Interview with Leon James:

The Sunday Fort Wayne Journal Gazette  FEB. 14, 1999

Joe Boyle

Officials try to curb `road rage'

 

"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,

Allen said.

 

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

huge."

 

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

were driving.

He was surprised to learn how many had episodes of aggressive behavior

while driving.

 

"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

said.

 

"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.

 

Local reaction

 

Master Trooper Rodger Popplewell, a spokesman for the Indiana State

Police in Fort Wayne, said police are taking measures to combat

aggressive driving.

 

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

drivers.

 

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

driving.

 

In that case, a woman shot another woman in a dispute over a lane

change.

 

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

indicate.

 

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

said.

"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

said.

"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

Safety Administration.

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

administration.

 

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,

Martinez said.

 

To fix the problem, James suggests driver's education from kindergarten

throughout the rest of their driving career.


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