Many people don't think they drive aggressively

TRAFFIC TALK

July 31, 2005|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

RALPH PRATT has come under fire in this column the past several weeks for his strategy of dealing with tailgaters. (He taps his brakes, and if that doesn't work, he'll slow down significantly, until they stop tailgating or pass him.) He has finally responded to these criticisms.

"I did come up with my own rule regarding tailgating. And it works," he insisted. "Most people who see me flash my brake lights give me room. Few people will forget tailgating me."

But then he also said, "I don't consider my driving aggressive. ... I consider it passive-aggressive."

Not that I see much difference, or why the latter is better than the former, but his comments made me wonder whether anyone would describe his or her behavior behind the wheel as "aggressive."

One day last week, I asked everyone I encountered -- strangers at the grocery store and friends alike -- whether they were aggressive drivers. Only one very honest person answered yes. But this is what I found especially interesting: All but one said they knew at least one other person who drove aggressively. It seems there are a number of deluded drivers out there sharing the roads with us.

So let's find out: Are you an aggressive driver? Answer these questions:

Do you speed regularly?

Do you ever tailgate?

Do you ever change lanes abruptly to get around a slower driver?

Do you feel yourself getting angry when other drivers do stupid things?

Do you ever want to "get back" at other drivers, or actually try to do so by cutting them off or swerving your vehicle toward them?

Do you ever gesture or yell at other drivers?

Do you ever mutter obscenities (to yourself and other passengers) about other drivers?

Are you always racing the clock to get to where you're going?

One driving "quiz" I've seen in the past -- this one is paraphrased from memory -- said if you answer yes to any one of these, you are, in fact, an aggressive driver. I think that's going too far, unless everyone -- even my husband (the most passive, frustratingly law-abiding driver I've ever encountered) -- is an aggressive driver. Instead, I would guess that answering yes to two or more questions would be an indication you drive with "aggressive tendencies."

Maryland law defines aggressive driving as a combination of two or more offenses such as speeding, reckless driving, unsafe lane changes and tailgating. It is worth noting that if convicted, an aggressive driver faces a heavy penalty that can include jail time, a $1,000 fine and five points -- just three short of the eight that leads to a suspended driver's license --according to Maryland State Police.

I challenge you to see how people think of themselves behind the wheel. Ask your friends, family, strangers at the store and co-workers, in the interests of unscientific research, whether they are aggressive drivers. Then ask them whether they know anyone who is. Keep a tally, and let me know what you discover.

Using this quiz, I am an aggressive driver. I've known that for years. I try not to drive aggressively, however, in part because I follow the tips that will appear in this space next week.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at TrafficTalk@comcast.net, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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