Summary Report
Aggressive Driving and the Law
May 1999

Executive Summary




Appendix I

Appendix II


Executive Summary

On January 22-23, 1999, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) brought together an array of public safety, legal, and adjudication representatives to participate in an "Aggressive Driving and the Law" Symposium. The symposium sought to derive action steps toward solving the problem of aggressive driving, approached from six different perspectives: (1) statutory approaches, (2) applied technology, (3) charging decisions, (4) sentencing strategies, (5) community leadership, and (6) enforcement strategies. These six categories served as topic areas for framing participant discussions and resulting recommendations developed in breakout sessions (see below).

Phil Recht, NHTSA Deputy Administrator 1, strongly encouraged participants to put energy into implementing these recommendations in their own communities, emphasizing that state and local levels must work together with national resources and assistance. He said NHTSA would focus on eliciting media attention for this effort; proceeding with an aggressive driving working group; developing stock speeches for judges, prosecutors, law enforcement, and others to use in the community; and implementing other participant recommendations as its authority and resources would allow.

In addition to breakout sessions, plenary sessions featured remarks by the Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, NHTSA Administrator Ricardo Martinez, FHWA Administrator Kenneth Wykle, and a victim of an aggressive driving collision. Paper presenters reported on the results of preconference focus groups and provided background and overview information on the problem of aggressive driving. Panel presentations focused on issues, research, and approaches of other national organizations addressing driving-related issues.

1 Phil Recht is no longer at NHTSA. Frank Seales, Jr., is the new Acting Deputy Administrator.

Participant Findings and Recommendations
Participants working in breakout groups made the following recommendations for each of the six main topic areas covered in relation to aggressive driving.

Statutory Approaches
This breakout group recommended that states look at their own laws to determine whether they can adequately deal with the aggressive driving problem at both the misdemeanor and felony levels. The group felt that most states should consider an aggressive driving law, if only for its social aspects, believing this to be a state and not a Federal issue, i.e., states need to come up with their own individual statutes, as did California and Arizona. The group recommended the following points for states to consider 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 that cause serious injury or death.

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

  • All states should implement public information and driver education programs that cover aggressive driving and rage management training.

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

  • An analysis of each state's misdemeanor and felony statutes on aggressive driving should be prepared and made available to other states.

Applied Technology
The Applied Technology breakout group highlighted highway construction building more roads to alleviate congestion--as a top priority, while recognizing that this may not be a realistic option. It also recommended investigating the use of new laser technology and promoting the wider use of photo red light enforcement cameras and unmanned radar speed display devices. These and other of the group's recommendations follow:

  • Investigate the feasibility of using new laser equipment, currently in use in Europe, that can measure the distance between approaching vehicles.

  • Promote the wider use of photo red light enforcement cameras.

  • Promote the wider use of unmanned radar speed display devices as 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 in situations that would otherwise be difficult to testify about.

  • Establish "tip lines" for witnesses to report aggressive driving.

  • Encourage jurisdictions with 911 systems to add *77 or 311 systems to facilitate handling of non-emergency 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.

  • Promote the use of electronic report writing.

  • Create or adopt crash reconstruction software.

  • Explore the use of variable speed limit signs.

  • Encourage communities to take advantage of computer-based distance learning and other techniques, in light of diminishing school-based driver education programs.

  • Promote ITS technology for its congestion relief benefits.

Charging Decisions
Defaulting to the NHTSA definition of aggressive driving to guide its discussions, the Charging Decisions breakout group felt that no new aggressive driving statutes were needed, recommending instead the development of written guidelines to govern prosecution and law enforcement actions in aggressive driving cases. 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 behavior should be a criminal (jailable) act and not a civil infraction. Aggressive driving violations should be in the criminal realm, so information will be disclosed; in the civil realm, a "payout" option exists.

  • Written guidelines for prosecution and law enforcement should be developed by the prosecutor's office.

  • Law enforcement should provide detailed information to prosecutors and prosecutors the same to judges, along with the citation/charging document.

  • Heightened awareness of the aggressive driving issue must be accomplished through professional education of law enforcement, prosecution, and judges.

  • Because of the consequences or potential consequences of aggressive driving, it should have a high priority among law enforcement, 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.

Sentencing Strategies
This breakout group felt that sentencing strategies should accomplish both traditional and nontraditional objectives, with the manner in which the offense is charged governing the sentencing strategy available. The group felt that the best sentencing options give judges flexibility and 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 judge.

  • Enhancement of penalties for repeat offenders, with mandatory penalties in certain circumstances, at the discretion of states or legislators.

  • Community service, with pre-plea and post-plea options available.

  • Education, e.g., require people to complete certain types of treatment programs such as anger management or driver improvement classes.

  • Restitution.

  • Driver's license suspension and revocation.

  • Restrictions placed on a driver's license as a way for the court to maintain control over an individual.

  • Impoundment or immobilization for repeat offenders, as in "clubbing" or "booting" vehicles.

  • Letters of apology written to those victimized by aggressive driving.

Community Leadership
This breakout group derived the following recommendations touching on several aspects of community leadership, including enforcement, education, message, delivery of message, and resources:

  • Rally people in the community to influence executive decisions making enforcement a higher priority.

  • Identify different groups to help educate the public and raise awareness of the aggressive driving issue, such as insurers and insurance consortiums, educators, law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, medical community, entertainment and advertising, community-oriented policing, 16-30 year olds, and church and civic groups.

  • Make the message clear and uniform, localized, personalized, and publicized.

  • Bring everyone to the table who is involved in traffic enforcement and solicit opportunities to get the message out to the community through innovative programs, such as art contests and scholarship offerings related to aggressive driving.

  • Make resources readily available to help judges and others speak in the community, e.g., a video, print, and speaker's kit. A national clearinghouse could assist in the collection of innovative ideas. Training materials are needed to sensitize judges and to help prosecutors and law enforcement investigate and articulate aggressive driving concerns (begs the need for adequate Federal funding).

Enforcement Strategies
The Enforcement Strategies breakout group stressed that enforcement must be done in conjunction with other parts of government. It recommended encouraging the provision of Federal funds for programs at the state level, along with the following other recommendations:

  • Encourage citizen involvement through cellular phone use and one nationwide, standardized number.

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

  • Encourage multijurisdictional enforcement efforts between agencies.

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

  • Encourage the use of computer technology in officers' cars to give them access to driver's license histories and a database listing of previous vehicle stops.

  • Use variable message signs to advise the motoring public of congestion, delays, crashes, etc., as well as detours and alternate routes.

  • Encourage policymakers to take the position of making aggressive driving a priority issue. This push must start at the top and be encouraged--also within law enforcement itself.

  • Provide Federal funds in the form of local grants to support innovative initiatives submitted by law enforcement entities.

  • Mandate training for criminal justice practitioners about the technology that is being used to fight aggressive driving; e.g., radar, laser, auto sensing.

  • Educate the public about situations that precipitate aggressive driving behavior and encourage appropriate responses.