LIMA — Driving, it seems, requires more than a driver license and car insurance. Apparently, drivers need anger management therapy, too.
A new survey found a lot of frustrated and angry people behind the wheel. Nearly eight out of 10 U.S. drivers admitted to driving with anger or aggression at least once in the past year, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. More than half of drivers believe “road rage” is worse now than it was three years ago.
What is making us so angry? From the comments left on The Lima News’ Facebook page, it’s everything that can make driving a headache.
“People who stay in a lane that is going to end even though it’s clearly posted that the lane is going to end, just so they can try to get in front of everyone,” Ja-Sin Tice wrote.
“People who cross the white line at a stop light,” truck driver Justin Kruse wrote. “Then when I’m making my turn in my semi and can’t make it because your car is halfway in the intersection you look up at me like I’m the” jerk.
“Drivers who are in such a hurry they tailgate you,” Trisha Jolene Hagar wrote.
They didn’t say whether they, in turn, responded to inconsiderate drivers with aggressive actions such as tailgating, yelling at another driver, or cutting off another vehicle on purpose. But if local drivers are anything like the ones who took the AAA Foundation’s survey, a significant majority of them did. And that could lead to more crashes, including fatal ones, on our roads.
Tailgating is tops
Tailgating in order to get the driver to speed up or move over was the most common aggressive driving behavior reported by those who took the survey, according to the AAA Foundation. Fifty-one percent reported purposefully tailgating in the last year.
“It happens all the time, really,” said Jeff Stull, 23, of Lima, of aggressive driving. “Just cutting you off, brake checking you.”
He and 23 others were in Lima Municipal Court on a recent morning for arraignments for traffic violations. Stull had received a summons for driving without a seat belt.
Asked if he was prone to fighting fire with fire and showing his annoyance with inconsiderate drivers, he smiled.
“Sometimes,” he said.
“Inconsiderate driving, bad traffic, and the daily stresses of life can transform minor frustrations into dangerous road rage,” said Jurek Grabowski, the AAA Foundation’s director of research, in a statement. “Far too many drivers are losing themselves in the heat of the moment and lashing out in ways that could turn deadly.”
Yelling and angry gestures
In the survey, 47 percent of respondents admitted to yelling at another driver, 45 percent said they honked their horn to show annoyance or anger and 33 percent said they made angry gestures toward other drivers. Nearly a quarter, 24 percent, said they tried to block another vehicle on purpose, 12 percent said they deliberately cut someone off, and 4 percent said they’ve gotten out of their vehicles to confront another driver.
The data were collected in 2014 from an online survey of 2,705 licensed drivers ages 16 and older.
Mark Medina, 35, of Lima, in Lima Municipal Court to enter a not guilty plea against a charge of driving without a license, said his seat belt was the only thing that kept him from leaping out of his car one day to confront a driver who was speeding down Carolina Avenue.
“I had pulled out in front of my house with my stepdaughter, and some dude was doing 50 on a 25 mph street,” he said. “I started to holler. He stopped, but I didn’t get out. I had my seat belt on!”
Yelling sounds mild compared to what Anthony Bagley’s father is capable of. Bagley, 54, said his elderly dad tends to curse when he gets frustrated by congested roads, which is what happened during a road trip four years ago to South Carolina.
“We got caught in Cincinnati traffic,” Bagley said. “They were pulling out in front of him, and he was cussing, he’s, whoo-whee! He was frustrated.”
Bagley said the fault wasn’t entirely the other drivers.
“He was cutting in front of them. He’s like 84 or so, you know how that is. He doesn’t have any patience. We were making the signal to get over, and he was taking too long, he’s running up on the other cars. We made him pull over, down the way, and we took over the driving,” he said with a laugh.
There were no fender benders for Bagley and his father on that trip south on a crowded Interstate 75, but “driving angry” can be dangerous, said Kimberly Schwind, spokeswoman for AAA Ohio Auto Club.
“It seems there’s a link between drivers who drive aggressively and engage in other unsafe behaviors behind the wheel,” she said. “They’re more likely to speed or run red lights, and that certainly can cause crashes.”
Previous research by the AAA Foundation found that from 2003 to 2007, nearly 56 percent of fatal crashes involved at least one driver who was reported to have performed at least one potentially aggressive action. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that about two-thirds of crash fatalities involve aggressive driving behaviors such as speeding, red-light running and improper lane changes.
Furthermore, nine out of 10 people in the AAA Foundation survey said they believe aggressive drivers are a threat to their personal safety.
“It’s completely normal for drivers to experience anger behind the wheel, but we must not let our emotions lead to destructive choices,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research, in a statement.
Allen County road rage
How prevalent is road rage in Limaland? It’s hard to know. Thirteen states have aggressive-driving violations, but Ohio is not one of them, AAA Ohio’s Schwind said.
“There’s not a separate offense for aggressive driving that police can use,” she said. “They’ll cite someone for speeding or reckless driving, but not for aggressive driving. You can’t tell if it was an aggressive driving offense or if they were just speeding.”
In Allen County last year, Lima Police Department officers, Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers and Allen County Sheriff’s Office deputies issued 146 violations for following another vehicle too closely, an indication of tailgating. Another tailgating violation, assured clear distance, saw 573 citations. There were 261 reckless operation violations issued and 121 violations for running a red light or stop sign.
“It is unknown how often anger or ‘road rage’ was involved in these cases,” said Jim Link, clerk of the Lima Municipal Court.
Chief Prosecutor Rick Eddy remembers one clear case of road rage that he prosecuted. It involved two drivers on Interstate 75.
“They ended up literally playing bumper cars up I-75,” he said of the 2013 reckless operation incident. “It started south of Allen County and ended up almost in Findlay. It actually went to trial. It was just bizarre because it was two older guys. You expect that, sometimes, with younger people.”
Indeed, the AAA Foundation’s survey found male drivers and younger drivers, ages 19 to 39, were significantly more likely to engage in aggressive driving.
One thing the Allen County data show is violations for following too closely have increased dramatically in the last five years, from 65 in 2011 to 188 in 2014.
The AAA Foundation’s study found that nearly two-thirds of drivers said aggressive driving was a bigger problem than it was three years ago.
Ending the aggression
In offering tips to prevent road rage, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety sounds an awful lot like a Sunday school teacher or Cub Scout troop leader.
No. 1 on its list: Don’t offend. Be a courteous driver. “Never cause another driver to change their speed or direction,” the report recommends.
Be tolerant and forgiving. “The other driver may just be having a really bad day,” the foundation advises.
And do not respond if another driver is raging at you. “Avoid eye contact, don’t make gestures, maintain a space around your vehicle and contact 911 if needed.”
For drivers who can’t, or won’t, practice self-restraint, there’s the restraint that comes from law enforcement. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration considers it a basic strategy for controlling aggressive driving, because it always involves traffic violations.
In its annual safety countermeasures handbook, it recommends that communities use regular traffic patrols, “well-targeted,” publicized crackdowns and automated speed or red-light cameras at intersections.
Reach Amy Eddings at 567-242-0379 or Twitter, @lima_eddings.