Summary Report Aggressive Driving and the Law May 1999

Executive Summary




Appendix I

Appendix II


Opening Remarks

Ricardo Martinez, M.D., Administrator, NHTSA
Dr. Martinez provided additional background information about who aggressive drivers are, how big the problem is, and what is being done about it. His remarks are summarized below:

  • Who are aggressive drivers? NHTSA survey results indicate that aggressive drivers think of driving as an aggressive sport. They generally blame others and do not see themselves as a problem. They think they are in control when they are not, and admit to being impatient--e.g., they do not like to let others pass.

  • How big is the problem? Dr. Martinez said that high-risk behavior is overrepresented in violent and fatal crashes. Approximately 42,000 people die each year in road deaths. Vehicle crashes are the "Number 1" cause of death for young children, teens, and young adults, and the primary cause of head and spinal injuries for everyone. These facts have been true for a long time and reflect how huge this problem is for our society. Dr. Martinez expressed his hope that the judicial and legal systems will help secure gains in this area, as occurred for drunk driving.

  • Baby boomers. Baby boomers are flooding the roads, Dr. Martinez observed. However, the level of traffic enforcement is not on the rise and is actually going down.

  • Known solutions. Citing "good news," Dr. Martinez said there do exist known solutions to combat the problems related to aggressive driving. It has been shown, for example, that greater enforcement efforts lead to greater compliance and more deterrence of unwanted driving behaviors. For example, the cities of Modesto, California, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, saw substantial declines in fatal crashes and in criminal arrests as a result of enforcement programs targeting aggressive drivers and high-risk behaviors on the road. High-risk people engage in high-risk behavior, observed Dr. Martinez, reminding participants that Timothy McVeigh was apprehended after being stopped for a traffic violation.

  • Where is the accountability here? People assaulted with a weapon get punished. Traffic deaths are not punished in accordance with the risk taken and the lives endangered and destroyed thereby.

  • Action steps to effect change. Dr. Martinez suggested the following actions to go toward finding solutions to the problem of aggressive driving: (1) providing national leadership to raise the issue to a higher level, (2) putting a human face on the issue, (3) giving people the tools they need to take responsibility through development of anti-aggressive driving techniques and strategies and commitment of resources to translate dollars into effective programs.

Dr. Martinez concluded his remarks by expressing his appreciation for participants of such high caliber willing to give of their time and insights to work toward finding practical solutions to the serious problem of aggressive driving.

Kenneth Wykle, Administrator, FHWA
Mr. Wykle's remarks, summarized below, focused on the work being done at DOT and its component agencies to address the manifold road problems that can contribute to aggressive and unsafe driving.

  • ONE DOT. Mr. Wykle stressed the team effort occurring within DOT, with FHWA responsible for working with the states in operating the Nation's highway infrastructure and for informing the public about highway safety.

  • The congestion problem. Mr. Wykle cited congestion on the roadways as a big contributor to driver frustration and a trigger to aggressive driving behaviors. He called for continued exploration and application of advanced technologies to effect solutions to this problem. We cannot build our way out of the problem, he asserted, or enforce our way out. The numbers of law enforcement officers can never be increased enough. Instead, advanced technology must be integrated with enforcement into any proposed solution.

  • Successful technology programs. Some examples of new technology applications currently in use have shown positive results. These include the Red Light Running (RLR) campaign, which combines technology and public safety awareness. Good preliminary results have been seen at trial sites, with a decrease in the number of crashes (45 percent in some cases), despite the opposite national trend. There has also been a 12-percent increase in public awareness at trial sites through education and enforcement, with many communities continuing and expanding these campaigns on their own. Communities are asking for this technology, and the program, currently in its second phase, has grown from 30 to 200 sites. The RLR campaign is a successful example of a community program achieving good results and attracting the participation of additional partners. It is also known that RLR camera technology is not only effective, but is readily accepted by the public. A report on the first phase of the campaign to combat RLR in 30 communities will soon be available.

  • NOTIS. Mr. Wykle spoke of a new coalition called NOTIS National Organization for Traffic Intersection Safety formed to support legislation allowing use of camera technology at intersections. NOTIS members include law enforcement, safety advocates, insurance companies, camera system manufacturers, Daimler-Chrysler, the American Trauma Society, and DOT.

  • Maryland program. FHWA continues to refine the Maryland State Police Capitol Beltway aggressive driving enforcement project, which targets speeding and other aggressive driving actions by identifying and documenting such behavior.

  • DOT funds available. Money is available from FHWA to fund aggressive driving solutions. Federal-aid funds can help states "engineer" improvements to intersections as well as install advanced technologies to assist enforcement efforts. Federal funds are also available for PI&E and enforcement activities. Two new TEA (Transportation Efficiency Act)-21 incentive grants are worth $500 million each over the life of the reauthorization. In addition, Surface Transportation Project, National Highway Systems, and Interstate Maintenance funds, among others, can help fund intelligent transportation system projects.

  • Cooperative efforts needed. DOT is eager to continue working with communities in promoting emerging and advanced technologies to support and further the efforts of law enforcement to curb aggressive driving behavior. Mr. Wykle said he and others at FHWA and DOT look forward to hearing participants' recommendations and proposed solutions to this problem, and are willing to work cooperatively in this effort.