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).
- 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
- 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
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.
- Innovative Enforcement Programs. As of February 2001, NHTSA is aware of
at least 50 active State and local aggressive driving programs across the
Nation. These programs attempt to reduce the types of violations an aggressive
driver is likely to commit, such as speeding, following too closely,
improperly changing lanes, improperly passing, and failing to obey traffic
control devices or to yield the right-of-way. For example, the New Jersey
State Police started its multi-agency enforcement program after it determined
that 63 percent of fatal crashes stemmed from aggressive driver violations.
The Implementation Team advocates training and education aimed at encouraging
officers to write aggressive driving citations.
- Stronger Aggressive Driving Laws. In May of 1998, Arizona became the
first State to enact aggressive driving legislation. This law requires
violators to be charged with aggressive driving if they commit a speeding
offense and at least two reckless driving-related offenses. Since Arizona’s
law passed, a number of States have attempted to pass aggressive driving
legislation, but only five States have done so (see sidebar). In July 1999,
Delaware passed an aggressive driving law that defines aggressive driving as
conduct that violates three or more specific traffic violations. Virginia’s
law does not target violators, but requires that aggressive driving
instruction be part of driver education programs offered through the high
NHTSA and the National Conference of State Legislatures will continue to
track legislation and maintain this information on the NHTSA website at www.nhtsa.dot.gov/ncls/.
- Increased Awareness. The Implementation Team strongly advocates making
anti-aggressive driving campaigns a national priority. It views as essential
the need to raise public awareness of the dangers of aggressive driving
conduct and to challenge all drivers to critique their own driving behavior.
Recent Aggressive Driving
- 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,
The Connecticut State Police use unmarked
units to identify aggressive drivers and marked units to stop aggressive
drivers. Aircraft are sometimes used in tandem with ground units to minimize
the hazards of high-speed pursuits. The Minnesota State Patrol is using rotary
and fixed wing aircraft equipped with cutting edge technology to curtail
aggressive driving in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. A high-resolution
video camera records violations during daytime flights, and a thermal imaging
unit provides nighttime observation capabilities. Through a mobile video
receiver in their patrol cars, officers can replay the violations to the
violator during citation issuance.
- Using a variety of enforcement vehicles, such as aircraft, motorcycles, and
unmanned control units.
Having an aggressive driving report line for motorists to call in when they
witness aggressive driving. The Colorado State Patrol (CSP) accepts
calls from motorists who dial STAR CSP (*277) on their cell phones. The system
prints out a complete report of the calls, which is delivered to a CSP
dispatcher, and automatically issues warning letters to vehicle owners. This
program is in partnership with Vision TEK, Inc., and Colorado wireless phone
Using unmarked units and stealth tactics to detect aggressive drivers.
The St. Petersburg, Florida, Police Department's "Where's Alf"
program - named after the "Where's Waldo" concept - uses
non-traditional vehicles as a platform to observe the motoring public. The
officer observes traffic, then calls ahead to marked patrol vehicles to take
enforcement action. Michigan State Police use an old clunker car, called their
"stealth vehicle," to observe aggressive drivers. A uniformed
trooper rides in the old car and calls marked units to initiate traffic stops.
The Washington State Patrol uses two vehicles that look like taxi cabs to
detect aggressive drivers.
Using digital video cameras, with follow-up action. The Maryland
State Police aggressive driver program, known as Aggressive Driver Video and
Non-Contact Enforcement (ADVANCE), uses digital video cameras and lidar to
identify and record aggressive drivers and other violators. Letters and photos
of the violation are sent to offending drivers. Massachusetts State Police
have equipped unmarked vehicles with digital cameras connected to radar (see
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.
- Using "centipede" enforcement tactics. The
"centipede" enforcement approach, used by Pennsylvania State Police
and other departments, consists of spacing a series of police cars out along a
highway, a couple of miles apart. Motorists may believe that once they pass an
officer, the likelihood of being stopped is reduced. Yet any one of the
centipede officers can take enforcement action when a violation is observed,
so seeing additional officers as a trip continues serves as a strong deterrent
- Partnering with other programs and agencies. To counter aggressive
driving through a major construction interchange, the Albuquerque Police
Department in New Mexico formed an unprecedented partnership with the State
Highway Department, the Traffic Safety Bureau, a construction company, city
and State engineers, and the New Mexico State Police. Local and state police
conduct saturation patrols of interstate roads and city streets experiencing
increased congestion. Cameras placed throughout the construction area observe
problems as they occur.
- Increasing aggressive driving education and awareness among officers and
citizens. The Oklahoma City Police Department trained 230 officers to
observe and stop aggressive drivers in its Reduction of Accident and
Aggressive and Inconsiderate Drivers (RAID) cars. The officers were taught
that targeting aggressive-driving-type violations reduces crashes. Several
speed surveys revealed that speeding and crashes decreased in high-crash areas
after special units became involved. In South Carolina, the Greer Police
Department participated in "Targeting the Aggressive Driver," an
extensive education program for both citizens and officers that is combined
with an enforcement program. A 22 percent drop in crashes occurred within 7
months of this campaign. The Smooth Operator Campaign in Northern Virginia,
suburban Maryland, and the District of Columbia combines the efforts of 26 law
enforcement agencies with public relations and research to address all areas
of aggressive driving: data collection and analysis, public awareness and
education, coordinated enforcement efforts, and driver improvement strategies.
- Engineering new systems and technologies to detect aggressive drivers.
Several law enforcement agencies are using newly engineered systems and
technologies to detect aggressive driving violations and improve enforcement
efforts. During a recent enforcement operation in Richardson, Texas, where the
police and the city engineering department jointly devised a light system that
could safely detect red light runners downstream from the traffic light. More
than 200 citations were issued in the first two days. To ensure that the
courts would accept this technology, the police department held demonstrations
for judges before it was put into operation.
- Eliciting media involvement in making aggressive driving a high-profile
concern. One method that several law enforcement departments have used
to involve the media is to invite them to ride with troopers and witness how
aggressive driving programs work. The Washington State Patrol, for example,
used the media to advertise the start of its Aggressive Driving Program, then
asked them to ride along with officers making aggressive driving stops.
Videotape of violators was aired on the local news. Other departments have
created public service announcements (PSAs) to raise public awareness. The
Arizona Department of Public Safety's PSA about aggressive driving, "30
Seconds, Is It Worth It?" recently won first place in a highway safety
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
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.
- 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).
- National Survey of Speeding and Other Unsafe Driving Actions, National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration, January 1999.
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