Police Say Aggressive Driving on the Rise in D.C.- Maryland

June 5, 2007

Aggressive driving is on the rise in the Washington area as motorists grapple with longer commutes, worsening road congestion and busier lives, law enforcement officials say.

Three recent altercations on Maryland highways that left two people dead and a police detective in critical condition highlight the growing problem, police said.

“I’ve seen a change, and it seems to go hand in hand with the amount of traffic we have on the road,” said Sgt. Thomas Harmon with Montgomery County police. “As people get more pressed for time to get to appointments, they are exhibiting more aggressive behavior. Time is a valuable commodity, and congestion takes a lot of time.”

Road rage has become so pervasive that area drivers told pollsters conducting a survey for AAA last year that they perceive aggressive and distracted drivers as a greater threat than drunk drivers, said John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA in the Washington area.

In a Frederick County crash on April 11, a couple from Pennsylvania were killed on Interstate 270 during the morning rush after exchanging obscene gestures with the driver of a pickup truck, who pulled in front of their car and hit the brakes, police said.

Christian M. Luciano, 28, lost control of the car and flipped over a guardrail. Neither he nor his girlfriend, Lindsay L. Bender, 25, was wearing seat belts, and both died at the scene.

Bender’s family has offered a $5,000 reward for information that would allow police to find the driver of the truck. Police said it is unclear what charges he would face.

In a second case, an off-duty Montgomery detective was heading south on I-270 on May 11 when she came across a driver straddling two lanes, driving erratically and preventing other drivers from passing.

Alanna Ward, 36, managed to pass on the right. Shortly after she did, the driver sped up and clipped the rear left side of her sport-utility vehicle, which flipped over, police said.

Police said the driver who clipped Ward’s car has not been charged. An investigation is ongoing.

In the third case, Maryland state troopers found a Hagerstown man unconscious May 21 on the shoulder of I-70 after he got into an altercation with another driver just west of Myersville. Police said Richard Jason Rhea got into a fight with another man on the side of the road and suffered a minor head injury.

Authorities say motorists should avoid exchanging insults or even making eye contact with aggressive drivers. If a situation appears to get out of hand, they are encouraged to dial #77 from a cell phone to alert law enforcement officials.

“You can’t control traffic,” Harmon, the Montgomery officer, said. “But you can control yourself.”

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