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Angry Drivers Need A Car Break

The first study to compare regional death rates from aggressive driving and search for possible related factors finds that using an alternative form of transportation may cut down on fatal crashes.

A new report by the Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP) of Washington, D.C. says that death rates in metropolitan areas aren't linked to traffic congestion. Instead it finds that places where mass transit is available have fewer incidents of fatal crashes due to aggressive driving.

The study narrowed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) definition of "road rage" to specific types of aggressive driving.

The NHTSA uses the following factors to identify crashes related to such aggressive driving: speeding, tailgating, failing to yield, weaving, passing on the right, making improper lane changes, and disregarding stop signals. STPP's report excluded driving crashes in which drugs or alcohol were a factor, and "road rage" incidents where drivers murder each other with weapons. The report also looked at only speeding above 80 mph.

While previous reports have yielded speculation that motorists just need to calm down, the STPP report discovered that places with the lowest death rates offer alternative forms transportation, including mass transit and walking access to work.

"What the study finds is that really another solution to that frustration is take some time from behind the wheel," says STPP spokesperson Laura Olson.

The top ten large metro areas with the highest aggressive driving death rates were: Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif., Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla., Phoenix, Miami, Las Vegas, Ft. Lauderdale, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Kansas City, and San Antonio. In the Riverside-San Bernardino area alone, there were more than 13 deaths per 100,000 residents in 1996.

What most of these regions have in common is development that discourages walking, biking and mass transit systems. They are generally consist of sprawling suburban areas that have "boomed and grown in the age of the car," Olsen says. "When you think of an area like southern California or Phoenix, you really don't have much of a choice but to drive," she adds.

Surprising to many, the ten metro areas with the lowest aggressive driving were among the largest. They include Boston, New York, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Norfolk-Virginia Beach, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, New Orleans and Seattle. In Boston, there were only two deaths linked to aggressive driving for 100,000 people.

The report found similar results by state. States with lower mass transportation usage and more miles of highway per person had the highest aggressive driving death rates. South Carolina, Wyoming, Alabama, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, North Carolina, Arkansas, Idaho and Florida were the ten states with the highest death rates associated with aggressive driving.

While high road congestion levels have been blamed for increased aggression behind th wheel, the report found that metro areas with high traffic levels actually had a slightly lower aggressive driving death rate. The STPP suggests that lower travel speeds in congested areas may help limit the fatalities .

To help prevent such accidents, the STPP suggests that cities and states:

  • Increase mass transit systems and allow for more bike paths and sidewalks.
  • Design roads to reduce speed.
  • Enforce driving laws so that motorists are more aware of the consequences of reckless behavior on the road.
  • Develop local campaigns that encourage people to take a break from driving.

To help reduce the problems associated with congested roads, Vice President Al Gore launched the "Commuter Choice" program on Monday. The program allows employers to offer workers the choice of "cashing in" their free parking space for transit passes, vanpools or cash.

"It will help us to build more livable communities, where we can spend less time in traffic and more time with our children, our spouses, our friends," Gore said. "A parent should not have to be saying good morning and good night to their child from a cell phone because they're stuck in traffic."

The administration also wants to establish a national "N11" line, a second hotline like 911 that would not be used for life-threatening situations but to provide drivers with immediate transportation and traveler information, such as road conditions and bus schedules.