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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government Topics:  Rodney E. Slater


April 27, 1998

NHTSA 23-98
Monday, April 27, 1998
Contact: Liz Neblett
Tel. No. (202) 366-9550

U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater today announced that the department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in an analysis of crashes and driver behavior on the Capital Beltway around Washington, D.C., found that aggressive driving is the number one concern of many and that many feel beltway driving is more hazardous now than it was three years ago. "Safety is President Clinton's highest transportation priority," Secretary Slater said. "Aggressive driving has become a serious safety problem in America. It is a threat to everyone on the road, including aggressive drivers themselves. Drivers need to be considerate of others with whom they share the road."

Concerned about a series of major crashes on Washington's Capital Beltway, federal, state and local officials joined with concerned citizens and safety organizations in 1993 to identify 53 initiatives to improve safety on the 64-mile interstate facility. NHTSA supported the Capital Beltway Safety Team by conducting a series of studies to examine crash data and use focus groups to assess motorist's perceptions of the conditions on the Beltway.

"The majority of aggressive drivers blame unsafe driving on others while admitting that they typically travel above the posted speed limits," said NHTSA Administrator Ricardo Martinez, M.D., at an event today kicking off the second annual National Capital Area Smooth Operator Campaign at Wolf Trap Farm Park in Vienna, Va.

The report explains that when focus groups of beltway drivers were asked to identify the things that they thought contributed to crashes on the Capital Beltway, aggressive driving was their number one concern. NHTSA learned from these focus groups that aggressive drivers view traffic differently. The aggressive drivers in the focus groups reported that they often compete with other cars. One woman called driving on the beltway "a competitive sport." In addition, the aggressive drivers said that they got angry when cut off, had passengers tell them to calm down, blocked other cars trying to pass, and blocked cars trying to change lanes.

The focus group participants overwhelmingly recommended greater police presence and strong enforcement campaigns as possible solutions to speeding, aggressive driving and unsafe lane changing. The participants also supported photo radar, photo imaging of aggressive drivers, and speed warning devices.

NHTSA officials, along with law enforcement officials and highway safety advocates, have implemented the annual National Capital Area Smooth Operator Campaign to combat unsafe driving practices. Smooth Operator is a multi-phased media campaign to provide the public with educational messages encouraging them to practice safe and courteous driving. It also includes selective traffic enforcement patrols conducted in four separate waves. The enforcement efforts will focus on safe driving practices as well as the proper use of seat belts and child safety seats.

Copies of the Capital Beltway Update: Beltway User Focus Groups report and the Traffic Tech entitled Aggressive Drivers View Traffic Differently, Capital Beltway Focus Groups Find are available from the NHTSA Office of Public and Consumer Affairs at (202) 366-9550. They are also posted on the Internet at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov

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