Games drivers play Aggressive motorists: Police are trying to curb behavior that caused fatal Va. crash.

April 29, 1996

THE CAT AND MOUSE games two drivers were playing on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Northern Virginia proved deadly last week. Two speeding motorists, both men in their 20s, were reportedly screaming at each other through morning-rush-hour traffic when they caused a four-car wreck that rescue workers said was among the worst they had seen.

The accident claimed the lives of two innocent commuters whose cars were hit head-on: One of the dueling northbound drivers cut the other off, then both lost control and veered into southbound traffic. Only one of the drivers involved survived.

Yes, this accident was a horror, but most drivers have witnessed situations of extreme recklessness. In recent years, peeved drivers have gone from flashing hand gestures and honking horns to engaging in shouting matches and even brandishing guns. Last summer, a driver who police say was weaving in and out of traffic and speeding along Security Boulevard plowed into a group at a bus stop in Woodlawn, killing five people, including four children.

Police in Maryland have cracked down on aggressive drivers over the past two years in an attempt to reduce fatalities. They have focused on the Baltimore and Washington beltways, U.S. 50 and Interstate 270. Tailgating, lane jockeying and unsafe lane changes are telltale signs of aggressive driving -- traits all too common in rush hours or on holiday weekends. The crackdown, though, seems to be effective. There has been a 25 percent drop in highway fatalities in 1996, compared with the same period last year, in spite of the increase in the speed limit from 55 to 65 mph last summer.

Police say "Operation Aggressive Driver" has met with general public support. Perhaps that reflects how seriously the public views this threat. In a recent AAA/Gallup survey, Marylanders rated aggressive drivers a greater hazard than drunk drivers. Now we can add to the list of dangerous chemical substances adrenaline and testosterone.

Pub Date: 4/29/96

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