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In Partnership with NHTSA: Washington State Patrol Focuses on Aggressive Drivers

By Chief Lowell M. Porter, Washington State Patrol, Olympia, Washington

Interior of Car
Photographs courtesy Washington State Patrol

he National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has sponsored several studies in the last 30 years that attempt to identify causes of roadway collisions. Research consistently reports that driving behavior and human factors account for more than 90 percent of all collisions. With this information and years of experience and research, traffic safety experts have concluded that proactive, targeted traffic law enforcement has the potential to effectively change driving behavior and prevent collisions.

The Washington State Patrol's (WSP) primary focus has been to aggressively enforce its core mission to enforce driving under the influence (DUI), speeding, aggressive driving, and seat belt laws throughout Washington. In combination, sustained driver compliance in these four areas can prevent numerous fatality and injury collisions each year.

Road Rage
A 1998 survey conducted by the Washington Department of Transportation found that nearly one-third of the state's drivers perceived they had been a victim of road rage and that 68 percent believed the problem of road rage had become worse in recent times. Thirty-eight percent of the drivers surveyed believed that not enough action was being taken to effectively address these problems. This data was reinforced by recent focus groups that indicated that the motoring public wants more enforcement on the state's highways to deal with aggressive drivers and dangerous speeding.

Through experimentation, the WSP determined that typical traffic law enforcement strategies of using marked patrol cars as visual deterrents was not as effective as using unmarked, nontraditional patrol vehicles to enforce laws. When nontraditional patrol cars were first deployed for aggressive driving enforcement, the public echoed their support for troopers' diligent enforcement of the law on those who knowingly jeopardized their families, friends, and children. The effectiveness of this targeted nontraditional enforcement and the public's support lead to the development and expansion of the WSP's Aggressive Driving Apprehension Teams, or ADAT.

Cars on the roadway
Photographs courtesy Washington State Patrol
WSP Aggressive Driving
Apprehension Teams

Through partnerships with NHTSA and the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC), the WSP began its emphasis on aggressive driving enforcement in 1998. This emphasis began with the purchase of two unmarked patrol cars whose only task was to identify aggressive drivers and take the appropriate enforcement action. With the support of NHTSA and the WTSC, the WSP purchased these vehicles for a pilot project in Washington.

The basis for this pilot project was the well documented fact that drivers who routinely engage in dangerous and aggressive driving will continue to do so if there is little or no fear that they will be stopped, cited, and or arrested. Thus, by using unmarked vehicles, troopers can more readily locate these drivers and take strict enforcement, thereby creating a safer motoring environment.

Cars on the roadway
Photographs courtesy Washington State Patrol
Today, with continuing support of NHTSA and the WTSC, the WSP's Aggressive Driving Apprehension Teams (ADAT) program has 33 unmarked vehicles on patrol throughout the state. Troopers on the ground are supported by aircraft deployed to enhance their ability to locate aggressive drivers and provide additional enforcement from the skies. Within the next few months, 13 more ADAT vehicles will be deployed on Washington roadways, bringing the fleet of ADAT patrol cars to 46 unmarked cars dedicated to reducing incidents of aggressive driving.

In 2003 the ADAT program contributed significantly to public safety in Washington. ADAT troopers made 9,361 aggressive driving contacts, which represented 22 percent of the total aggressive driving contacts made statewide by troopers. Additionally, ADAT troopers made 893 arrests for DUI, arrested 197 reckless drivers, issued 760 negligent driving citations, and made 17,819 speeding contacts. In 2003, 680 troopers statewide wrote 51,665 citations for aggressive driving. More importantly, statewide fatalities were reduced by 11 percent, and collisions were reduced by 8 percent.

Components of ADAT
The Washington State Patrol has found that essential components for combating aggressive driving include unmark cars, training enforcement personnel, properly equipping the ADAT cars and educating the public.

Equipping ADAT Car: Providing the unmarked cars is important, but properly equipping the ADAT patrol cars is also important. The WSP's ADAT patrol cars are equipped with the latest in technology to aid troopers in documenting evidence of aggressive driving. This technology includes digital video cameras, dual direction moving radar, and laser radar. The digital video system is able to record driving behavior and traffic conditions, prior to and after, the stop is made. This feature is extremely beneficial in capturing the best evidence of aggressive driving, and therefore supports a conviction if contested in court. The video system is connected to a computer that records the driver's actions along with the speed of the vehicle.

Education: The ADAT program includes an important educational component designed to work in partnership with television, radio, and newspaper organizations in order to present news stories and featured articles on aggressive driving. These stories are designed to educate the motoring public of the WSP's efforts to reduce incidents of aggressive driving and the technology and strategies used by troopers. These educational efforts have been well received by both the media and the public and demonstrate that the WSP focuses on both education and enforcement in order to comprehensively address the problem of aggressive driving.

Car-Truck Fatalities
The WSP has implemented the ADAT program in not only the Field Operations Bureau but also the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division (CVD). CVD troopers are effectively using the same equipment and enforcement strategies when focusing their traffic law enforcement efforts on commercial trucks. In 2003 collision data showed that passenger vehicles caused 76 percent of fatal collisions involving commercial vehicles. Based on this startling fact, troopers now focus their enforcement on passenger cars that drive aggressively around commercial vehicles. This has been an excellent tool in reducing car-truck fatalities on Washington highways. In 2003, in the first 60 hours of deployment, CVD ADAT troopers in King County, Washington, stopped 140 motorists for driving aggressively while operating near commercial vehicles.

Output Measurement for Success
The WSP in its efforts to reduce incidents of aggressive driving on Washington's highways is not just focused on its output measures, such as stops made and tickets written. The WSP is focused on the most important outcome measures or indicators of success: a reduction in the reports of aggressive driving and the number of collisions caused by aggressive drivers. The output measures of ADAT troopers are carefully recorded and analyzed each month to ensure that the right strategies are being employed at the right locations at the right times of the day. However, to measure the effectiveness of these strategies (outputs), the WSP must determine if the desired outcomes are being realized.

The WSP in the last 29 months has documented success in reducing incidents of aggressive driving and collisions on Washington's highways. But sustaining and expanding this success will require a sustained educational and targeted enforcement effort through partnerships between federal, state, and local public safety organizations, the media, and most importantly the motoring public.

The men and women of the WSP continue to hold themselves accountable each day and remain committed to increasing public safety through the delivery of professional law enforcement services throughout Washington. The Washington State Patrol will continue to focus on its core enforcement mission of DUI, speeding, aggressive driving, and seat belt violations to reduce traffic fatalities and injury collisions through strong public and private partnerships, effective public education, and targeted enforcement. ■



From The Police Chief, vol. 71, no. 9, September 2004. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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