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Police campaign for road safety

Smooth Operator 2010.jpg
Police from across D.C. region stage show of force for safety campaign. (Thomson)

In the minds of many police officials, aggressive driving and distracted driving are linked, because the results are often the same. At an event Thursday morning marking the last phase of this year's Smooth Operator enforcement campaign, U.S. Park Police Chief Salvatore R. Lauro cited the fatal showdown between two drivers on the George Washington Parkway in 1996 as an early example of tragically aggressive driving.

Capt. Susan Culin of the Fairfax County police cited a very recent case of tragically distracted driving in which a motorist looked down at his cellphone and failed to see a red light, leading to a fatal crash at a county intersection.

Police fear that the causes behind aggressive and distracted driving are becoming cultural norms, as Culin put it. "We have to stigmatize this type of behavior," she said.

That's the logic behind events like this morning's gathering of police. Officials noted that their officers have issued more than 345,000 citations and warnings as part of this year's Smooth Operator traffic enforcement campaign.

That's hundreds of thousands of drivers who got a message, but still a small portion of the driving public. So to expand the message, officers on motorcycles, in patrol cars and in helicopters turned on their warning lights and drove off so that the TV cameras and writers like me could relay the warning that the campaign continues. Many more citations will be issued this week.

Assistant D.C. Police Chief Patrick Burke was among several police officials who spoke about the odd perception many drivers hold about aggressive driving. He noted surveys showing that a majority of drivers consider aggressive driving a serious problem. Yet a majority also say that they've engaged in driving behavior generally defined as aggressive.

Somehow, behavior that's bad for other drivers is okay if we're doing it, because we've got a good reason, and because we are, after all, good drivers.

But putting someone's life in danger is "inexcusable," Burke said.

Society, as well as the police, "must continue to attach a stigma to this behavior," Prince George's Police Chief Roberto Hylton said. A person doesn't have to be firing shots from a car to be a danger to fellow drivers. Speeding, or a phone message check, can do the trick just as well.

By Robert Thomson  | September 16, 2010; 2:10 PM ET
Categories:  Traffic Safety  
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