Road Rage a Top Danger?

Letter to the Editor
Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company
May 11, 1998

The Post's story about new public perceptions of aggressive driving is based on faulty reasoning, the implications of which I find troublesome ["Drivers Call Aggression Top Danger on Beltway," front page, April 27].

The article discusses a new survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicating that a majority of drivers perceive aggressive driving to be a primary cause of auto crashes on the Beltway. According to the article, a spokesman from the agency lauded the change in public perception as "a great leap forward." The Post characterizes the poll as showing a greater "awareness of aggressive driving."

These conclusions and the agency's two-year-old "campaign against aggressive driving" are puzzling, given the article's report that "[a]nother Beltway study underway by the safety administration . . . will test whether aggressive driving actually causes most Beltway accidents." In other words, the federal government launched its advertising campaign without objective evidence to indicate that aggressive driving is, in fact, a significant or increasing cause of accidents. Notably, the pollsters did not ask drivers how often, or whether, they have witnessed crashes caused by aggressive driving.

Of what value is "greater awareness of aggressive driving" when the supposed aggressiveness is not even shown to be a significant cause of trouble relative to other problems?

Proponents of this campaign to focus on aggressive driving are using the poll to marshal support for their agenda. The results of the survey, therefore, may signify only that the awareness campaign, combined with the media's extraordinary coverage of so-called road rage, successfully has increased people's anxieties.

There are countless potential causes of danger on the highways. If we are to spend our precious resources on highway safety matters, we ought to be careful to use them to address reasonably well-documented causes -- whether overcrowding, unrestrained residential development, lack of adequate infrastructure and roads, insufficient law enforcement or other causes -- rather than trying to use the clumsy apparatus of big government to cure a perceived psycho-social problem that seems, at least in part, manufactured by individuals whose political ambitions are unduly aggressive.



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