1.2 Aggressive Driving and Other Laws
Overall Effectiveness Concerns: There is currently no evidence that aggressive driving laws in general, or increased penalties in particular, affect aggressive driving and related crashes.
Aggressive driving actions are covered by specific traffic laws, such as the laws regarding speeding, improper lane changes, and following too closely, or by general laws, such as those that target reckless driving. Most existing reckless driving statues carry relatively minor penalties and may be difficult to prosecute according to NHTSA (2001a). Aggressive drivers, as distinct from aggressive driving, often can be identified as those who violate traffic laws repeatedly or whose violations lead to crashes producing serious injury or death. Therefore, the primary traffic law strategy to address aggressive driving is to assure that more severe penalties are available for repeat offenders and for violations causing death or serious injuries. Existing statutes, including reckless driving laws, may be strengthened or aggressive driving laws may be enacted.
NHTSA’s 1999 Symposium on Aggressive Driving and the Law recommended that States implement laws targeting aggressive drivers by providing for:
- enhanced penalties for repeat offenders, including increased driver’s license points, license suspension or revocation, higher fines, and jail or probation; and
- felony charges for violations resulting in serious injury or death (NHTSA, 2001a).
NHTSA also developed a model statute that defines aggressive driving as three moving violations in a single driving incident and some States have adopted similar laws; however, aggressive driving violations may be difficult to enforce and prosecute (Flango & Keith, 2004). The NCHRP Aggressive Driving Guide also suggests a strategy of applying increased sanctions and treatment for repeat offenders and serious offenses (Neuman, Pfefer, Slack, Hardy, Raub, et al., 2003, Strategy A3).
Use: In general, States provide for increased penalties for repeat offenders and for violations with serious consequences. As of May 2018 some 11 States have aggressive driving laws—Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Nevada, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia (Essex et al., 2018). Some other States that do not have aggressive driving laws per se, still include behaviors similar to aggressive driving in other laws, such as reckless driving (California, New Jersey, and Utah). In 2006 Pennsylvania passed a resolution to support practices that promote safe driving and to encourage drivers to not drive aggressively.
Effectiveness: There is as yet no evidence for whether aggressive driving laws in general, or increased penalties in particular, affect aggressive driving and related crashes. See the Speeding and Speed Management chapter, Section 3.1 for a discussion of the effects of driver improvement actions in general.
Costs: The only immediate costs of the recommended law changes are to publicize the new or altered laws. Additional costs may result as drivers are sentenced to more costly sanctions.
Time to implement: Law changes can be implemented quickly, once legislation is passed and publicized.
- Public acceptance, enforcement, and publicity: Without the use of enforcement and/or publicity, law changes by themselves cannot reduce aggressive driving. As noted previously, highly publicized enforcement has proven effective in increasing compliance with many traffic safety laws and reducing crashes and injuries: see for example sobriety checkpoints (Alcohol- and Drug-Impaired Driving chapter, Section 2.1) and seat belt use mobilizations (Seat Belts and Child Restraints chapter, Section 2.1). Traffic laws in general and aggressive driving laws in particular are essential to, but only a part of, a system that includes broad public acceptance, active enforcement, effective adjudication, and publicity (NHTSA, 2001a).
- Record-keeping: Information on prior convictions of offenders must be up-to-date and available to prosecutors and court officials so that repeat and flagrant violators may be prosecuted in keeping with the strategy to increase sanctions for these offenders. Providing the technology and ability for patrol officers to obtain up-to-date driver history information at the time of traffic stops is another strategy recommended to deal with drivers with suspended or revoked licenses who continue to violate traffic laws (Neuman, Pfefer, Slack, Hardy, & Waller, 2003).