National Aggressive Driving Action Guide: A Criminial Justice Approach Graphic

Executive Summary

Background and Introduction

The problem of aggressive driving affects all those who use our roadways and is a major concern of highway users (includes pedestrians, motorcyclists, and bicyclists). According to a 1999 NHTSA telephone survey of 6,000 drivers, more than 60 percent of those interviewed saw unsafe driving by others as a major personal threat to themselves and their families. This threat is real. 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 driving3 (e.g., violations such as improper lane changing, improper passing, red-light running, and speeding).

Law enforcement personnel and communities across the country continue to see lives destroyed by aggressive driving crashes. NHTSA joins with them and with all the other integral players, including defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges, and civic groups, to encourage and support efforts to eradicate this deadly serious problem. While many innovative enforcement efforts currently underway in different States are raising awareness of the risks of aggressive driving and curtailing violations, much more needs to be done to give this problem the prominence in people's minds that other safety initiatives, such as impaired driving, have occupied. To reach this goal, all sectors must work together toward a common purpose - to stop aggressive driving.

Toward that end, on January 22-23, 1999, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) brought together an array of public safety, legal, adjudication, and community representatives to discuss ways to counter the pervasive problem of aggressive driving on our Nation's roadways. The symposium, Aggressive Driving and the Law: A Symposium, featured participation by transportation officials, district and State attorneys, district court judges, law enforcement administrators, emergency personnel, criminal defense attorneys, safety advocates and activists, researchers, and government policy makers. Six topic areas framed participant discussions and recommendations developed in breakout sessions. These six categories were (I) Statutory Strategies, (II) Enforcement Strategies, (III) Applied Technology, (IV) Charging Decisions, (V) Sentencing Strategies, and (VI) Community Leadership. The Aggressive Driving Implementation Team (Implementation Team), selected from symposium participants and formed to devise strategies for carrying out these recommendations, organized them into a National Aggressive Driving Action Guide (Action Guide) intended for use by State and local officials, legislative bodies, criminal justice practitioners, highway safety advocates and related organizations, and the community.

Summary of Recommendations

The Implementation Team's aggressive driving recommendations, collected under the six topic areas, make up the body of the Action Guide. The Action Guide aims to mitigate the problem of aggressive driving through stronger laws, enhanced law enforcement, increased follow-up by prosecutors and judges, and heightened awareness among the general public. Recommendations in each of the six areas are briefly summarized below.

Statutory Strategies

Agreeing with symposium participants that aggressive driving is a State and not a Federal issue, the Implementation Team developed a generic statutory model for State legislatures and agencies to tailor for their own uses. The Implementation Team encourages States to adopt the model statute as a means to enact or improve their reckless driving statutes, to include aggressive driving. In general, Implementation Team members recommend strengthening existing statutes to send a clear message that aggressive driving is a serious offense - potentially criminal and chargeable as a felony. They also recommend that State and Federal governments provide assistance to law enforcement agencies and other areas within the criminal justice system to help defray the costs of and provide support for retraining on new reckless or aggressive driving statutes.

Enforcement Strategies

The foremost recommendation in this area is for all involved parties - from law enforcement, prosecutors, and the judiciary to transportation officials, automobile manufacturers, and motorists - to establish aggressive driving as a national priority requiring attention. Innovative funding for aggressive driving programs and related equipment and training, and expansion of law enforcement platforms to help apprehend and prosecute violators who would otherwise go undetected, are also recommended. Equipping law enforcement officers with innovative technologies to better detect and apprehend aggressive drivers, and establishing "tip" lines for citizens to report unsafe driving, are major recommendations, requiring the cooperation of other sectors, including government officials and the cellular telephone industry. Implementation Team members also call for multi-agency approaches to aggressive driving, including developing public education and awareness strategies and using regional markets for expanded media exposure. Finally, Implementation Team members encourage all groups to work together to validate the causes and impacts of aggressive driving behavior for more targeted enforcement and educational efforts to a variety of high risk groups.

Applied Technology

Recommendations in this category include promoting wider use of enforcement-related technologies, such as in-car video cameras, automated speed and photo red-light enforcement cameras, laser speed-measuring equipment, and unstaffed radar speed display devices. Also recommended is facilitating better communications among different disciplines, including establishing data links from officers' reports and citation-writing functions to the prosecutor's office, and to court systems when appropriate. Other technology recommendations include increasing the use of computer technology in patrol cars to give officers access to license histories and previous stops, exploring the use of variable speed limit signs, and promoting Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) technology, particularly for its congestion relief benefits. The Implementation Team also encourages communities to take advantage of computer-based distance learning opportunities related to driver education.

Charging Decisions

The main recommendation in this category is to criminalize aggressive driving behavior through reckless driving statutes. The message must be clear to law enforcement, the judiciary, and legislators that when multiple violations occur together or in rapid succession, they should be charged as a criminal offense, with possible penalties of probation and incarceration. The Implementation Team suggests development of written guidelines and training for prosecutors and law enforcement personnel to guide them in making appropriate charging decisions. Additionally, it recommends achieving heightened awareness of the aggressive driving issue through the professional education of law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, and judges, to give it greater prominence on everyone's agenda.

Sentencing Strategies

The primary recommendation in this area, directed to the judiciary, is for State legislatures to enact a broad range of criminal sanctions to provide judges more sentencing flexibility. A related recommendation is to make available to judges as many of the traditionally accepted sentencing objectives as possible, including deterrence, rehabilitation, education, punishment, restitution, and recovery of costs. A major recommendation is to make differing degrees of severity a part of penalty provisions in aggressive driving statutes, depending on the nature of the offenses and any aggravating circumstances. Criminal sanction statutes should include license suspension or revocation, and judges should make use of probationary conditions. The Implementation Team believes that implementing effective strategies depends on the willingness of legislators to afford judges sentencing discretion and provide them with the necessary personnel, facilities, and flexibility to use it effectively.

Community Leadership

Having the support of communities is an integral part of increasing awareness of the risks associated with aggressive driving. Partnerships forged with community leaders and others working at the grassroots level help to spread the word about the dangers of aggressive driving and the safety threat it poses to everyone in the community. The Implementation Team strongly believes in the power of business leaders, community organizations, and government officials to raise awareness about aggressive driving among their constituents. Public education and awareness will help to turn the tide against aggressive driving and classify it as socially unacceptable. Implementation Team members advocate adoption of a zero tolerance stance, public awareness campaigns and community outreach by law enforcement, business, and community leaders to create a powerful catalyst for transforming attitudes toward and tolerance for aggressive driving.

Conclusion

NHTSA will ensure that the National Aggressive Driving Action Guide receives wide distribution to a variety of audiences, each with a role to play in helping to mitigate the serious problem of aggressive driving on our roadways. The Action Guide’s organization reflects this intended diversity, as each section speaks to particular audiences and calls for individual and combined efforts to raise awareness of the seriousness of the aggressive driving problem. This Action Guide will go to State and regional highway safety offices, national prosecutors0 associations, judicial membership groups, law enforcement organizations, and highway safety advocates, among others. It will also be accessible on NHTSA's website. An important recommendation of the Implementation Team was for NHTSA to continue to collect aggressive driving program information so that States can continue to share "best practices" - a clearinghouse approach that will help States identify, adapt, and fine-tune recommended solutions to meet their own needs.


  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).

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