- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Honk if you’ve got road rage. Washington ranks fifth in the country for aggressive drivers who speed, scream and gesticulate their way through the daily commute, according to a survey released yesterday.

But drivers in the D.C. metro area are not alone in their four-wheeled sins. The Sunshine State is anything but: Miami is home to the rudest, most dangerous drivers of all, followed by New York, Boston and Los Angeles.

“I’m surprised that the D.C. area is only at number five. Road rage is absolutely pervasive here,” said John Townsend of the American Automobile Association in the District. “It’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. People get behind the wheel, and the local driving experience turns them into wildebeests.”

Indeed.

The survey of 2,451 drivers in 25 cities revealed that six out of 10 said they had driven either over the speed limit or while gabbing on a cell phone. Thirty-five percent admitted to vigorous horn-honking, 29 percent had cursed at other drivers and 10 percent had waved their arms — or their fist. Another 8 percent had added an obscene gesture. The survey found that men and women were equally at fault.

The respondents were quick to tattle on one another. Nearly everyone — 98 percent — said they had seen other drivers distracted by cell phones, while 63 percent saw people who read while driving, ran red lights or slammed on brakes. The worst behavior among fellow drivers? Speeding, followed by tailgating and changing lanes with no notice.

The research was conducted Jan. 16 to March 23 by Connecticut-based AutoVantage and has a margin of error of two percentage points.

For all its theatrics, road rage can be both deadly and tragic.

Maryland investigators are still searching for the driver who they say intentionally veered his pickup truck into the path of Christian Luciano and Lindsay Bender, a Pennsylvania couple who were driving their sedan southbound on Interstate 270 near Frederick on April 11. Authorities say the drivers exchanged obscene gestures, then the truck driver slammed on his breaks and forced the couple off the road. Mr. Luciano and Miss Bender were killed.

“Someone operating a greenish-grayish Silverado truck that’s acting aggressively within the truck, with unusual mannerisms — aggressive mannerisms — that’s who we’re focusing in on,” Maryland State Police Sgt. Chris Sasse said.

The Bender family is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the driver.

“It used to be that folks feared drunk drivers and poor road conditions. Now they fear each other,” Mr. Townsend said. “Why do they do it? Our own survey found that six out of 10 were deeply frustrated with traffic.”

But not everyone is in attack mode. The survey also revealed the nation’s most courteous cities: Portland, Ore., followed by Pittsburgh, Seattle/Tacoma, St. Louis and Dallas/Fort Worth.

The drivers had their own notions about dealing with feisty peers. Almost two-thirds wanted an increased police presence, while 55 percent said cell-phone use should be limited on roadways or made illegal. More than half said traffic cameras should be used to nab bad drivers.

Some problem drivers may harbor a serious mental condition.

Harvard University Medical School announced last year that road rage — along with spousal abuse — could be triggered by intermittent explosive disorder, characterized by recurrent episodes of angry, sometimes violent outbursts. The disorder affects more than 7 percent of adults, or about 16 million Americans some time in their life, and may predispose them to other mental illnesses and substance abuse.

However, statistics downplay the role of rage in highway mishaps. Driver inattention is the leading factor in most crashes and near-crashes, according to a 2006 report released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved some form of driver distraction within three seconds before the event.

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