Targeting aggressive drivers; Safety concern: Motorists have reason to be afraid of becoming a victim of road rage.


ARE YOU driving more but enjoying it less? Could be you're afraid of what you'll encounter on the road. A recent survey released by U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater shows most motorists believe aggressive driving has increased.

Ninety-eight percent of the 6,000 people who responded to the survey believe additional measures are needed to combat unsafe driving. They're right. Episodes of motor vehicle mayhem occur daily as frustrated drivers vent their anger on congested roads.

Maryland has been fighting aggressive driving since 1995. A year ago it supplemented its program with a "video imaging" pilot project that enables state police officers parked on the Capital Beltway to use cameras to document speeding, tailgating or improper lane changes. Taking pictures of aggressive drivers does not add to traffic congestion the way a police car with flashing lights can.

Violators caught on video are only sent warning letters. But Maryland police have discussed possible legislation, similar to the red-light camera laws in Howard and Montgomery counties, that would allow citations and fines. That's the right course. Warning letters get people's attention, but sometimes that's not enough.

Only a few states have programs specifically aimed at aggressive drivers. California has had a "Smooth Operator" program since 1989; Pennsylvania and Arizona began programs in 1995.

One measure of success is a drop in traffic fatalities. The 609 fatalities in Maryland in 1997 and 614 in 1996 were the lowest totals since 1964. The tally for last year, not yet released, is expected to be even lower. But people won't feel safer until they can venture out at rush hour without worrying about motorists who drive as if they rule the roads.

Pub Date: 1/29/99

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