National Aggressive Driving Action Guide: A Criminial Justice Approach Graphic

Background and Introduction

Statement of the Problem

Where We Are

NHTSA estimates that about one-third of traffic crashes and about two-thirds of the resulting fatalities can be attributed to driving behavior commonly associated with aggressive driving4 (e.g., improper lane changing, improper passing, red-light running, and speeding). In January 1999, NHTSA published a telephone survey of 6,000 drivers, age 16 and older, who shared their attitudes and experiences about speeding and unsafe driving - including aggressive driving.5 More than 60 percent of those interviewed perceived unsafe driving by others, including speeding, as a major personal threat to themselves and their families. Three out of four drivers believed that doing something about unsafe driving was "very important." And more than half of the 6,000 respondents admitted to driving recklessly on occasion. But while many people admit to driving aggressively at times - such as when they are late to work - aggressive drivers as a group tend to have certain defining characteristics (see sidebar).

Characteristics of 
Aggressive Drivers

  • They are high-risk drivers, more likely to drive impaired, to speed, and/or to drive unbuckled.
  • They are drivers who see their vehicles as providing a cover of anonymity and therefore tend to be less inhibited and more likely to engage in aggressive behavior (Ellison et al., 1995).
  • They are frequently "Type A" personalities characterized by high levels of competitiveness, time urgency, irritation, and hostility (Evans et al., 1987).
  • They run stop signs, disobey red lights, speed, tailgate, weave in and out of traffic, pass on the right, make unsafe lane changes, flash their lights, blow their horns, or make threatening hand and facial gestures.

To address the growing problem of aggressive driving and to make it more of a high-profile traffic safety issue, DOT created an Aggressive Driving Implementation Team to develop a National Aggressive Driving Action Guide. As previously stated, the Action Guide seeks to help States address the problem of aggressive driving through recommended solutions in six topic areas. In developing its recommendations, the Implementation Team gave thoughtful consideration to the variety of issues informing the aggressive driving problem, making the resulting Action Guide more "reality-based." Understanding that some States or communities would not be able to fully adopt all or any of its recommendations, the Implementation Team decided not to prescribe specific procedures for States to follow, but rather recommend best practices to counter the aggressive driving problem - from statutory, enforcement, technological, judicial, and community approaches. To this end, the recommendations in this Action Guide are model strategies, which States can begin to implement immediately.

Where We Want to Be

It is NHTSA's hope and the goal of the Implementation Team to raise public awareness of the dangers of aggressive driving and to make it a higher priority on social, political, legal, and judicial agendas. Increased awareness is needed to help ensure that law enforcement officers enforce reckless and/or aggressive driving laws, that prosecutors persistently charge violators, and that judges convict and sentence offenders. Needed comprehensive solutions require everyone to play a role in spreading the word and in providing leadership and support from the top down for ending aggressive driving on our roadways.

Both the Implementation Team and NHTSA recognize that making aggressive driving socially unacceptable will take time. They expect the broad-based Action Guide presented here to serve as an impetus and "blueprint" for legislators, law enforcement, the judicial system, and community leaders to build awareness of and seek solutions to this problem. Aggressive driving advocacy groups are urged to join with other community initiatives already underway, such as "Safe Communities," to easily extend efforts to raise awareness. Advocacy groups are essential to keep the aggressive driving issue prominent in the media and in the public's consciousness. Corporate America must also get on board and realize its stake in controlling traffic and improving congestion - two known precursors for aggressive driving incidents. In all cases, action must begin now.

How to Get There

The Implementation Team emphasizes the need for leadership and support to combat aggressive driving - from the top levels of government down to the law enforcement officers in the field. Law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, and the community must work together to support efforts to enforce existing traffic laws, prosecute violators, and appropriately convict and sentence offenders. States must continue to develop innovative enforcement programs targeting aggressive driving, strengthen reckless driving laws to provide appropriate penalties, and raise awareness among the public of the seriousness of the aggressive driving problem.

Recent Aggressive Driving
Legislation

  • Arizona (May 26, 1998)
  • Virginia (March, 1998)*
  • Delaware (July 22, 1999)
  • Nevada (May 28, 1999)
  • Rhode Island (July 13, 2000)
  • Utah (March 3, 2000)

In 1998, 9 States introduced a total of 26 aggressive driving bills, only 2 of which - the Arizona aggressive driving bill and the Virginia driver education requirement - were enacted. In 1999, 17 States introduced a total of 36 bills, 2 of which - in Delaware and Nevada - were enacted. In 2000, 17 States introduced 33 bills, 2 of which - in Rhode Island and Utah - were enacted (see NHTSA's Legislative Tracking Database at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/ncsl/ for current information on aggressive driving legislation and other traffic safety topics).

*Requires aggressive driving to be included in Driver Education.

Innovative Enforcement Efforts in the States

Innovative traffic enforcement efforts can help reduce aggressive driving by raising awareness among members of the motoring public. The following approaches, used to target aggressive driving, share several key elements, summarized below.

Video and Radar -
An Effective Combination in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts State Police use unmarked, non-traditional police vehicles fully equipped with concealed emergency lights, police radio, radar, video cameras, and high-performance engines to observe and stop aggressive drivers. When the unmarked unit observes unsafe driving behavior, it catches up to the violator and activates the video camera. The radar is connected to the camera, which constantly records the driver's speed. The trooper narrates into the video microphone the driving pattern he or she is observing, then calls for a marked unit to pull the driver over. To date, little arguing has occurred on the roadside once the violator understands that his or her behavior was caught on videotape, and no chases have resulted. Subsequent reports issued following driver's license history checks have resulted in 200 suspended licenses for repeat aggressive driving offenders.

NHTSA is continuing to gather successful countermeasures and enforcement strategies from State and local aggressive driving enforcement program sites, and to serve as a clearinghouse to communities interested in starting aggressive driving programs. Summaries of these programs, along with the program contact, are posted to NHTSA’s website in the section, Aggressive Driving/Speed, at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/enforce/.

The National Aggressive Driving Action Guide

The following Action Guide summarizes the work of the Aggressive Driving Implementation Team, formed to devise strategies for carrying out recommendations developed by participants in DOT’s symposium, Aggressive Driving and the Law: A Symposium (January 22-23, 1999). The Action Guide advises States on a number of issues related to aggressive driving and includes recommendations for raising awareness, improving enforcement-related efforts, and criminalizing aggressive driving offenses. Recommendations call for public campaigns, greater use of technology, legislative actions, targeted training, new partnerships, and increased enforcement. Directed to State and local officials, legislative bodies, criminal justice practitioners, highway safety advocates, and the community at large, these recommendations are intended to help define aggressive driving behavior and provide "best solutions" for curtailing it. The model framework presented here will assist other efforts already taking place across the Nation to spread the word in communities that the problem of aggressive driving is a serious traffic safety concern that kills citizens and affects everyone in the community.

The sections that follow are organized into six topic areas containing model strategies or best practices relating to Statutory Strategies, Enforcement Strategies, Applied Technology, Charging Decisions, Sentencing Strategies, and Community Leadership. These recommendations are intended for use by a variety of audiences as a dynamic guide to help States raise the profile of aggressive driving and mitigate the serious safety risks it poses to citizens. This document culminates the work of the Aggressive Driving Implementation Team, with earnest wishes that it may serve the purpose of helping to eradicate aggressive driving on our Nation's roadways.


  1. Statement made by NHTSA Administrator Ricardo Martinez, M.D., before the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation in the U.S. House of Representatives (July 17, 1997).
  2. National Survey of Speeding and Other Unsafe Driving Actions, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, January 1999. 

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