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Arizona road rage: What's being done to keep drivers safe?

Posted at 6:47 PM, Apr 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-16 16:54:09-04

PHOENIX — Too many drivers who are impatient, angry, or in a hurry to get to wherever they're going, have been a plague on Valley roadways. Especially when you look at state statistics that show reckless, aggressive drivers who are going way too fast are the leading cause of fatalities in Arizona.

In the last few weeks, we have seen some of these angry, impatient drivers getting out of control and allegedly even assaulting and killing those who got in their way.

A recent road rage incident resulted in 10-year-old Summerbell Brown's death after she was shot during an incident.

The death has touched a nerve, not just in the community, but also with law enforcement officials who are in charge of making and enforcing the rules of the road.

"We have stupid dumb, idiot, drivers out there. Have you heard of them? They're called 'SIDD' in my book. Stupid, idiot dumb drivers," said Alberto Gutier, a spokesperson for the Governor's Office of Highway Safety.

Numbers tracked by the Governor's Office of Highway Safety show 256 incidents of road rage documented in 2018. In 2019, just the first four months of this year alone, Gutier said they have already recorded 155 incidents of road rage. He stressed the numbers could be higher because several local law enforcement agencies were still using an old reporting system from 2014, which did not include road rage as a factor in crashes.

"It's going to be much higher, much higher," said Gutier.

With reckless driving being a leading factor in so many road deaths, ABC15 asked state officials if they planned to follow in the footsteps of many other states where active campaigns to address road rage were already underway.

"We do not have a statute governing road rage," said Gutier. "How do you describe road rage? Is it speed, is it aggressive driving? What is it?"

ABC15 looked into how many other states have been defining and handling road rage incidents.

A quick search showed that in Tennessee and Nevada, special traffic units were deployed to look for drivers who were tailgating, swerving between lanes, and cutting people off. All signs of "aggressive driving" and all citations a driver can be issued. The effort took place to prevent road rage incidents from getting out of control and catching these drivers before anything happened.

In New Mexico, the death of a child from apparent road rage led to a big statewide crackdown dubbed "Operation Lilly" where officers fanned out throughout the state, pulling over aggressive drivers. Instead of tickets though, these drivers were handed an educational pamphlet about road rage.

In Pennsylvania, law enforcement agencies had signs posted up on many state and local roads warning people about aggressive drivers, also letting drivers know they were out looking for those who displayed aggressive driving behavior.

ABC15 is tracking every media-reported road rage incident across the Valley. Choose each point on the map below for detailed incident information, with points in red signifying a death related to the road rage.

We asked Gutier if any similar campaigns were on the horizon for Arizona.

"Wow, that's great wow. Maybe we are a little slower in reacting," said Gutier. "Again, it goes back to having enough officers to do all this."

Many local agencies are facing a shortage of officers which has impacted traffic safety operations, according to Gutier. He agreed that campaigns like the ones we told him about in other states were all great ideas.

"I think it would be excellent. In Arizona we have fantastic support from the Chiefs," said Gutier.

He did not specify a timeline for when the speed enforcement task force would become active on the streets, saying only that discussions were already on-going.
ABC15 also checked in with several local law enforcement agencies to find out what they were doing to combat aggressive driving.

DPS officials said they use unmarked units to look for aggressive drivers. They have plans to add more unmarked cars to the fleet and be more aggressive.

In Phoenix, a police spokesman sent us a statement saying:

"The Phoenix Police Department will respond to calls of aggressive driving and any such incident where a crime is suspected, or concerns about an individual's driving affect safety. We have an Aggressive Driving Enforcement officer who does proactively enforce ARS 28-695, among other issues. You are correct that "Road Rage" is not a chargeable offense, but a classification for incidents we typically see that begin as an altercation between drivers who usually do not know each other.

The charge would be according to the action; i.e., aggravated assault, reckless or aggressive driving, etc.

The approach to reducing road rage begins with the individual driver. In the end, we can only control our own responses to situations. If you feel you are being followed, victimized, or harassed by another driver, you should call law enforcement. Look for a well-lit populated open business or make right turns at major intersections until we can get to you."

In Mesa, the police department says:

"Mesa does not have designated officers specifically targeting aggressive driving but do enforce aggressive driving behaviors. We issued 63 criminal speed citations in 2018 and have issued 16 through 3/31/19.

We do not currently have a tracking mechanism for “road rage.” Officers will charge the appropriate ARS Title 28 or Title 13 violations. They vary depending on the situation. Aggressive Driving includes multiple violations to be witnessed by officers. Officers may charge both Title 28 and Title 13 if appropriate.

The Mesa Police Department takes aggressive driving seriously and works to investigate and address issues in our City. We have not, however, had significant complaints of aggressive driving in recent years on the City streets.

Drivers witnessing aggressive driving can call 911 or the non-emergency line at 480-644-2211."

The Chandler Police Department says:

"We don't have a specific unit that combats or targets road rage or aggressive drivers but it is obviously something our patrol officers are always looking for and deal with."

DPS officials say if you feel you are dealing with an aggressive driver, do not engage with that person. You should call 911 if you feel your life or safety is in jeopardy.