Friday, December 1, 2023

Are there a lot of aggressive drivers in the Historic Triangle? Here are the numbers

A police officer using a radar gun to enforce the speed limit. (WYDaily/ Courtesy U.S. Air Force)
A police officer using a radar gun to enforce the speed limit. (WYDaily/ Courtesy U.S. Air Force)

If you’ve spent much time behind the wheel of a car you’ve probably encountered a driver who’s lost their temper.

Maybe you’ve even lost your own temper while driving.

A wide array of driving behaviors fall under aggressive driving in the Virginia code, including following too closely, failing to observe lanes, speeding and stopping on the highway.

If such actions place other drivers in danger then the culprit can be charged with aggressive driving, which is a class 2 misdemeanor, authorities said.

Police pay attention to the roadways and monitor motorists to make sure they are driving safely.

“We don’t [enforce] aggressive driving just by radar,” said Sgt. Michelle Anaya, Virginia State Police spokeswoman. “Reckless driving we enforce always. It’s not just by speed.”

There were 719 instances where drivers were charged with aggressive driving in Virginia between the beginning of 2017 and Aug. 10, 2018, according to the Office of the Executive Secretary for the Supreme Court of Virginia. Such cases were tried in General District Court.

Fourteen of the 719 charges occurred in the Historic Triangle. Six of the charges were issued in York County and eight took place between James City County and Williamsburg, which share a courthouse.

Fairfax County General District Court saw the most charges, with 106 between January 2017 and August 2018. Fairfax was followed by Virginia Beach, which saw 43 aggressive driving cases. Chesapeake and Norfolk totaled more than 30 charges each, and Chesterfield, Spotsylvania and Prince William each topped 20.

In Hampton Roads, the Portsmouth General District Court saw four charges for aggressive driving, a dozen were filed in Hampton, and five were filed in Suffolk. New Kent County also saw five charges.

Anaya said State Police haven’t labeled any areas of Virginia as hotspots for aggressive driving, but send their officers out in force to patrol the roads.

Don’t engage

Acts of aggressive driving can be more common than the data may indicate, said James City County Police spokeswoman Stephanie Williams.

Drivers may be charged with other violations depending on their actions, as the on-scene officer has discretion when filing charges.

“It’s not a charge that’s common,” Williams said. “It’s such a broad code section and there’s so many things that fall into that.”

Maj. Greg Riley, spokesman for the Williamsburg Police Department, said the department makes efforts to protect the public safety “by enforcing all violations we see.”

He said Williamsburg Police do not specifically focus on cracking down on aggressive driving, instead taking a broader approach.

Aggressive drivers will change their behavior if they see other cars pulled over for traffic stops, Riley said. Knowing police are present and monitoring roadways can cause them to drive more cautiously.

Williams said James City County has a traffic unit, composed of three officers and a sergeant. She added JCC Police don’t patrol Interstate 64, although Virginia State Police do.

State Police officers are not required to issue a certain number of traffic tickets each month, Anaya said.

Instead, State Police rely on their radar guns, reports from other motorists, and observations made by officers to enforce traffic laws.

They also have CARE weekends — or Combined Accident Reduction Effort — where officers are out in force with orders to crack down on aggressive driving and drunk driving.

JCC Police focus on coupling education with enforcement. Officers go into area schools and speak with students about the dangers of aggressive driving, as well as drunk driving and distracted driving.

Aggressive drivers can put other drivers at risk, and Riley and Williams both said it’s best to avoid provoking or confronting aggressive drivers.

“We’ve all fallen prey to the desire to block somebody in or slow down in front of them,” Riley said. “I would say don’t engage. Just allow the person, if they’re going to pass you, to do so safely and go about their business. Then contact the police with as much info as you have on the vehicle.”

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