The Business Journal

December 10-16, 1999 · Vol. 20, No. 17

North Miami Firm Combats Road Rage

By Harvey Fialkov

Special to the Business Journal

Fed up with South Florida traffic and those crazy drivers, constantly weaving in and out of traffic, cutting off cars, in a hurry to get somewhere only to end up at a red light next to the same car they passed five miles ago?  

 

You know the ones who think a flashing signal is an extended middle finger and give new meaning to tailgating party.  

 

Just reacting angrily toward a reckless driver can turn anyone into an aggressive driver who can surge into road rage, the worst-case scenario in which one driver actually inflicts physical harm on another.

It’s a big problem in South Florida, where Miami-Hialeah and Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach are ranked in the top seven areas nationally for the highest aggressive driving death rates.

 

“Roadrageous,” a driving safety course, has been created by the American Institute for Public Safety (AIPS) to help address the problem. This North Miami company, a multimillion-dollar, national operation with 40 employees at the headquarters, consists of the same folks who made traffic school fun with their Improv Traffic Schools, founded by AIPS president Gary Alexander in California in 1985.  

“In 1996, 41,500 people died and over 3 million more were injured in police-reported crashes. About one-third of the crashes and about two-thirds of the resulting fatalities can be attributed to behavior associated with aggressive driving,” said Dr. Ricardo Martinez of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 

 

Said Chris Huffman, chief operating officer of AIPS and himself an admitted recovering AD (aggressive driver): “We don’t make fun of safety; we make safety fun.”  

“We believe that Roadrageous will parallel the points of action in what they did to address DUI 5 years ago,” Huffman said, adding, “Start at a grass roots level; enforce it judicially and then educate. … Acknowledge that at one time or another everyone has demonstrated aggressive driving. Recognize it, witness it and modify your behavior.”

 

For the past six years, AIPS has been one of nine traffic school providers in the state, but one 

of two that offer the usually dull program in a comedic, attention-grabbing four-hour seminar.

 

“We use interactive edutainment,” Huffman said. “It puts people at ease and keeps them engaged. The mind is more open and receptive to our serious messages, and better retained.”

Stand-up comedian Michael Panzeca is on of Roadrageous’ two part-time instructions (comedian Jim Moran is the other), who in the first six weeks has met with more than 250 drivers.

“There are two types of drivers: morons and idiots,” Panzeca jokes with his captive audience. He continued: “Morons in the slow cars ahead, idiots zooming past you.

“Once I saw how this course was affecting my driving, being more aware and less judgmental, I realized it was a good thing we were offering,” said Panzeca, who has taught the better driving instruction (BDI) course for four years. “People will do things in a car that they wouldn’t normally do because of the sense of anonymity.”

Panzeca tells his disciples to put a face on the driver they just flipped the bird to.

“That guy is a human being, too,” said Panzeca, 37, who lives in Fort Lauderdale. “I tell people in the class, ‘Would you give the finger to Bob now that you know him?’ ‘’

 

Safety tips

Ways to avoid aggressive driving behavior

  • Remember others have feelings.

  • Everyone makes mistakes.

  • Take a deep breath and let it go.

  • Don’t let the clock control you.

  • Don’t allow others to control your emotions.

  • Enjoy the process of getting there.

  • Take rest stops.

  • Don’t take things personally.  

 

AIPS has established a proven track record with its comedy traffic schools. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reported a 39.9 percent decrease in collisions of Florida drivers who have gone through the Improv driving school.

 

Statistics such as those certainly helped AIPS Chief Executive Officer Howard Premer and his partners sell the Roadrageous concept to Miami-Dade Chief Circuit Judge Joseph Farina.

Farina said it was time to “take a proactive approach to road rage” and that offenders must learn to stop their rude and hostile driving habits. He said the pilot program’s effectiveness would probably take a year to determine whether people in the classes were getting any fewer tickets. In exchange for taking the eight-hour Roadrageous class, offenders can reduce their fines and minimize lost points off their licenses, which would diminish their insurance liability.

 

The Florida Highway Patrol wants the Legislature to define aggressive driving, making it a crime and enforcing pertinent laws. Once that happens, Roadrageous and AIPS plan to expand statewide. Huffman intends to contact Broward and Palm Beach county judges next.

“In 1993, when we started the Improv traffic school here [in North Miami], we’ve gone from a few thousand students bringing in about $300,000 to training more than 9,000 students a month and into a multimillion dollar corporation,” Huffman said. “In the last 18 months, the company has exploded. My mission is to grow this company into a national power.”

 

The hiring of Huffman, whose background in growth management of companies such as Cunard Line Ltd. and Rolls-Royce-Motor Cars, has paid dividends for AIPS. Since he joined the company a year ago, volume is up more than 150 percent.

 

Danger spots

Metropolitan areas with highest aggressive driving death rates

  • Riverside-San Bernadino, Calif.

  • Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater

  • Phoenix

  • Orlando

  • Miami-Hialeah

  • Las Vegas

  • Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood-Pompano Beach

  • Dallas-Fort Worth

  • Kansas City

  • San Antonio

 

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Fatal Accident Reporting System

He says a Dallas judge is considering incorporating Roadrageous into the court system and AIPS already has two-year exclusive arrangement with Indiana to be the Hoosier state’s solo driving school provider. Kentucky is in the fold, with deals in the work for Colorado, Texas, New Jersey and New York.  

AIPS’ North Miami emerald tower headquarters on Biscayne Boulevard includes 30 customer service reps who handle national call center phones seven days a week from 7a.m. to 11p.m.

The company also has a national sales force of eight, who try to drum up business for their various driver’s safety schools and products.