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
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.
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
Phil Recht is no longer at NHTSA. Frank Seales, Jr., is the new Acting
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
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
- 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
- An analysis of
each state's misdemeanor and felony statutes on aggressive driving
should be prepared and made available to other states.
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.
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"
- Written guidelines
for prosecution and law enforcement should be developed by the prosecutor's
- 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.
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.
- Driver's license
suspension and revocation.
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
- Letters of apology
written to those victimized by aggressive driving.
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
- 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).
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
- 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
- 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
- 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.