable role they can play in raising awareness, particularly to young drivers, of the dangers of driving aggressively. Churches can also be used to reinforce the moral obligation to be a courteous driver.


  • Clear and uniform. We must define the message better and clearly state what aggressive driving is. The message should be cast in "real" terms, not abstract thoughts.

  • Localized. While the basic aggressive driving message should be uniform, it should also be adaptable to meet the needs of a particular region, e.g., a different message may be needed for urban versus rural drivers.

  • Financial cost. Attention to aggressive driving would help to reduce crashes and thereby decrease social costs, workers' compensation costs, etc. Advocates must have statistics ready.

  • Personalized. Victims are willing to participate in programs. Victim involvement is a good part of an outreach strategy.

  • Public transportation. Develop more alternatives to driving a car. Talk to public officials and legislators. Know who is in power and talk to the right people.

Delivery of Message

  • Principal's committee. Bring everyone to the table who is involved in traffic enforcement, e.g., county executives, chiefs of police, prosecutors, etc.

  • Speaker's bureau. Assemble and have available a pool of qualified speakers able to articulately and convincingly address the subject of aggressive driving at particular events, as requested.

  • Publicity. Solicit opportunities to get the message out to the community.

  • Innovative programs. Art contests, savings bonds, scholarship offerings, grants, etc., are examples of innovative awareness-raising strategies. Call a local television station and radio to publicize the event and get the message out.


  • Video, print, speaker's kit. Readily available resources are needed to help judges and others speak in the community. Busy prosecutors could have a stock speech on hand, along with other materials adaptable to specific audiences.

  • National clearinghouse. A clearinghouse could assist the collection of innovative ideas.

  • Training materials. Training materials are needed to sensitize judges and to help prosecutors and law enforcement investigate and articulate aggressive driving concerns--so as to best put on the evidence. Adequate Federal Government funding on a national level is needed for this type of training initiative.

Enforcement Strategies
The Enforcement Strategies breakout group stressed that enforcement must be done with other parts of government. The group also encouraged the provision of Federal funds for programs at the state level and the establishment of one national standardized number for cellular phone users to report aggressive driving violations. To further extend the capabilities of law enforcement, the group advocated the use of red light cameras and encouraged multijurisdictional enforcement efforts among agencies. Its recommendations are summarized below:

  • Encourage citizen involvement through the use of cellular phones and one nationwide, standardized number. One way to follow up on calls received would be to send a letter to the registered owner of the vehicle advising the owner of the complaint; other letters could be sent based on the number of complaints received or other criteria. Another follow-up possibility is to send an officer out to intercept the driver. Educate the public about recommended behavior when following someone they are reporting. This system allows law enforcement to use the eyes and ears of the public, and also allows the public to vent when they experience aggressive driving behavior. Local jurisdictions would be encouraged to have officers respond, if possible, or to educate the public.

  • Use red light cameras as a means of extending the capabilities of law enforcement.

  • Encourage multijurisdictional enforcement efforts among agencies. There is strength in numbers; agencies can share concerns, solutions, technology, and the media.

  • Make Federal grant monies available to jurisdictions that encourage legislation permitting the use of technology to fight aggressive driving.

  • Encourage the use of computer technology in officer cars. The development and acquisition of on-site information sources for police officers is a good idea and would give officers access to driver's license histories and to a database listing previous vehicle stops. This capability, developed through mobile data terminals and corresponding databases, could help identify chronic aggressive drivers.

  • Utilize variable message signs to advise the motoring public of congestion, delays, and crashes, as well as detours and alternate routes. When no emergency situation exists, the signs could inform the public of positive, safe driving behavior.

  • Encourage policymakers to establish aggressive driving as a priority by starting at the top and within law enforcement itself. CEOs within law enforcement agencies are the "generals" who decide which battles they will fight. Lawmakers, prosecutors, judicial officials, and others should also adopt aggressive driving as a priority issue.

  • Provide Federal funds in the form of local grants to support innovative initiatives submitted by law enforcement entities. These initiatives should address aggressive driving through the application of creative or nontraditional enforcement practices.

  • Mandate training for criminal justice practitioners on the technology being used to fight aggressive driving; i.e. radar, laser, auto sensing.

  • Educate the public about situations that precipitate aggressive driving behavior and encourage appropriate responses. Voluntary compliance cannot be achieved solely by enforcement. Calming techniques, along with better reaction techniques, need to be communicated and shared with the public. It would serve the cause to get people help when they come to court on an aggressive driving charge.

Audience Questions
Following his presentation of recommendations by the Enforcement Strategies breakout group, Sergeant Bud Dulaney of the Prince William County Police Department took questions from the audience.

Q. Are you suggesting there be mandatory training for officers at the local level on the elements of enforcing the law or on the use and capabilities of advanced technologies?
A. Both.

Followup Comment: I (IACP representative) have a strong objection to mandatory training at the local level, and want my opposition on the record.