Laws needed to curb aggressive driving, road rage

Posted March 10, 2009, at 7:48 p.m.

There is a problem with dangerous and aggressive driving that occurs on our roads daily, which can lead to road rage. Research has shown that there has been an increase in these incidents over the past few years and it is no longer a rare occurrence, but becoming a norm on our highways. This is why it is imperative to put an end to this behavior by passing legislation that deals directly with the issue.

The Status of Transportation Safety in Maine in 2005 shows that aggressive driving has increased in total number of crashes and is at 35 percent, higher than any other year. This is the result of unsafe speed, following others too closely, unsafe lane changes and improper passing.

Other forms of aggressive driving may be manifested by rude or obscene hand gestures, yelling threats, cutting other vehicles off, using the vehicle’s horns and lights and may escalate to causing a collision intentionally, exiting the car to attempt a confrontation or strike the other vehicle with an object, threatening to use or using a weapon or throwing projectiles from a moving vehicle with the intent to damage another vehicle.

Though the true incidence of road rage is difficult to gauge, national research has indicated aggressive driving to result in approximately 6 million crashes each year, with many leading to serious injuries or death. Other studies show these numbers could be much greater. Additional statistics indicate that road rage incidents are up 51 percent since the first half of the decade, 64 percent of people are driving less courteously and more dangerously than they were five years ago and 80 percent of drivers are angry most of the time while driving.

It is common to relate aggressive driving and road rage to larger, more diverse populated areas than the state of Maine, but some reports indicate Portland rated high with road rage, making it a local issue.

We commonly think that there are several laws in place to combat various driving infractions, but road rage is usually a combination of multiple traffic violations and can lead to serious crimes, such as manslaughter and murder. It is dangerous for the person experiencing the road rage, the person who is the recipient and for all others on the road at the same time, as they may become victims as well. As a result, several states are developing legislation to put an end to this intolerable behavior on our highways.

There is no profile of the typical road rage offender. Both men and women, old and young, educated and uneducated, from all religious, cultural and economic backgrounds may experience extreme anger behind the wheel that can lead to unsafe driving that may endanger the lives of others. Children who are present and witness these unsafe driving behaviors are likely to develop these same behaviors as they grow up and become aggressive drivers themselves. This pattern must be stopped.

There are similarities between road rage today and impaired driving from several years ago, and now that it is no longer socially acceptable to operate a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the same must be said about aggressive driving. We must indicate that it no longer will be tolerated. The states that have implemented bills to combat road rage and aggressive driving have seen improvement.

The devastating effects that road rage can lead to must be stopped. Each crash, injury or fatality as the result of road rage is preventable. The state of Maine must do whatever is possible to deter any further incidents of road rage to ensure the safety of all, both residents and visitors, on the highway. Passing needed legislation may save a life.

Jennifer Anderson of St. Stephen, New Brunswick, is a graduate student in social work at the University of Maine.

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