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'Road Rage' runs rampant in high-stress U.S. society

Demolished Van July 18, 1997
Web posted at: 9:57 a.m. EDT (1357 GMT)

From Correspondent Kyoko Altman

Washington (CNN) -- For the fourth year in a row, the death toll on America's highways climbed in 1997, thanks mainly to a new malady known as "road rage."

More than 41,000 died in traffic accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The government agency says that two-thirds of those deaths were the result of road rage.

Congress is so concerned with the apparently growing phenomenon that it called a special hearing to learn what's behind the highway brinkmanship.

For victim Brenda Fraser, however, any government moves to correct the problem will come too late. She compared the cars on today's crowded highways were like a loaded gun.

"Like having a loaded weapon, a speeding reckless driver seriously injured me and killed my mother," said Fraser.

Shot, stabbed and run over

David Willis, president of the American Automobile Association's Foundation for Traffic Safety, also sounds the road-rage alarm.

Motorists are being shot, stabbed, run over for totally inane reasons," said Willis. "Like, 'She wouldn't let me pass,' or, 'Nobody gives me the finger.'"

Victim Robert Butler, whose truck was run off the road and smashed by a speeding car earlier this week, says its a matter of civility.

"There's just not as much respect for fellow drivers as there should be," Butler said.

Maryland State Police officer Craig Miller, the man who rushed to Butler's wreck, has an explanation for the increase.

"More vehicles are on the road. More drivers. The stress that people are under at their employment causes them to drive in a manner that normally they would not have under a less stressful situation," offered Miller.

Fighting a 'mental disorder'

Dr. Arnold Neremberg, a psychologist, says their is no excuse for the dangerous behavior exhibited on America's roads today. He labels road rage "a mental disorder."


"Road ragers need to admit they have a problem," said Neremberg, "And, Frankly, road ragers don't consider road rage to be a problem."

Maryland, like many other states, is working on the problems by stepping up efforts to crackdown on aggressive drivers. Hefty fines for dangerous drivers and speeders are on the front line against road rage.

California is approaching the problem with technology. A new automated system being installed by the state automatically photographs of the license plates of vehicles that run red lights. It even captures accident scenes for police review.

Advances in technology and the law, however, fail to comfort Brenda Fraser.

"The driver who killed my mother is still driving, still with a license," said Fraser. "A license to kill."


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