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A traffic safety phenomenon known as aggressive driving, which emerged as an "issue of the 90's," threatens to be a major public safety concern for the motoring public and law enforcement into the 21st Century. There were 6,335,000 police-reported crashes in the United States in 1998 according to NHTSAs General Estimates System. Law enforcement officers report that many aggressive driving behaviors are the same as those that are contributing factors in crashes.
To understand the gravity of this issue, one need only do a search on the words "aggressive driving" on the Internet. More than three million hits appear, ranging from congressional testimony to articles in newspapers and magazines.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a telephone survey of 6,000 drivers, sixteen years and older, who discussed their experiences, beliefs and behaviors regarding speeding and unsafe driving, including aggressive driving. More than 60 percent of the drivers interviewed believe that unsafe driving by others is a major personal threat to them and their families. Three out of four drivers feel that doing something about unsafe driving is very important. 1
The motoring public also believes aggressive driving is a huge problem and they fear for their own safety, maybe more than they fear impaired drivers. Law enforcement officers continue to see lives ruined because of motor vehicle crashes caused by drivers venting frustration and aggression. In turn, insurance companies observe the increase in numbers of crashes and the need to pass on these increased costs to the consumer. Civic organizations and private groups see the need to offer advice to their members and form alliances to educate them about the risks of driving aggressively.
So, what is causing the increase in aggressive driving? We know that congestion is a contributing cause.2 Studies have shown that the number of motor vehicles registered rose 19 percent over the past ten years, reflecting an increase in population. The number of licensed drivers rose 12 percent during the same period. At the same time, the number of law enforcement officers available to enforce laws has decreased. For example, state police and highway patrol agencies have seen a 3 percent decrease in the number of officers working traffic enforcement.3
Highway Use Trends Vs. Traffic Enforcement
(From NHTSA Fact Sheets and IACPs State and Provincial Division reports)
This means that as highway use increases, congestion is likely to continue to get worse. During the past ten years, the surface road miles increased only 1.1 percent while total miles traveled has increased 40 percent. Highway construction is not keeping up with the growth in the general population, or the increase in the number of licensed drivers, vehicles registered, and highway miles driven.
Frustration over congestion, especially in larger cities, is likely to continue to get worse. People feel the pressure of time and seem to live in the acceleration lane in all aspects of their livesmaking every minute count. We believe these feelings on the roadways lead to high risk and aggressive driving, and that, in turn, leads to an increase in crashes.
Law enforcement agencies around the country must look for ways to address this issue. Many similarities exist between the aggressive driving issue today and the impaired driving issue of twenty-five years ago. It was socially acceptable to drink and sometimes comical to share stories of driving drunk and getting arrested. It was the practice in some communities for law enforcement officers to take impaired drivers home and make no arrests. However, because of the high numbers of motor vehicle deaths caused by impaired driving and the public outrage, public attitudes changed. Getting arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol is no longer acceptable. We need to get to that point in society, where aggressive driving simply is not acceptable.