Road Danger Reporting by Citizens

Aggressive and dangerous driving has been around since humans first mounted horses. The taking out of frustration and anger on others, and carelessness, uncare even hatred for others, are not going to go away as long as we are human. The question here is: what actions are appropriate to reduce its danger to people in our community.

Headline incidents occur when two aggressive drivers interact repeatedly in an escalating series that ends in physical violence. But, for every reported case, there are many that stop short of headline-grabbing results. It is these cases, precursors to more serious interactions, that if properly handled might serve as early warnings of trouble, and a rational way of dealing with the problem.

There are a number of factors that lead to aggressive driving. Time pressure is a well documented one - most aggressive driving is done on the way home from work, especially on Fridays. Anonymity also plays a part - urban areas experience much higher rates of aggressive driving than rural areas. But we must look elsewhere for the ways in which people can become convinced that it is OK to deliberately endanger other people. The stress modern society places on winning is well supported as a factor by driver interviews. Righteousness (the 'punitive' personality), and the ethic of controlling everything about us, are equally well supported. Decades of continuous exposure to TV shows in which vehicles are driven in wildly inappropriate and dangerous ways are suspected by many as well. Such factors make it seem that the problem is far too large for one community to handle! But, that may not be so.

In the United States, there is a program, #77, to permit citizens to report cases of aggressive and dangerous driving. It is currently active in Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia, and is aimed at citizens on the road, who use their vehicular cellphones for the purpose. Maryland gets up to 300 calls a day. It is strictly an as-it-happens and advisory process - police are directed to the location and lay charges if an officer observes a subsequent infraction. No citizen identification is required.

Currently (May 2002), the Ontario Provincial Police are accepting similar calls, at *OPP (*677). However, they do not cover major municipalities such as Ottawa.

For a while, the Township of King, north of Toronto, asked for written submissions from those who observed dangerous driving within the township. The idea was that one submission would result in a letter, the second concerning the same vehicle in a police visit, and a third in enforcement action. However, it seems to have run into difficulties - queries are no longer being answered. Many trucking companies subscribe to "How's my driving" phone reporting services with similar procedures but unknown results.

Should Ottawa follow one of these leads? The idea has much to recommend it.

But, it also has significant problems.

John Sankey
other notes on community matters