Northwest NEWS

December 28, 1998


Guest Editorial

One-third of Washington drivers say they've been road rage victims

by Grace Eubanks

   Nearly one-third of Washington's drivers have been victims of road rage and two-thirds of the state's driving population have witnessed an act of road rage in recent times. These are just two pieces of the first profile of belligerent behavior on Washington's highways, a surprising portrait based on a statewide survey completed last month.

   Four state government agencies--the Washington State Patrol (WSP), Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC), and the Department of Licensing (DOL)--decided to join together last spring to investigate the highway anger issue and seek solutions. They established the Road Rage Task Force (RRTF).

   The RRTF research also produced a portrait of Washington's belligerent driver--with some surprises. Those who engage in aggressive driving tend to be:

   In spite of the surge late last year of state media coverage of violence on state roadways--incidents such as the fatal shooting at an I-5 Tacoma off-ramp, a Southwest Washington driver who'd gotten out of his car to negotiate being rammed by a hot-tempered driver and having his legs crushed, and use of everything from fists to tire irons as one driver attacked another in all areas of the state--the task force realized there was no overall picture of road rage here in our West Coast state.

   An eye-opening and oft-quoted study by the American Automobile Association's (AAA) Traffic Safety Institute released in January 1997 was a catalyst for putting the road rage problem before the public's attention. The AAA study documented that the eastern part of the US indeed has a road rage problem.

   Washington's task force, however, decided the first thing needed here was a valid statewide picture of how people are acting--and reacting--when they get behind the wheel and join the community on state highways.

   A solid majority of them (68%) told researchers they feel that the climate on Washington highways has become worse in the past few years--with 32 percent saying much worse.

   The general message of motorists in all areas of the state was not only that driver courtesy had disintegrated--but that outright aggressive behavior is more frequent. In just the month preceding the October-November poll, acts of road rage were witnessed by 59 percent of the state's drivers.

   When asked how often they witness aggressive driving in a 30-day period, respondents in Eastern, Central, and Southwest Washington and the Puget Sound area reported seeing an average of nearly 10 incidents a month. In the greater Seattle area, it was 14.1 incidents monthly, and in Southwest Washington, 11.7 incidents.

   Following focus groups with drivers in Yakima, Spokane, Vancouver, and Bellevue to take initial soundings of the situation, the RRTF moved on to the statewide survey by GMA Research Corporation of Bellevue that also revealed the cases of road perpetrators.

   Three in 10 Washington drivers (31%) said they have been victims of road rage. The highest incidence is in Central Washington, particularly the Yakima area, with 36% reporting they'd been victims.

   In the victim group, 45 percent said they had been on the receiving end of driver aggression in just the past 30 days--and 81 percent of this group had been victims within the past year.

   One in four of the respondents statewide admitted to engaging in "aggressive driving" in the past 12 months. (In Central Washington, 33%; Eastern Washington and Seattle area, 23%; and SW Washington, 18%.) Only 8 percent admitted to being perpetrators when the term "road rage" was used.

   No matter how many drivers admit to being perpetrators, a pilot WSP team whose assignment is to target aggressive drivers on Pierce and King County highways can testify to the fact that there are a lot of angry drivers in the Puget Sound area. During their first month on patrol last July, the five-member team apprehended 600 drivers.

   In presenting the team's research report to the Legislative Transportation Committee (LTC) earlier this month, Les Pope of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission said that the RRTF's goal is to take action on the survey's findings and to mount a coordinated statewide campaign to reverse the growing aggression on state reads. To make that a reality, Pope said a budget request would be submitted to the 1999 Session.

   Other RRTF members are Dee Scharf (DOL), Lt. Charles Schreck (WSP), and Brian Walsh and Grace Eubanks (WSDOT). The research project was sponsored and managed by WSDOT.

The preceding article appeared in the December 1998 issue of Ex*Press, a Washington State Department of Transportation publication.

If you are a victim of road rage, report it to the local police department or to the Washington State Highway Patrol. Watch next week's paper for recommendations of what to do if road rage is directed towards you. And, if you are an angry driver, watch for recommendations on ways to calm your temper while driving.