A local high school athlete was killed over a stop sign right-of-way dispute. This well-publicized incident quickly was followed by two more fatalities attributed to “road rage.” The public demanded action.
The task of “doing something about road rage” was assigned to Officer Jay Gilhooly, the Albuquerque Police Department’s coordinator of traffic safety programs. Officer Gilhooly had been a crew chief on Air Force helicopters before joining the police department and is a captain in the National Guard; he earned a bachelor’s degree in his spare time. Jay was perfectly suited for the task he was assigned for three reasons:
Research was the initial response to the public call for action. Gilhooly read all that he could find on the subjects of aggressive driving, the newly-coined “road rage,” analytical techniques, and traffic safety countermeasures. He then enlisted the help of a traffic analyst from the City Planning Department to plot the dozen or so reported incidents of road rage on a map. To their dismay, the dots representing the incidents were dispersed, with no apparent pattern.
The next step was to plot all of the high crash intersections in the city, reasoning that the relatively rare incidence of road rage might be related to the more frequent incidence of crashes. Albuquerque contains 33 of New Mexico’s top 50 intersections in number of crashes. The map showed that 27 of the 33 intersections were concentrated in four clusters, each located in a different area of the city. Gilhooly immediately recognized the clusters as high crime areas from his patrol experience. The hypothesis was confirmed by adding crime data to the map that showed the high crash intersections; the two sets of dots combined to form four colorful blobs on the map of the city.
It was (and remains) unknown whether the high incidences of crime and crashes in the four areas are causally related; that is, the overlap of high crash and high crime areas might be a coincidence, or the results of other factors. Regardless of causality, the geographic co-occurrence of crashes and crimes was interpreted as an opportunity to do something about both of the problems, and possibly about the elusive road rage problem. Further analyses found that many of the arrests that were made in the high crime areas were of individuals who lived outside those areas. The distances were such that a motor vehicle probably was involved in nearly all of the cases. Traffic enforcement was the obvious solution.