Philip Recht, J.D., Deputy Administrator, NHTSA
Panelists: Richard Compton, Science Advisor, NHTSA
John Lacey, Principal Scientist, Mid-America Research Institute, Inc.
Janet Goehring, Senior Policy Specialist, National Conference of State
Chuck Peltier, Division Chief, Traffic Law Enforcement, NHTSA
Philip Recht, NHTSA
Mr. Recht remarked on the good turnout for the conference and thanked
all participants for their involvement. He reviewed the six topical areas
that they would address in the breakout sessions as follows: (1) statutory
approaches, (2) applied technology, (3) charging decisions, (4) sentencing
strategies, (5) community leadership, and (6) enforcement strategies.
He expressed his eagerness to hear participants' recommendations on these
issues following the breakout discussions, then proceeded to introduce
the technical panel members, whose presentations are summarized below.
Richard Compton, NHTSA
Mr. Compton provided summary highlights of NHTSA's public opinion survey
on aggressive driving, conducted for NHTSA by a national survey firm.
The main points of his overhead presentation are summarized below.
- What the
driving public thinks. The survey sought to elicit a view of
a wide range of unsafe driving behaviors, laws, and enforcement of laws.
It also sought to obtain aggressive driver characteristics, demographics,
and opinions for addressing this problem.
- Rating of
driving behaviors. The "top" aggressive driving behaviors
identified by respondents included the following: passing a stopped
school bus (95 percent had observed this behavior), racing another driver,
and driving through stop signs and red lights.
- Public attitudes
telling. Only 14 percent of those surveyed felt it was "extremely
dangerous" to drive 10 miles per hour over the speed limit. Younger
drivers consistently felt particular aggressive driving behaviors to
be less dangerous than did older drivers. And only 6 percent of respondents
thought driving was safer today, with results varying by age and gender.
(Males believe it is less dangerous to drive today than do females.)
- Why is driving
more dangerous today? Several factors were identified among
those surveyed: carelessness of drivers, increase in congestion, and
increase in the speed limit. About 30 percent of respondents said they
felt their safety was threatened in the last month, while 67 percent
felt this threat during the last year. Weaving, tailgating, distracted
drivers, and unsafe lane changes were some of the unsafe behaviors identified.
is consequential. Only 3 percent of respondents said that speeding
was not a threat to themselves or their families. Only 6 percent said
they rarely see cars traveling at unsafe speeds. The majority of those
surveyed (52 percent) said it was "very important" to do something
about speeding. Ninety-eight percent of respondents thought it "important"
that something be done to reduce speeding and unsafe driving.
- Riding with
unsafe drivers. Fifty-six percent of 16-20 year olds said they
had driven with unsafe drivers, while 13 percent of those over 65 years
old gave that response.
- Why are people
driving aggressively? Some of the reasons given by those surveyed
include the following: people being in a hurry; congestion; careless
and inconsiderate drivers; and angry, frustrated, and hostile drivers.
responses surprising. Fifty percent of those surveyed said they
had driven recklessly, had sped, and/or engaged in other unsafe or illegal
driving behaviors. More than twice the number of men as women said they
had driven while affected by alcohol. In fact, men consistently engaged
in substantially more unsafe driving behaviors than did women.
- Likely effectiveness
of measures to reduce aggressive driving. Those surveyed ranked
the following countermeasures, in order, as most likely to reduce aggressive
and unsafe driving behaviors: (1) more police assigned to traffic control,
(2) more frequent ticketing of traffic violations, (3) higher fines,
and (4) increased insurance costs.
to public. The following measures, in rank order, were identified
as likely to have the greatest public acceptance: (1) awareness raising,
(2) increased ticketing, (3) encouraging people to say something to
drivers whom they believe to be driving aggressively, and (4) more law
enforcement in traffic control.
Major conclusions from the survey included the following:
- Many people admit to driving illegally or unsafely for many reasons.
- The problem of aggressive and unsafe driving reflects clear gender
and age factors.
- Increased police enforcement was rated "Number 1," both
for effectiveness and as a measure acceptable to the public to reduce
unsafe and illegal driving.
Report on Focus Groups
John Lacey, Mid-America Research Institute, Inc.
Mr. Lacey reported on the research results from focus groups, organized
in preparation for the present symposium. Participants included individuals
charged with apprehending, prosecuting, and sanctioning offenders, as
well as those who defend persons arrested for aggressive driving offenses.
Six focus groups were held, one composed of judges, two of prosecutors,
one of public defenders and defense attorneys, and two composed of police
supervisors and officers in the field. Mr. Lacey stressed that these groups
did not represent a lot of people and did not presume to offer definitive
answers; they merely provide a sampling of opinions from the various fields
that have different levels of involvement with aggressive driving. His
remarks are summarized below:
of focus groups. The groups' composition was as follows:
- The judges group included a superior court associate justice; the
chief judge and five associate judges from a district court; the chief
judge, two associate justices, and the master court administrator from
family court; along with the governor's highway safety representative
from Rhode Island.
- Participants in the public defender/defense attorney focus group held
in Massachusetts included five public defenders, two private defense
attorneys, and one clinical instructor.
- Participants in the two police focus groups held in Salt Lake City,
Utah, in conjunction with the annual convention of the International
Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), included officers serving on
the technical advisory panel to the drug evaluation and classification
program who conduct day-to-day traffic law enforcement, as well as police
management personnel--all representing agencies from across the country.
- The prosecutor focus groups included prosecutors from across the country
who were attending a course in Leesburg, Virginia, on prosecuting vehicular
homicide--and included both faculty and students at that course.
