- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Omar Samaha helped local authorities promote their campaign against aggressive driving yesterday by sharing his own painful story.
"When you have the priest come and tell you your best friend is dead you can't change what happened," Samaha told a group of law enforcement officials gathered in Dale City to push the 2002 Smooth Operator program. "There is no restart button in life. Believe me, if there was I would have pushed it already."
Samaha, an 18-year-old senior at Westfield High School in Chantilly, was driving on Fairfax County Parkway with his best friend on Nov. 4, 2001, when he lost control of the car because he was driving recklessly. The car crashed into the oncoming lanes and flipped. Samaha's friend was killed.
When his classmates graduate next month and head for the school's annual Beach Week at the ocean, Samaha says he will be going off to jail, though he's reluctant to talk about it.
"This is something I live with every day, and will live with for the rest of my life," he said.
Under the Smooth Operator program, Virginia, Maryland and the District join forces for four weeklong campaigns in which officers hand out more tickets for aggressive driving. The first campaign began on Sunday and runs through Saturday. The other three periods will be June 16-22, July 21-27 and Aug. 25-31.
Since the program began in 1997, officers have issued nearly 400,000 citations for aggressive driving and more than 7,100 warnings.
"Aggressive driving has become an epidemic in this region," said Virginia state Sen. William C. Mims, Prince William Republican, specifically mentioning red-light running, weaving in and out of lanes and speeding. "These things are not only illegal, but they are deadly."
This year, Virginia lawmakers passed a measure sponsored by Mr. Mims that combats aggressive driving.
The law, which goes into effect July 1, creates two separate penalties for aggressive driving, depending on the circumstances.
A driver found guilty of aggressive driving defined in the law as creating a hazard faces a fine up to $2,500 and six months in jail as well as four points on his or her license. If the driver is found of guilty of aggressive driving at the same time with the intent to harm another person, then the penalties increase to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine.
The law "is about telling [aggressive drivers] that our lives and our children's lives are more important than you saving a few seconds off your trip," Mr. Mims told the more than 50 law enforcement officials who came out to the Dale City Rest Area for the event.
A Maryland law that went into effect in October makes aggressive driving defining it as committing three or more traffic offenses in a single trip punishable with up to five points on a driving record.
Virginia State Trooper John Bishop, who works in Fairfax County, said he has heard just about every excuse imaginable for a defense of aggressive driving, and that troopers such as himself aren't buying them no matter who they are coming from.
"You work a year or two, nothing surprises you," said Trooper Bishop, a three-year veteran of the force, while on patrol on Interstate 95. "I've stopped people in their 80s going nearly 100. There really isn't a stereotype, or to use a bad word, a profile, of who is an aggressive driver."


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