LEO MORRIS COLUMN: Stamping Out Road Rage

Leo Morris, NS Editorial Page Editor

In the dog days of summer, when the news dries up even as the humidity soars, it can be tough to find a current crisis over which to obsess. So we must turn to our earnest statisticians, always ready to furnish bored journalists with a fresh batch of state-by-state comparisons around which to build a good scare story.

Here we see that Indiana is the 20th worst state when it comes to food hardships. No, it’s a serious problem all right, but we’re not nearly near enough to the bottom of the barrel.

Indiana, we are told, is “among the states” with the biggest spikes in deaths by drug overdose. Just “among” the worst?

Still not dire enough.

And we are in 5th place among the states “most obsessed with the Internet.” Fifth is pretty good, but overdosing on screen time is pretty obscure as dangers go.

But here we have the winner: Indiana leads the nation in deaths involving road rage and aggressive driving, according to a new study. There were 77 such fatalities in 2016, the year studied, 10 percent of all traffic deaths in the state.

We’re not just “among the worst” here – we are the absolute, leading-the-pack worst. Clearly that is a warning that we must act now to stop the carnage.

Some might flippantly dismiss the study, since it does not take into account how different states might define road rage and aggressive driving differently, or how seriously the various jurisdictions take the problem.

California, for example, recorded only one such death in the reporting year. One in California and 77 in Indiana – that’s absurd on its face.

But that’s defeatist thinking. Just because some states are blind to the problem (21 reported no road rage or aggressive driving fatalities at all) doesn’t mean we don’t have a problem here. In fact, the enlightened attitude of Hoosier officials means we can get a head start on coping with the emergency.

How in the world, some might be asking about now, can we possibly stop road rage and aggressive driving when we can’t know ahead of time which drivers might be inclined to give in to road rage and drive aggressively?

Ah, but we can, as delving a little further into the study reveals.

Millennials, those born from 1981 to 1996, were involved in more than half of the road rage and aggressive driving crashes. Drivers from Gen X, the generation before millennials, ranked second with 21 percent. The two older generations

in the study, baby boomers and the silent generation, had the fewest crashes at 8.2 and 1.7 percent, respectively.

In other words, what we suspected all along is true – the younger the driver, the more dangerous, and the older we get the better we drive.

The solution seems obvious now, doesn’t it?

I must pause here and insist, no matter how some critics might twist what I say, that I am not advocating Americans’ cars be taken away from them. Even if that were sensible, which I think I could make a good case for, it’s just not practical. There were nearly 270 million registered vehicles in America in 2016, far too many to simply get off the road.

But surely it must be acknowledged, as a first step in crafting common-sense road safety rules, that we need to find a way to keep drivers licenses out of the hands of those who simply should not have them.

For a start, the driving age should be raised to 26, which would keep the most dangerous drivers off the road. If, as Obamacare tells us, those up to age 25 aren’t responsible enough to get out of their parents’ houses and get their own jobs and health insurance, how can we trust them behind the wheel of a 4,000- lb. hunk of hurtling death?

Those between the ages of 26 and 30 should be allowed to drive, provisionally, as long as they have a responsible adult (i.e., one over 30) with them – in the front passenger seat, not in the back with the kids and the pets.

Drivers between the ages of 31 and 53 (a year younger than the youngest baby boomers) can get unrestricted licenses, renewable on an annual basis, as long as they complete at least 30 hours of training each year with a federally licensed safety instructor and spend 10 hours in anger management classes.

The rest of us, the safest drivers 54 and older, can have two-year licenses with only 20 hours of total instruction, as long as our cars are properly registered with the new federal agency (which includes an inspection every six months) and we have no arrests (including misdemeanors), overdue bills or complaints from neighbors on our records.

There are plenty of details that can be worked out. I’m thinking, for example, that all prospective drivers should undergo a battery of personality tests to identify their potential for aggressive-driving proclivities such as tail-gating, middle fingers, “brake-checks” and strong, adult language.

But I will leave that to those with more time on their hands ands minds better suited to such prosaic tasks. I have identified a problem and pointed to a solution that should be agreeable to all except the handful of drivers-rights nuts out there, so my work here is done for this week.

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is this year’s winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at leoedits@yahoo.com.

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