Interview with Leon James:
"Road rage" or aggressive driving is responsible for one out of every
three accidents every year, national highway officials said.
And it's a problem national and Indiana highway officials are trying to
fix with education and additional enforcement of traffic laws.
According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration, about 42,000 people died in traffic accidents in 1996
and 3 million people were injured.
Those crashes cost about $150.5 billion in 1996, including lost wages,
insurance, costs for emergency personnel and physical damage. Safety
administration officials also believe about one-third of the accidents
were caused by road rage or aggressive driving.
In Indiana, 940 people died in 220,009 car crashes in 1997, the last
year with complete statistics, said Glenda Allen, administrative analyst
for the Indiana State Police.
About 50,000 of Indiana's 1997 accidents involved excessive speed or a
failure to yield right of way, two indicators of aggressive driving,
It's not just fatal accidents that run up the price of accidents. Minor
fender-bender accidents, with no injuries, can incur costs of $20,000,
said Henry Fiur, vice president of the American Institute for Public
Safety, a Florida-based firm that has developed a road rage course.
"There's a problem," Fiur said. "It's defined. It's quantifiable. It's
Picking up bad habits
In the mid-1980s University of Hawaii Psychology Professor Leon James
had his traffic psychology class record their spoken thoughts while they
He was surprised to learn how many had episodes of aggressive behavior
"We all, without exception, have moments of aggressiveness," he said.
James found that aggressive driving is a learned behavior, starting when
children ride in cars with their parents. He said people learn that
aggressive behavior, not tolerated outside a vehicle, is sometimes
accepted when in an automobile.
Media images of driving do nothing to change the aggressive behavior, he
"For years and years we are bombarded by TV shows with drivers behaving
badly, scenes that reinforce what our parents teach," James said.
James breaks aggressive driving into three categories: the Impatient
Zone, the Hostile Zone and the War Zone.
The Impatient Zone includes relatively common behaviors, like making
rolling stops, u-turns, speeding up to get through a yellow light,
habitually swearing in the car and being unable to relax when a police
car is around.
Behavior escalates in the Hostile Zone, with traits like fantasizing
about beating up another driver, honking or yelling at someone,
tailgating other drivers to get them to speed up or get out of the way
and regularly driving more than 20 mph over the speed limit.
In the War Zone, behavior turns physically violent, encompassing
behaviors from throwing something at another car to trying to run
someone off the road to actually killing someone in a driving dispute.
Master Trooper Rodger Popplewell, a spokesman for the Indiana State
Police in Fort Wayne, said police are taking measures to combat
When someone is pulled over for an aggressive driving offense, such as
passing on the right, not using their turn signals or running a red
light, they are given a pamphlet that outlines the habits of aggressive
The fliers help aggressive drivers identify traits in themselves, like a
lack of awareness of the consequences of bad driving and driving in a
frustrated state of mind.
Also listed on the fliers is a toll-free number for each of the state
police posts, to empower the driver to report instances of aggressive
driving they see.
This week, Popplewell said, he and troopers from another post are
meeting to develop more programs to combat aggressive driving.
But locally, officials haven't seen many extreme instances of road rage.
Dale Davis, a spokesman for the Fort Wayne Police Department, said he
can think of only one recent case that involved a violent outburst while
In that case, a woman shot another woman in a dispute over a lane
Popplewell said there have been few violent incidents in the greater
Fort Wayne area. The violent outbursts usually result from someone
having a "fit of anger" after an accident, he said.
But the problem is more permeating than the few violent episodes would
Many of the problems seem to stem from a combination of a basic lack of
civility among motorists and an increase of traffic on the roads, he
"It seems like society is changing," Popplewell said. "People are more
goal-oriented. People get caught up in themselves and deadlines."
And at the same time, more cars are on the road than ever before, he
"There's more cars out there and roadways get more congested,"
Popplewell said. "When that happens you have people get short with each
other. People aren't as courteous as they should be."
Fixing the problem
Fixing the problem comes down to education, enforcement and engineering,
said Dr. Ricardo Martinez, administrator of the National Highway Traffic
The administration is trying to get a national hotline for cell phone
users to report aggressive drivers, he said, and they hope to include
tips on how to avoid aggressive drivers in people's cell phone bills.
The department also wants to distribute more grant money to states to
help fund aggressive driver programs, said Tim Hurd, a spokesman for the
Martinez supports getting more traffic police on the roads to let
drivers know traffic laws will be enforced and violations will not be
tolerated, he said.
Engineering roads to better manage traffic can reduce stressful
conditions, and is another facet the administration is considering,
To fix the problem, James suggests driver's education from kindergarten
throughout the rest of their driving career.
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