- Focus group
method. Mr. Lacey described the format of the focus groups as
10 people or fewer sitting around the table talking. Major topics included
the definition of aggressive driving, data collection, the need for
statutes, related factors, sentencing options, issues around enforcement
and the relationship of advanced technology, and the role of public
- On definition.
Most focus group participants distinguished between aggressive
driving and road rage.
- Need for
statutes. Focus group members said with one voice that legislation
already exists to encompass aggressive driving violations and that the
tools and the case law exist as well.
- Related factors.
Most participants chose not to link impaired and aggressive
driving, Mr. Lacey reported. Poor roadway designs, congestion, and poor
time management were cited as contributing factors to people choosing
to drive aggressively.
The general opinion emerging from the focus groups of judges and prosecutors
was that nothing special was required to expand sentencing options,
as options already exist. District attorneys and police were less confident,
however, on the sentences imposed. A treatment program to address aggressive
driving characteristics was thought to be a good idea.
technology/enforcement. Focus group recommendations called for
a combination of unmarked (technology) and marked (enforcement) vehicles
to address the aggressive driving problem. Police officers voiced the
need for a command emphasis on enforcement that is communicated to officers.
- Public information
and education. Focus group participants felt that only the highest
quality materials should be developed when it comes to aggressive driving
The following general conclusions emerged from the focus group
- Confusion exists about what aggressive driving is, except among law
- No hard data exist about the aggressive driving problem or its variance
regionally. It is important to know the extent of the problem before
devising solutions for it.
- PI&E campaigns can be effective if materials are of high quality.
- Increasing enforcement or the public perception of it was the "Number
1" recommendation of focus group participants. A command emphasis
on enforcement must be communicated by management to police officers.
Driving Overview and Background
Janet Goehring, National Conference of State Legislatures
Ms. Goehring summarized state legislative activities aimed at curbing
aggressive driving, beginning by describing the two divergent views generally
held by state legislators: (1) that no new legislation is needed, or (2)
that laws are needed to close the gap and to account for the special seriousness
of aggressive driving offenses. Her remarks are summarized below:
- What happened
last year. Last year, 9 states introduced a combination of 26
bills on aggressive driving; 4 states have bills pending this year.
Most of these bills attempt to define aggressive driving offenses and
establish penalties for them. Some states have specified characteristics
of aggressive drivers, with those convicted of the offense facing certain
additional penalties, such as mandatory educational classes or loss
of license for repeat offenders similar to drunk or impaired driving
- How to define
aggressive driving. Many states get hung up on the issue of
how to define aggressive driving. This difficulty has led to the death
of some bills for being perceived as legally too problematic to define
- Some bills
specified intent. Some bills introduced last year did propose
very specific intent as part of an aggressive driving definition. Another
approach was to address aggressive driving through driver education
courses. The state of Virginia passed legislation that required school
driver education programs to include instruction on aggressive driving
- Other options
adopted by states. State legislators adopted other options to
address aggressive driving, including the following: improving funding
of prosecutorial efforts, increasing fines and penalties, developing
state education programs about aggressive driving, emphasizing seatbelt
laws, and legislating traffic camera radar devices.
Strategies for Aggressive Driving
Chuck Peltier, NHTSA
Mr. Peltier began by stressing the need to understand the dilemma faced
by law enforcement administrators today. To illustrate, he noted that
in the coming months, conferences will be held on such important justice
issues as juvenile crime, domestic violence, and community-oriented policing.
The public must consider the pressing social issues faced by police and
law enforcement officers forced to deal with everything from warring families
and fatherless kids to expectations they will counsel juveniles on drugs.
We ask police officers to do many things in addition to their routine
duties of responding to calls for service and writing traffic tickets.
Mr. Peltier said more police officers are needed to respond to issues
of the day, because if the violating public does not believe it will get
caught, it will go on violating the law. The remainder of Mr. Peltier's
remarks are summarized in the following section.
shift in law enforcement. The shift that law enforcement needs
to embrace is to make traffic safety the business of every police officer,
that is, to take a decentralized approach that makes everyone in a metropolitan
police department responsible for conducting the business of traffic
safety. Mr. Peltier felt this was an important shift that needed to
take place, adding that traffic safety should also be a part of community
aggressive driving focus needed. Mr. Peltier felt states needed
to place a specific focus on aggressive driving. Currently, 24 states
have 37 aggressive driving programs 2, and information continues to
be gathered on them. These programs vary in resources and techniques.
- Various enforcement
techniques used. State programs to combat aggressive driving
use a variety of techniques: unmarked cars, motorcycles, aircraft, unmarked
decoy vehicles, nontraditional vehicles, and automated enforcement.
of a successful promotional program. Using the media is vital
to the success of an aggressive driving program, as it was with the
seatbelt wearing campaign. Additional elements to consider in developing
an aggressive driving program--as described in materials distributed
at the conference--had to do with getting the word out, assessing one's
own knowledge of the problem, enlisting grassroots support, and coping
is current as of May 18, 1999
Following the technical presentations, panel members answered participant
questions, summarized below.
Are there any examples of prosecutions in Arizona under the new aggressive
A. Three criteria must be met for an aggressive driving violation
under the Arizona law: there must be a speeding violation together with
two or more other violations that present a demonstrated threat to another
person or vehicle. If an offender meets those requirements, s/he gets
charged only with the aggressive driving offense. Some of the charges,
particularly those not caught on camera, are being thrown out by judges
for lack of law enforcement proof.