SIKESTON -- Motorists witness it daily -- fellow drivers cutting other drivers off, weaving in and out of lanes, speeding and sometimes even exchanging unfriendly words or gestures.
Some call it road rage. Others call it aggressive driving, but law enforcement officials insist there's a difference between the two -- and it's one motorists will definitely want to remember.
"The big perception is that there isn't a difference between aggressive driving and road rage, but there is," said Sgt. Larry Plunkett Jr., public information officer for Troop E of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. "Every aggressive driver is not a road rage incident."
Aggressive driving is a traffic offense; road rage is a criminal offense, Plunkett pointed out.
Most aggressive drivers tend to feel a false sense of control and power; therefore, they seldom take into account the consequences of their actions, Plunkett said.
"Aggressive drivers make unlawful driving actions. They're people who just really don't take into account the personal factor of their behavior. They speed, make improper lane changes, weave in and out of traffic -- basically, they make driving a lot more complicated than it should be," Plunkett said.
Road rage is defined as "an assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by the operator or passenger of another motor vehicle or an assault precipitated by an incident that occurred on a roadway."
"It's an incident where someone actually acts in a manner that threatens your life or could cause you serious physical injury. The intentional acts are meant to be a threat and are obviously perceived as a threat," Plunkett explained. There's also a difference in attitude, Plunkett pointed out. Aggressive drivers are driving poorly and road ragers are out to hurt people, he said.
Generally, Troop E receives two to three aggressive driving reports on a daily basis, Plunkett noted, adding that the reports aren't really decreasing or increasing.
"It's kind of leveled off," Plunkett said. "In last 10 years, reports have increased our calls because of cell phones. Now cell phone usage has leveled off a little, but we haven't seen any dramatic drops."
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Traffic Safety Facts 1998, approximately 6.4 million crashes occur in the United States each year. Estimates indicate the number to be caused by aggressive driving substantial, based on the violations committed by the drivers of the vehicles involved in the crashes and reported by law enforcement agencies as the contributing factor of the crash.
"If someone is involved in either type of incident, they should first protect themselves and their family by pulling over and letting the person get away from them, Plunkett suggested.
But before that victims should obtain the information necessary to get an accurate and full report, Plunkett pointed out. Necessary information includes location of the incident, license plate number of the offender, offender's vehicle make and color, driver characteristics and the direction traveled.
Finally, motorists who are victims of road rage or aggressive driving should make a report to the police or patrol as soon as possible, Plunkett said. "Don't wait 30 or 50 minutes or longer to make the report because it greatly reduces our chances of catching the offender," he said.
Victims may have to file a written complaint on the issue, too, Plunkett added.
"We do take them (driving complaints) very seriously. If we have an officer available who can go out and examine the situation, then we'll send them," Plunkett said.
While tracking down offenders of road rage or aggressive driving obviously does not have a 100 percent success rate, it does help, Plunkett said.
"Of most of these cases, 90 percent are aggressive drivers, and often far more than 50 percent of the time, that person is contacted and issued a summons," Plunkett noted.
During a road rage or aggressive driving case, the driver is typically charged with the highest offense that fits the incident such as careless and imprudent driving or speeding, Plunkett said. Most of the time in these cases, if someone is driving aggressively, there are several charges that apply anyway, such as following too close, etc., he explained. Motorists can dial *55 on their cell phones for the Patrol, or they can contact their local police department to report an incident.
How do you rate as a driver? Go online to take the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety quiz on aggressive driving.