Program Soothes the Savage Driver
November 18, 1999 --
you’re so aggressive on the mean streets of Miami that your road rudeness
becomes a judicial issue, a dose of behavior modification therapy could be in
is the nation’s first county to try aggressive driving classes for people who
spend too much time in the company of police officers writing tickets, said
Christopher Huffman, chief operating officer of the American Institute for
Public Safety, the company that offers the course.
program is “RoadRageous,” a pilot project of the private AIPS and the 11th
addition to assessing fines, Miami-Dade judges may now order repeat traffic
offenders to attend an eight-hour class on how to curb antisocial behavior on
the highways, said Chief Circuit Judge Joseph Farina.
believe that aggressive driving is responsible for more accidents and injuries
than any other negative driving activity,” Farina said. “We decided to take
a proactive approach to this.”
American Institute for Public Safety hired a national expert on driver attitudes
to design the course and another to evaluate it before Farina signed off on it
three months ago.
wasn’t a minute too soon. Last spring, the National Highway Safety
Administration ranked the Miami-Hialeah area’s death rate from aggressive
driving as fifth in the nation.
problem with aggressive driving is actually serious statewide,” the judge
said. The Tampa, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale metro areas were also in the
national top 10.
100 percent of the time, driving in traffic is a stressful situation,” class
instructor Mike Panzeca said. RoadRageous is for drivers who erratically dart in
and out of traffic, run stop signs and red lights, pass stopped school buses and
the first six weeks, 250 drivers attended classes.
it working? Too soon to tell, Farina said; it will probably take a year to see
whether people in the classes have significantly fewer citations.
said multiple offenses are a good indicator that people in the course need to be
there. “The average person gets tickets once every three years,” he said.
Many more drivers need it, Farina said. But multiple offenses are the only
indicator judges and traffic hearing officers can rely on, because there’s no
such crime as “aggressive driving” in Florida – yet.
Florida Highway Patrol wants the Legislature to define aggressive driving, make
it a crime and establish penalties. If that happens, courses such as RoadRageous
could pop up statewide.
course is a turbocharged version of defensive-driving classes offered nationally
for people with reasonably clean records who get tickets. If people opt to take
those four-hour classes to brush up on their driving skills, their driving
records do not collect points that could raise their insurance rates.
American Institute for Public Safety offers such courses in an improvisational
comedy format. The eight-hour RoadRageous is more intensive mix of comedy,
videotaped segments and psychology. Besides their fines, the tagged road
warriors pay $65 for the class and devote a full day of their weekend to it.
who spent 17 years as a behavioral therapist before becoming a professional
standup comic four years ago, is one of the first two instructors.
participants to acknowledge they’re doing something wrong is the biggest
challenge, Panzeca said.
had a lot of tickets,” a woman who was recently stopped for doing 55 in a
30mph zone said at a Sunday session in North Miami. “I don’t think I drive
bad. I just get caught.”
blamed the police, their new cars, or bosses who didn’t allow enough time for
trips. One participant has collected 23 tickets this year. A young
motorcyclist’s tally was 12 – “reckless driving, stuff like that,” he
are two kinds of drivers: morons and idiots,” Panzeca deadpanned – morons in
the slow cars ahead and idiots zooming past you.
joke launched Panzeca’s theme: Anger toward fellow drivers escalates into
grudge matches; even when it doesn’t lead to tickets or wrecks, it leaves the
combatants angry long after they get to work or home.
Aggressive-driving course instructor Michael Panzeca offers a
program any driver can follow to ease frustration on the road:
realistic about distances and traffic. Most drivers are running late
and worried. Frantic lane changes and running red lights gains only
two or three minutes in cross-town driving.
out your mental state when you get in the car. The drive will be
frustrating, so be prepared for it. Listen to calming music. Lessen
anxiety by making sure you have enough gas and that the car’s in
fellow drivers a break. Let them into traffic. Use your turn signals.
rudeness in fellow drivers. “ Are you going to let somebody you’ve
seen for a total of five seconds control your emotions?”
“People do things in
their cars in traffic they would never do other wise,” Panzeca said. The
common courtesy they routinely exhibit in bank lines and elevators is replaced
by angry yelling and gesturing. The key to stopping angry driving is stopping
the angry thinking, he said.