DES PLAINES, Ill. - Road rage, like dot.com, e-commerce and infomercial, has become an accepted term in our everyday conversation. Almost all of us have been the victim of an aggressive driver and most of us have probably engaged in this hazardous behavior at least once.
While hard to define, most people know road rage when they see it. Weaving in and out of traffic, unsafe lane changes, running red lights, tailgating, blowing the horn and making hostile hand gestures are all examples of someone who is in the "Road Rage Zone."
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), road rage is a factor in two-thirds of the nation's highway fatalities. In addition, one out of three accidents reported to the police involves some form of aggressive driving. These tragic incidents of temporary insanity cost the nation more than $100 billion a year.
Experts cite everything from summer heat to the stepped up pace of urban life to an overall increase in violence and a general breakdown in manners as possible road rage triggers. And while all of these factors may indeed contribute to drivers engaging in violent behavior, there is a consensus that traffic congestion is the primary source of road rage.
In a 1997 public opinion survey conducted by Roper Starch Worldwide for the Insurance Research Council, 65 percent of respondents said traffic congestion played a major role in contributing to aggressive driving. Forty-three percent cited road construction as a major contributor, 41 percent indicated that "longer commute times" were a primary cause and 37 percent said poor road design was a key factor in triggering road rage behavior.
Insurers are keenly aware that aggressive driving is a major contributor to both the number of auto accidents and the severity of those accidents. As major proponents of highway safety, we are concerned that poor road design and failure to improve or expand highways fuels aggressive driving. This, in turn, leads to more accidents resulting in injuries and death.
We can combat aggressive driving and reduce the number of accidents on our highways. Since 1992, more than 40,000 lives have been saved because of a combination of public awareness and public policy solutions on issues such as seat belts, air bags, child safety seats, motorcycle helmets and drunken driving.
Public education and sound transportation policy must work in tandem to solve the road rage problem.
Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., have "Smooth Operator" and "Highways or Dieways" programs that fight aggressive driving.
The Washington beltway is now patrolled using both conventional and advanced technology to detect traffic violations and reduce aggressive driving. The Baltimore area is leading the way with red-light cameras, installed at busy intersections, that serve as a deterrent to aggressive driving.
A sound transportation policy by federal, state and local government that acknowledges the need to modernize our streets and highways, build new roadways where appropriate and encourage the responsible use of mass transit are absolutely necessary.
Policies that refuse to recognize the integral role of the automobile in the daily lives of the American public are not only shortsighted, but dangerous.
Jack Ramirez is the president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Independent Insurers (NAII), the nation's largest full service property-casualty trade association representing more than 675 insurance comM-W panies.