Thursday, September 6, 2001


encourages racing,
UH expert says

He contends teens use road
contests to show that
they are winners

By Bruce Dunford
Associated Press

IT'S NOT SURPRISING that teenage drivers risk lives by racing 120 mph on public highways, considering an American culture that promotes both speed and winning, says a University of Hawaii expert on the psychology of driving.

"It goes back to the idea that the way we drive is a cultural expression. It's tied to what ethnic group, what peer group in which we are associated and is integrated into our personality," said Leon James, a psychologist who goes by the name of Dr. Driving on a Web site devoted to helping with road rage.

However, that's no excuse for "grossly irresponsible" actions of young people who threaten lives just to show off to their tiny audience that they are winners, James said.

He commented on the recent police crackdown on highway racing and calls by some lawmakers and Attorney General Earl Anzai to hand out stiff penalties to the racers, including jail time and vehicle forfeiture.

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"I believe it is outrageous behavior for someone to be going more than 99 miles per hour on a highway," James said. "That person is a menace to society and should be dealt with the same way as others whose actions threaten lives."

The increased attention on illegal street racing comes after the Aug. 26 death of Elizabeth Kekoa, 58, a passenger in the van that was struck by a car driven by Nicholas Tudisco, 18, who police say had been racing another car on the H-1 freeway in Kaimuki. Tudisco of Hawaii Kai was arrested for investigation of negligent homicide but was released pending further investigation.

Young people racing on the roads is not a new problem, James said, noting that in the 1955 movie "Rebel Without a Cause," actor James Dean portrayed a teenager engaging in a deadly "chicken" race. Dean was killed that year in his speeding sports car.

Adding to the menace are the increased number of young drivers and more congested roadways, he said.

James said more than half of young drivers today are drawn to try racing as a means of showing off to their friends, either those in the car or those who will hear about it later.

"And once you start to race, eventually you go beyond the risk level you can handle," he said.

It results from an American society that refuses to curb access by impressionable young people to video games, television shows and commercial marketing aimed at an adult market, James said.

"I don't see how we justify letting children operate a video game that encourages hitting pedestrians and getting points for it," he said. "This does nothing good for the child or for society."

He agreed that mass marketing of new cars with emphasis on horsepower and acceleration reinforces the value that Americans place on speed and going faster than the other guy.

Training good drivers doesn't start with a driver's education course in high school, but from the time the small child first experiences riding in the car and watching mom or dad drive, he said.

"By the time they are a teenager and ready for driver's education courses, it's too late" to adjust attitudes about driving, James said.

Ka Leo O Hawaii
University of Hawaii

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