- The Washington Times - Friday, May 9, 2003


   A campaign to stop tailgating, speeding and other dangerous driving started again yesterday in the metro area, where organizers say about three persons are killed each day by such aggressive behavior.
   This is the seventh year for the Smooth Operator campaign, which now has the support of 50 police agencies from as far away as Maryland’s Worcester and Harford counties.
   “Aggressive driving is a behavior problem,” Virginia Delegate J. Chapman Petersen, Fairfax Democrat, said yesterday.
   As proof, campaign organizers said a Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration study shows 67 percent of persons in family-violence counseling also had multiple aggressive-driving convictions.
   The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that so-called “road rage” causes roughly two-thirds of highway fatalities, which would equal about 1,000 such deaths last year in the District, Maryland and Virginia.
   The theme for the 2003 campaign is “Think Again” — as in “Think you can get through that yellow light before it changes? Think again.”
   Organizers will use the same essential plan of spreading their message, primarily through radio spots and transit bus placards. The program again includes four weeks of intense law enforcement, in which officers will ticket aggressive drivers from May through August.
   During the four weeks last year, police issued 219,467 citations and warnings, compared with 62,000 citations in 1997 when the campaign began.
   The Metropolitan Police Department is participating in the program for the first time this year and will use its 39 red-light cameras to curb aggressive driving. Officials said the cameras reduced excessive speeding in the first 12 months by 58 percent.
   Maryland Sen. Ida G. Ruben, Montgomery County Democrat, said she is urging Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to sign a bill approving the cameras and fines of $75 per violation.
   Organizers say the program is working, based upon a 2002 study that showed 76 percent of motorists in September 2002 had seen messages about aggressive driving, a 5 percent increase over four months.
   An independent study by WR&A; Market Research last year showed respondents supported more police enforcement, higher fines and the use of red-light cameras.
   However, the campaign’s 2002 annual report states “nearly all drivers acknowledged they have driven aggressively, and that their driving behavior remained unchanged over the campaign.”
   Virginia State Police Trooper John R. Bishop said motorists speeding along the shoulders of highways during rush hours is a problem being added to the typical tactics of speeding, tailgating, improper passing, running stop signs, jumping yellow lights and unsafe changing of lanes.
   “People fly right by,” he said.
   Trooper Bishop also said aggressive driving is most conspicuous during rush hours and especially in traffic jams, when drivers blow their horns and make obscene gestures.
   Recent studies show that the metropolitan area has the third-worst traffic congestion in the nation.
   A special appeal yesterday came from Steve Titunik, whose teenage son, Michael, died in November 2001 after the right tire of his speeding Volkswagen went off the shoulder and he overreacted when turning back onto the highway. The Volkswagen rolled over and the teen died despite six air bags being deployed.
   Mr. Titunik said young motorists should know more about driving. He suggested yesterday that the booklet, “Adventures in Driving, Survive the Ride!” be given to teens when they get their driving permits.
   More than 30,000 copies have been distributed in the area.
   

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