The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Troopers crack down on aggressive driving

The average state highway consists of at least two lanes of traffic going the same direction. Many major cities have up to five lanes available for drivers to choose from while they head to their next destination.

Speed limits in some states, including Texas, have jumped from the well-known 55 mph to 65 or even 70 mph in the last decade. Rumble strips and reflectors line the sides of most highways, reminding drivers to stay focused. And the addition of HOV, or high occupancy lanes, is another step designed to help the motorist get from point A to point B as quickly and safely as possible.

Yet with these improvements to the state highways a new buzz phrase began to emerge in news reports and traffic-related articles. “Road rage” became a household word by the mid ’90s.

Road rage is associated with images of baseball bats, flashing lights, screaming obscenities, car accidents and even gunshots.

“It changes a nice drive to the mall or a routine trip to work into a street fight where vehicles become the weapons,” said former truck driver Rusty McKnight.

McKnight is the operations manager for R&K Distributing out of Nacogdoches, Texas. He trained employees for years for their commercial driver’s license, or CDL, and is responsible for 10 semi-tractors and a dozen company vehicles plus their 30 drivers.

State troopers and highway patrol officers across the country understand the problem but are finding the phrase hard to report, which means it is difficult to track how much road rage plays a part in highway accidents.

“We don’t even have road rage on our accident reports anymore. We now realize while road rage does exist, it is hard to define. So we target the aggressive driver instead,” said Cpl. Lou Suthard of the Pennsylvania State Police.

Northeastern states such as the New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania post signs on the majority of their highways reminding drivers to get over or get ticketed. The signs simply state, “Left lane for passing only.”

Sgt. Andy Davis of the Dallas Police traffic division agrees.

“Road rage can’t cause an accident, not by definition. Failure to yield or cutting another car off, tailgating these cause accidents, and while they are indicators of road rage they are the causes of accidents,” said Sgt. Davis.

A spokeswoman for Texas Department of Safety in Austin, Tela Mange, said there are more than 70 factors that can contribute to a driver being labeled with road rage, but she believes the accidents can be reported and tracked properly.

In fact, she claims the first year of accurate reporting was 2001. In that year there were 219 accidents caused by road rage in the state of Texas, and of those, 21 deaths resulted.

Mange said there are two main factors leading to the drivers getting ticketed: drivers who were impeding traffic, or staying in the left lane, and drivers talking on their cell phone and simply not paying attention to other motorists.

“I know this because I receive the complaint calls when they have to pay the ticket,” said Mange.

Sgt. Davis trains Dallas police officers how to fill out tickets and accident reports. He understands the various factors Mange mentioned and believes there are many more. However, he does not check the road rage box on the report forms or tickets.

“I tell the officers not to use it because any decent defense lawyer just tells his client to deny road rage and just say that his client didn’t look before changing lanes or he wasn’t paying attention, and that is why he crashed,” said Sgt. Davis.

He said it’s very rare for an officer to witness the entire incident, so it would be very rare to prove road rage as a factor.

“We are trained to stop the aggressive driver before he gets to road rage.That’s our job.”

Sgt. Davis said road rage is a felony in the state of Texas, which makes it difficult to prove. It also intensifies the need for a good defense lawyer. He listed a number of factors he hears play a role in a driver’s decision on the rode. They ranged from headaches, lack of sleep and stress from lack of time, to one of the most common incidents, failure to yield the left lane.

Cpl. Suthard said the Pennsylvania State Police Department has increased its enforcement of the federal law regarding failure to yield. It has tried over six different programs to try to pinpoint road rage drivers over the past decade but has opted to target the aggressive driver.

One of its most successful programs is called Centipede. Three officers work as a unit. The first car is visible and slows the speeders down on the highway. Then a mile or so down the highway another officer waits for the aggressive driver to speed back up, thinking the coast is clear, while the third car is available to assist with the pursuit. This also has another important effect according to Cpl. Suthard.

“We now can communicate down the road to each other and catch drivers behaving aggressively or drivers who impede traffic flow by staying in the left lane,” he said.

All three law agents agree that failure to get over and yield to other vehicles creates traffic delays on highways, which leads to higher pollution and creates aggressive drivers which in return leads to road rage actions and more accidents.

“People will stay in the left lane because they either think it is safer, or they are acting like law enforcement and trying to control speed limits. Both are wrong. The left lane has the most fatal accidents, with head on collisions,” said Mange.

She suggested that people need to let police officers do their job, and speeders may not get caught today, but eventually there will be a cop when you need one.

“We get all sorts of complaints about our trucks and the driving habits, and a lot has to do with having Budweiser on the side of our vehicles. I constantly remind my employees to be extra courteous while on the road,” said McKnight.

McKnight said he doesn’t care how people want to define road rage — he has his own reason why there are more aggressive accidents.

He blames technology for the poor driving habits and as a major factor in road rage. Faster technology has created a faster mentality with everything, and it can be dangerous.

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