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Aggressive danger

April 22, 2009
“It's easy to think ‘that other guy is the problem’ … the one who runs someone off the road, tailgates, or yells obscenities. In reality, examples of driving aggressively – any of which can lead to crashes, injuries and deaths – are all too common.” ...

It's easy to think ‘that other guy is the problem’ … the one who runs someone off the road, tailgates, or yells obscenities. In reality, examples of driving aggressively – any of which can lead to crashes, injuries and deaths – are all too common.” –Peter Kissinger, president and CEO, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

That “aggressive driving” is a huge problem and daily danger on the roads these days is going to come as absolutely no surprise to truck drivers. Lord knows, I’ve talked to PLENTY of truckers about the at-times unbelievable behavior of four-wheelers in and around their rigs, so it’s well-discussed situation.

Now, however, there’s yet more statistical proof as to how bad a problem aggressive driving really is out there on the roadways. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety most recent analysis of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data, speeding is the most common contributing factor and is involved in nearly one in three deadly crashes – and that as many as 56% of deadly vehicle crashes involve one or more unsafe driving behaviors typically associated with aggressive driving.

Examples of “aggressive driving” include (but are not limited to) running stop signs or red lights, preventing other drivers from passing, speeding, illegal driving on the shoulder, and failing to yield, noted Peter Kissinger, the AAA Foundation’s president and CEO.

Aggressive driving is also apparently one of America's main traffic safety worries, as a “Traffic Safety Culture Index” telephone survey conducted by the AA Foundation found nearly eight out of every 10 people surveyed rated aggressive drivers as a serious or extremely serious traffic safety problem.

Yet, in the same survey, many individuals reported driving in ways that could be deemed aggressive. For example, nearly half of drivers reported exceeding the speed limit by 15 mph on major highways in the past 30 days, and 15% even admitted exceeding the speed limit by 15 mph on neighborhood streets. “This reflects the ‘Do as I Say, Not as I Do’ attitude society has toward traffic safety,” Kissinger stressed.

That’s why he thinks this study should be a “wake up call” to ALL motorists – to help everyone reevaluate their own driving behavior, and ultimately to improve this country's traffic safety culture.

“If you find yourself driving slowly in the passing lane, tailgating, or doing other things to teach the other driver a lesson, you are also part of the problem,” said Kissinger. “An aggressive driving act by one driver can trigger a disproportionate and potentially violent reaction from another driver.”

Isn’t THAT the truth! More importantly, though, is the enormous COST vehicle crashes place on our society as a whole – and its behavior like aggressive driving that’s responsible for that monetary burden.

In another AAA report I wrote about last year – entitled “Crashes vs. Congestion: What‘s the Cost to Society?” – the group hired Cambridge Systematics to analyze research conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute and found vehicle crashes cost a staggering $164.2 billion per YEAR in the U.S. – nearly two and a half times greater than the $67.6 billion annual price tag resulting from traffic congestion.

According to that AAA study, the $164.2 billion cost for crashes equates to an annual per person cost of $1,051, compared to $430 per person annually for congestion. These safety costs include medical, emergency and police services, property damage, lost productivity, and quality of life, among other things.

“Nearly 43,000 people die on the nation’s roadways each year,” said Robert Darbelnet, AAA’s president and CEO, at the time. “Yet, the annual tally of motor vehicle-related fatalities barely registers as a blip in most people‘s minds. It‘s time for motor vehicle crashes to be viewed as the public health threat they are. If there were two jumbo jets crashing every week, the government would ground all planes until we fixed the problem. Yet we’ve come to accept this sort of death toll with car crashes.”

Darbelnet‘s comments I think strike a particularly important note here – heck, I‘ve harped on the same theme myself. It just seems the general public in this country is totally blasé about the consequences of vehicle crashes, much less the act of driving itself as evidenced by the high rates of aggressive driving out there.

“It states what we in the highway safety field have known all along – traffic crashes are not only a leading cause of death and life-changing injuries, they‘re also a serious drain on the economy nationwide,” said Cathy Gillen, managing director of the Roadway Safety Foundation.

The question we need to answer, however, is this: when are drivers as individuals ready to make the attitudinal changes necessary to eliminate the behaviors that lead to vehicle crashes? You make vehicles and roadways as safe as you want, but without a serious attitude adjustment about behavior behind the wheel, none of that will move the traffic safety needle much.

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr 1 | Senior Editor

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