Summary Report Aggressive Driving and the Law May 1999

Executive Summary




Appendix I

Appendix II


Luncheon Address

Michael Benjamin, Executive Director, Institute for Mental Health Initiatives

Mr. Benjamin spoke following lunch the second day about managing anger through self-examination and self-control, to prevent not only aggressive driving and violence but such negative health consequences as heart attacks and stress-related ailments.

He began by noting his "deja vu" experience upon entering the conference the day before. He was referring to when the National Association of Counties in 1974 launched a movement to decriminalize public inebriation in favor of treatment remedies. His job then was to educate people on alcohol as a treatable disease and on the notion that prevention works. Like people who deal with aggressive driving now, he dealt then with many cross-cultural issues and, as a trainer of law enforcement, empathized with their task of having to maintain public safety while accepting the new paradigm of treatment over arrest. But, continued Mr. Benjamin, the issue is much more than one of law enforcement in that it affects the entire community. He called for the inclusion of complementary perspectives on aggressive driving that would factor in the following elements:

  • Violence Prevention.
  • Understanding aggressive driving through a public health perspective.
  • Intervention strategies.
  • Self-examination.

The remainder of Mr. Benjamin's remarks are summarized below:

  • The makeup of the aggressive driver. Mr. Benjamin reiterated behaviors identified by speakers the previous day as characteristic of aggressive drivers, namely their high-risk behavior, their often uncontrolled anger, and their propensity, when angered, toward violence. He identified violence as the leading cause of physical injury and emotional distress in the United States and identified aggressive driving as an aspect of violence.

  • Recognition leads to solutions. Mr. Benjamin said that by recognizing violence and aggressive driving as a community problem amenable to public health solutions of prevention and intervention, strategies to combat them can begin to be implemented. These strategies would strive for the same kind of positive results and heightened public awareness attained in anti-smoking and seat belt wearing campaigns.

  • The public health approach. The public health approach is multidisciplinary and invites many different strategies. Aggressive driving can be incorporated into driver education and anger management classes, for example.

  • Modeling good behavior. "Kids have big ears," Mr. Benjamin reminded participants. It is therefore important to model good behavior for them, including behavior behind the wheel. Starting this educational process as early as possible will lead to payoffs in the area of aggressive driving, as well as in the home and community generally.

  • Relationship to heart attacks. Mr. Benjamin distributed a questionnaire to participants, which he described as a tool used to highlight the relationship of anger to heart attacks. Called "Do You Have a Hostile Heart," this self-examination tool sought to get at anger stemming from a hostile outlook and a cynical view of peoples' actions. Questionnaire answers help people determine whether they have a "hostile heart," the message being "lighten up" or you will kill yourself, for internalizing anger hurts people and puts them at risk of heart attack.

  • Tips to take home. Mr. Benjamin concluded his remarks by offering several tips and suggested approaches for dealing with the problem of aggressive driving:
    - Take a public health approach and embrace the wisdom gained from diverse perspectives and methods, which should include all segments of the community.
    - Use scientific data to support strategies and proposed approaches. Be clear on assumptions but know there are no "cookie-cutter" answers.
    - Keep elected officials informed: public dollars are needed to fund programs.
    - "Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate." Accountability is imperative for knowing what works and what does not, particularly in light of scarce resource dollars.