Reckless Driving

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According to the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety, an average of 1,500 people are killed or injured each year as a result of aggressive driving. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines "aggressive driving" as, "the operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger persons or property." This behavior usually involves illegal and dangerous driving, committed with the intent to gain an advantage over the other drivers. Examples of aggressive driving include: exceeding the posted speed limit, following another vehicle too closely, passing on the shoulder of the road, failure to yield, unsafe or erratic lane changes, improper signaling, and failure to obey traffic control devices (stop signs, yield signs, traffic signals, railroad grade cross signals). Running a red light is one of the most dangerous forms of aggressive driving.

The term "road rage" differs from aggressive driving and implies a criminal offense involving "an assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by the operator or passenger(s) of one motor vehicle on the operator or passenger(s) of another motor vehicle, or an assault precipitated by an incident that occurred on a roadway" (NHTSA). Road rage can be accompanied by behaviors such as excessive honking, yelling or making obscene gestures, flashing high beams excessively, recklessly passing or weaving in and out of traffic, speeding up when others are trying to pass, or deliberately tailgating or chasing another vehicle.

Many states have introduced or passed legislation to create specific penalties for aggressive driving offenses and for incidences of road rage. These laws create specific penalties for driving that intentionally creates a risk of harm or endangers the safety of others, involves wanton or reckless disregard for another, involves dangerous conduct contributing to the likelihood of a collision or evasive action by another, or is deliberately discourteous and shows extreme impatience.

The NHTSA has developed a guide that provides assistance in developing strategies for implementing aggressive-driving prevention programs. This guide can be found on the NHTSA web site at

David A. Sleet

Bruce H. Jones

(see also: Behavior, Health-Related; Behavioral Strategies for Reducing Traffic Crashes; Public Health and the Law )