Monday, March 9, 1998

Road rage is roaring down Main Street

A UH professor is trying to educate the public of the danger of such behavior

By Rod Ohira


A confrontation over a traffic incident between two motorists on the H-1 freeway near Honolulu Airport ended tragically in October 1996.

Gabriel Kealoha, a juvenile at the time, was convicted of manslaughter in the death of off-duty police officer Sgt. Arthur Miller.

Violent confrontations like that are occurring daily in America, where road rage is bringing out the worst in human behavior.

In a national report, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety said road rage killed at least 218 people and injured 12,000 from January 1990 through August 1996. Firearms were used in 37 percent of the cases, vehicles in 35 percent.

"Everything happening on the mainland is happening here on a smaller scale," said Leon James, a University of Hawaii-Manoa professor who teaches a course in traffic psychology.

"Most of the aggression is done right in the car. For example, if you cut in front of somebody, that driver may chase after you or tailgate you. It's a reaction. The other driver feels insulted and thinks there should be a pay back."

James, also known as "Dr. Driving," has two Web sites on the Internet dedicated to educating the public about road rage.

"We're unprepared for the situation that could happen to any of us," James said. "If someone knocks over your cup of coffee in the office, we see it as an accident and it's forgiven.

"But anything on the road is seen as intentional, an insult to us. The highway is a war zone, hostile. Everybody is scared and we learn to be angry. We're going down a path where this generation is more aggressive than the previous one, and it's getting worse."

James, a UH professor since 1971, started studying drivers' attitudes about 15 years ago.

"One Sunday, my wife told me, 'Grandmother doesn't think you're a good driver,' and I rejected that until she started pointing out things I was doing wrong," James said.

"I started using a tape recorder (while driving). I was so hostile, constantly critical of other drivers. When I made a mistake, it was always 'oops,' and I excused myself right away.

"That's called attribution bias. If someone hits us from behind, it's his fault and when we hit someone from behind, it was the fault of the car in front for stopping. It's never our fault."

James said a person's "automatic self" becomes the driver.

"Once you know how to drive, you don't pay attention," James said. "Driving is a Jekyll-and-Hyde phenomenon. We need to take over and teach ourselves to correct mistakes and bad habits and be in charge.

"Many times, the auto-self imitates what is seen in movies or commercials - driving too fast or too closely."

The first step at taking control is to observe yourself, James said.

"You can do that by asking your passenger, 'Are you scared when I drive?'" James said. "I do partnership driving with my wife, who tells me if I'm following to close or speeding. Everyone has Dr. Driving in them."

James proposes life-long driver's education to combat road rage, with classes starting in kindergarten and "quality driving" neighborhood groups that meet once a month to discuss driving - something he thinks should be mandatory to get a license.

Youth Against Road Rage will make its debut June 19 at Edmunds College in Seattle and its organizer, University of Washington professor Richard Kirby, hopes the organization can have the same kind of success as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

"It took 15 years for MADD to change the norm for drinking and driving," James said. "Kirby feels some movement needs to take place with aggressive driving."


Dr. Driving can be found on the Internet at

The New York Times contributed to this report.

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