color side bar  Aggressive Driving
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Sample Op-Ed Article
spacer [head:] Are You a Dangerous Driver?

In 1996, near Washington, D.C., two 26-year-old drivers began dueling in their cars as they drove up the George Washington Parkway. Traveling at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour, the cars crossed the median of the parkway and hit two oncoming vehicles. Only one of the four drivers involved in the crash survived; he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in the incident.

Aggressive drivers—those who operate a motor vehicle in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger persons or property, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)—are becoming more common and more dangerous on our congested roadways. According to a NHTSA survey, more than 60 percent of drivers see unsafe driving by others, including speeding, as a major personal threat to themselves and their families. In fact, 1997 statistics compiled by NHTSA and the American Automobile Association show that almost 13,000 people have been injured or killed since 1990 in crashes caused by aggressive driving.

Clearly safety experts, law enforcement officials and the motoring public agree that something should be done to curb this threat on our highways. And in fact, traffic safety and enforcement organizations are renewing efforts to identify and penalize aggressive drivers—those who speed, tailgate, zip from lane to lane, flash headlights in frustration, and engage in other dangerous driving practices. Their options range from increasing fines to possibly suspending licenses for repeat violations. But before you point the finger at "the other guy," perhaps we would all do well to examine our own driving habits. Ask yourself, honestly:

  • Do you routinely exceed the speed limit because you're in a hurry? Do you "try to beat" the red light for the same reason?
  • Do you tailgate or flash your headlights when you're frustrated by the slower driver in front of you? Do you use your horn frequently to signal impatience?
  • Do you switch lanes without first signaling your intention? Do you make sure you won't cut someone off in the process?
  • Do you use your high beams routinely, and/or keep them on despite oncoming traffic?
  • Do you let yourself get distracted while using your car phone, thus endangering and/or angering other motorists?
  • Do you make eye contact with other drivers who are angry and trying to get your attention? Have you ever used an obscene gesture to communicate your displeasure with another driver?

Driving behaviors that are seen as "harmless" or permissible "just this once" can, at least, create unsafe situations and, at worst, lead to injury or death. Don't let highway congestion, a tight schedule or everyday stress turn you into an aggressive driver. Slow down, remain calm and keep your eye on the high road.