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Taking the Rage Out of Aggressive Driving

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 9, 2001 – We've all had the feeling. Another driver gets behind your car and follows too close. Or some idiot on the freeway shifts lanes abruptly and without signaling.

What those other people are doing is called aggressive driving. And all too often today, aggressive driving escalates to road rage.

One extreme case was in Birmingham, Ala. Gena Foster, a 34- year-old mother of three, got into a vehicular disagreement that left one dead.

Preventing Aggressive Driving Starts With You

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a wealth of information on its Web site, including these highlight tips for avoiding aggressive driving and drivers:

  • Keep your cool in traffic; be patient and courteous to other drivers.
  • Correct personal unsafe driving habits that are likely to endanger, antagonize or provoke other motorists. In one poll, half the drivers surveyed admitted there were times they had driven recklessly, had sped and had committed other unsafe or illegal acts behind the wheel.
  • Reduce your stress by allowing plenty of travel time, scheduling your trip to avoid the worst congestion, and listening to relaxing music or books on tape.
  • If a hostile motorist tries to pick a fight, do not make eye contact, and do not respond.

As she got on a local freeway, she cut in front of Shirley Henson, a 40-year-old secretary with a teen-age son. Witnesses said Henson flashed her headlights.

Foster stepped on the brakes. Over four miles, the two drivers attacked each other, weaving in and out of traffic until both took the same freeway exit ramp. Foster got out of her car and ran toward Henson shouting. Henson took a pistol from her glove compartment, opened her window and killed Foster instantly with a shot to the face.

Traffic congestion is getting worse. More and more people are spending more and more time on the road. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration here says they have no hard statistics for aggressive driving and road rage incidents, but anecdotally they believe it is getting worse.

NHTSA officials are working with the states to develop a definition of aggressive driving. The working definition is two or more unlawful driving acts in congested traffic.

"This includes speeding, tailgating, red-light-running, improper passing and other moving violations," said NHTSA spokeswoman Liz Neblett. "Aggressive drivers are more likely to engage in high-risk and discourteous driving behavior."

DoD is among the entities looking into aggressive driving, because car accidents account for about 65 percent of the fatalities in the armed services, according to Phyllis Moon, an Army safety and occupational health manager based in Atlanta.

"In the military, we train young men and women to be aggressive, to be risk-takers," she said. "We train them 12 to 18 hours per day, and then we expect them to turn off this aggressiveness when they go off duty?"

Moon said activities to curb aggressive driving today are analogous to efforts to curb drunken driving in the 1980s. "In the 1980s driving under the influence was an accepted norm," she said. "People are just beginning to realize that aggressive driving is a problem. People are just now developing programs to combat it."

The programs concentrate on recognizing aggressive driving and what to do to combat it. "The programs also stress how to recognize aggressive driving in yourself and how to control it," Moon said.

The Army's Forces Command is working on a program called Combating Aggressive Driving. The command plans a pilot test at Fort Polk, La.

"There is a lot of interest in the program," Moon said. "We're hoping we can bring it to the forefront and at least start an awareness campaign -- a behavior modification campaign -- and reduce the number of soldiers who die."

If the Fort Polk test is successful, the program will move to the rest of the Army and then possibly to DoD, Moon said.

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Related Sites:
NHTSA home page, www.nhtsa.dot.gov
Aggressive driving vs. road rage, www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/ injury/enforce/aggressdrivers/aggenforce/define.html

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