Heat of the Moment

Heat of the Moment

Law enforcement seeking ways to curb road rage

Apparently, driving in today’s world is much more stressful than most people realize, and for many the stress is getting to them.

According to a July 2016 AAA study, two out of three drivers believe aggressive driving and road rage is a greater problem today than it was just three years ago. The same study shows that nine out of 10 people believe aggressive drivers are a serious threat to their personal safety.

In fact, an estimated 8 million drivers admitted to more extreme behavior while driving behind the wheel.

“Inconsiderate driving, bad traffic and the daily stresses of life can transform minor frustrations into dangerous road rage,” said Jurek Grabowski, director of research for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in a news release. “Far too many drivers are losing themselves in the heat of the moment and lashing out in ways that could turn deadly.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 1,500 people have been killed in crashes involving road rage and aggressive driving since 2008, and the number of those killed each year is on the rise.

Data from NHTSA shows that the number of fatal accidents where road rage was a contributing factor has increased tenfold since 2004. The same year, police officers across the United States cited road rage as a contributing factor in 26 fatal crashes. In 2013, officers indicated 247 fatal accidents met that criteria nationwide.

These figures are a great concern for law enforcement officials across the nation.

Graphic courtesy of AAA

Graphic courtesy of AAA

According to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, road rage is defined as, “An assault with a motor vehicle or dangerous weapon by the operator, or passengers of another motor vehicle, or an assault precipitated by an incident that occurred on a roadway.”

Jeff Knox, Traffic Operations instructor for the Department of Criminal Justice Training, said over the past several years, road rage has gotten out of control.

“The numbers are astounding,” Knox said. “Since 2008, 1,500 people have been killed (in cases where road rage is listed as a contributing factor). It’s spreading like wildfire, and what officers can do is be more aggressive in their patrols to combat aggressive driving.”

The key is enforcement of current laws, which will result in officers writing more tickets - which Knox said would act as a deterrent to aggressive driving and road rage.

“Little things like running stop signs, being on your phone, running people off the road, following too close – that’s a major issue we need to crack down on as law enforcement – a lot of these are things covered in [Kentucky Revised Statutes],” Knox said. “All of these things can lead up to road rage, and we can do something about it, if we start citing these people.”

When someone cuts you off, and you look over and (the other driver) is on their phone texting, and they didn’t even realize you were there … yes, there is a connection.
— Jeff Knox, DOCJT Traffic Operations instructor

Knox said a contributing factor in road rage is the increase of distracted-driving instances. He said there is a direct correlation between road rage and drivers doing other things besides keeping their focus on driving.

“When someone cuts you off, and you look over and (the other driver) is on their phone texting, and they didn’t even realize that you were there … yes, there is a connection,” he said.

Control Issues

The reasons for road rage incidents are many, but one theme reoccurs frequently. According to psychologytoday.com, many of the instances are simply control issues.

Jerome Tomlian, LCSW, LCADC, a counselor for Alternatives Counseling in Nicholasville, Ky., agrees.

“One of the biggest things I’ve noticed is how we’re in a vehicle and something goes bad in traffic or somebody gets cut off; it’s how we personalize it,” Tomlian said. “We take it very personal as if the other person is attacking us.”

Tomlian said more often than not, the person who triggered the road rage is completely unaware they did anything to ignite the situation.

“Not only is it where they oftentimes will do something that we deem as a personal attack, but then they will act like they didn’t even know,” he added. “That just makes people madder.”

Citing research done from DMV.org, Knox said typically, young, white males are more prone to losing their cool on the road.

“The young, white males are feeling invincible and they’re going to drive anyway they want too,” Knox said. “They want to get out and check their muscle car out, and they get out and drive in an aggressive manner and it irritates someone else,” Knox said. “They’re people with psychological issues, but anybody is susceptible to being involved in road rage.”

Unfortunately, Knox said, many of the victims in road-rage tragedies are innocent. He cited a December 2016 incident that occurred in Little Rock, Ark.

“A grandmother got in a road-rage incident, her grandson was in the car with her and he ended up getting killed,” Knox said. “It was all over the news; she had the grandson in the back (seat) and she gets into a road-rage incident, and he (suspect) simply pulls alongside and starts shooting and he hits the grandson and kills him.”

But, of course, not all road-rage incidents make headlines or even are reported, Knox said.

“Road rage incidents can be very simple like just the flipping of the bird,” he added. “Just in Madison County, there’s no telling how many road-rage incidents per day that go on that are not reported.”

Besides greater enforcement, Knox said educating the public by various means such as public service announcements would help.

In 2015, the state of Georgia produced a 40-second PSA (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CceSRMmhv3w) featuring former four-time boxing heavyweight champion and Peach State native Evander Holyfield showing why road rage is a bad idea.

In that video, Holyfield was challenged by a hot-tempered motorist who felt he had been cut off as the boxing legend pulled out of his driveway. During the encounter, the driver yelled obscenities and slammed his hand onto the hood of Holyfield’s SUV, demanding that he exit the vehicle. When Holyfield obliged, the motorist backed away, mumbling, “I didn’t know it was you,” as the former champion glared at him.

Knox said a similar production in Kentucky would do wonders to educate the public.

“PSAs are so important, and I think the [DOCJT] can put something together also,” he said. “I really like the idea of having PSAs. We can show this is getting out of control with the number of fatalities - 1,500 people killed since 2008 - and give some ways we can defuse the situation.”

There are many ways to defuse the situation, Knox said, citing tips from DMV.org. Those include:

  • Listen to soothing music
  • Adopt the mentality that you are sharing the road, and nobody’s perfect
  • Keep a good amount of space between yourself and other drivers
  • Refrain from making prolonged eye contact or using obscene gestures toward other drivers

The most effective means of dealing with road rage, from a law enforcement perspective, is enforcement, Knox said.

“Law enforcement has to understand that this is spreading like wildfire,” he said. “We have to be more aggressive and put an end to it.”

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