Crackdown planned on aggressive driving

Md., Va., D.C. set effort during 4 weeks this summer

May 18, 2000|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

In one of several efforts to counter an increase in aggressive driving, police officers from Maryland, Virginia and Washington will carry out simultaneous crackdowns on aggressive drivers for four weeks during the summer.

Police say such efforts have limited effects.

From 1997 to last year, citations for tailgating and ignoring traffic signs have tripled in the region, police said. The trend is likely to continue, with traffic on Maryland roads expected to grow by 60 percent over the next 20 years.

Studies suggest that aggressive driving is responsible for as many as one-third of all traffic accidents nationally and two-thirds of traffic fatalities.

"If we're worried about congestion breeding aggressive drivers, we've got our work cut out for us," said Tom Hicks, director of traffic and safety for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Hicks was among professionals from a broad range of fields who gathered this week to talk about longer-term solutions.

The symposium at the University of Maryland, College Park helped begin a public education campaign that is concentrated for now on the District of Columbia and its suburbs.

Their definition of aggressive driving extends beyond road rage to include any driver who acts with a willful disregard for safety. That includes speeding through yellow lights, running red lights or stop signs, and tailgating.

The public education campaign is similar to an effort to encourage seat belt use, which has helped to give Maryland one of the highest buckle-up rates in the nation.

Another way to stem aggressive driving could be a sustained message from employers, schools and businesses -- all the places people are frantically rushing to and from each day.

Employers lose more than $50 billion a year from employees involved in traffic accidents, spending about $24,000 for each on-the-job crash, and $18,000 for off-the-job accidents.

Kathryn Lusby Treber, executive director of Network of Employers for Traffic Safety, suggested policies that keep employees off the road at peak driving times, such as flex times, telecommuting options and incentives for public transit users.

Maryland took a step in that direction last week, when Gov. Parris N. Glendening signed a law giving incentives for companies to raise salaries of workers who give up their parking spots. It also gives tax credits to nonprofit organizations that pay for employee transit benefits.

Flexibility by day care providers, for instance, could also help people relax.

"Today, we're under the gun, we're behind the wheel, and we're racing against the clock," said Sheryl Hobbs Newman, director of the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.

Mental health programs are another option. Under a program that will begin next month in Arlington, Va., judges and police officers are trained to distinguish aggressive drivers from careless ones. Aggressive drivers will be referred to a counseling program to help them defuse their anger.

Dr. Steven Stosny, who heads the program, said it has the best chance of serving as a long-term remedy.

"Taking a driver's license away does not keep them off the road -- in fact, it makes them more rebellious," he said. "Aggressive people don't value themselves or think about the future -- that's not going to do it."

Law enforcement agencies are also taking new steps.

Maryland State Police Superintendent David B. Mitchell is expected to announce a plan todayto double the number of troopers along Interstate 95 between Baltimore and Washington, and to use nontraditional vehicles, such as vans, cherry-pickers and highway mowers to watch for traffic violations.

A high-tech pilot program that began in 1997 to identify aggressive drivers will soon be expanded throughout Maryland. Project Advance uses a Ford Bronco equipped with laser, a computer and video camera to document aggressive drivers.

Drivers receive letters notifying them that their behavior has been observed. Last year, more than 1,800 letters went out from the work of one vehicle on the Capital Beltway.

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