Commentary by Lt. Det. Scott Jones of the Bedford Police Department
When my daughter first learned to drive on the streets of Arlington, Cambridge, and Somerville she slowly started to lament the sights of bicyclists also traveling on the road. As a recreational bicyclist herself, she initially harbored no animosity toward bicyclists. But as an inexperienced driver, it became a different story. She nervously attempted to navigate around the cyclists- oftentimes cursing their very existence. She also would like to see them relegated to the bike paths. It is not uncommon for motorists to call the police about a pack of cyclists taking up a lane on Carlisle Road in Bedford on a pleasant Saturday morning or conversely a bicyclist complaining of their treatment by motorists. In the past, our community has experienced egregious and hostile acts by motorists and bicyclist alike.
It is natural to assume that when you bring various users together to negotiate our roadways there are bound to be some misunderstandings, tension, and even some conflict — with motorists usually holding the upper hand.
A 2016 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found some 80 percent of drivers expressed “significant anger, aggression, or road rage behind the wheel at least once in the past year.” What is worse is that according to the study, an estimated eight million US drivers engaged in “extreme” road rage, such as purposely hitting another vehicle.
In 2015, 5,376 pedestrians and 818 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Traffic Safety Facts). These two modes accounted for 17.7 percent of the 35,092 total U.S. fatalities that year.
The following statistics compiled from the NHTSA and the Auto Vantage auto club in 2017 show that aggressive driving and road rage are inflicting some serious problems on our roads. According to NHTSA data, 66% of traffic fatalities are caused by aggressive driving; and of those, 37% of aggressive driving incidents involve a firearm with males under the age of 19, the group most likely to exhibit road rage.
Survey data show that half of the drivers who are on the receiving end of an aggressive behavior, such as horn honking, a rude gesture, or tailgating admit to responding with aggressive behavior themselves, while 2% of drivers admitted to aggressively running another aggressor off the road.
Also according to NHTSA data over a seven-year period, 218 murders and 12,610 injuries were attributed to road rage.
As the New England weather gets nicer there is a natural tendency — especially among pedestrians, joggers, and bicyclists — to be outside and on the road.
In a perfect world, there would be plenty of lanes and roadways for all of us to get to our destinations safely and in a timely manner. Each of us should share the same goal of getting to our destinations peacefully and safely.
Whenever you find yourself becoming angry or upset with the behavior of another user of the road, do your best to disengage and continue on your way without antagonizing the other person.
If necessary, get to a safe area and notify the police. Easier said than done but anything less can end in tragedy.
Keeping the Peace is sponsored by the Violence Prevention Coalition of Bedford, a representative group of citizens interested in ending violence in families, communities, and beyond. Scott Jones is Lieutenant Detective with the Bedford Police Department, a constituent member of VPC.
The VPC meets the first Tuesday of every other month at 8:00 a.m. at First Church of Christ Congregational, 25 the Great Road, Bedford. For more information call 781/275-7951.