Media too aggressive in highway coverage

It is fairly obvious that it is inappropriate to punch an elderly woman in the face under any circumstances. However, coverage of so-called “road rage” has also become increasingly inappropriate.
Dr. Thomas Valente spurred the latest media frenzy over aggressive driving. While taking an on-ramp onto Highway 77 in Eagan, a Buick cut off Valente and nearly caused an accident. The two cars pulled over, Valente got out, swore at the 69-year-old driver of the Buick, smacked her across the face and then drove away.
There is no question that what Valente did was wrong. However, the coverage of the story reveals a major problem with much of the mass media today. There is absolutely no evidence that drivers today are any more aggressive than they were 10 years ago or even 50 years ago.
There is only evidence that aggressive driving has been receiving more attention lately. This increased attention has created a situation that causes drivers to focus more on bad behavior and perceive aggressive driving as a huge problem. Hearing repeatedly that the road is a dangerous and brutal place, motorists begin to see every other car as a potential threat.
Despite no real data stating our highways have become more dangerous, recent surveys suggest citizens now believe aggressive driving is much worse now than it was in the past. However, statistics show a decline in the accident and death rates of our highways.
“Road rage” has also become a defense used by those accused of crimes that happened to occur while driving. In Texas, a former financial analyst shot and killed two men over a driving-related incident. Months after the killing, he wrote a letter stating that the murders felt good and made him happy. In court, he suggested that road rage was the cause of the murders. Although his explanation was not successful, using road rage as an explanation for horrible behavior has become popular.
Road rage is an artificially created phenomenon, plain and simple. People with anger management problems are going to do inappropriate things. People who can deal with the annoyances of daily life will continue to handle stress. When the media pretends that road rage is a real problem, citizens perceive it as such.
Perhaps Valente’s actions would have been covered in the news even without the current buzz about aggressive driving — after all, it’s not every day that a doctor in a BMW punches an elderly woman driving a Buick. But the coverage of the incident revolved around road rage and did little to focus on the more relevant questions regarding Valente’s clear problems with anger control.
People on the highway sometimes drive inappropriately. The number of cars on the roads has increased by millions, but the space on our roads has not. The next time an incident motivated by road rage hits the news, go ahead and read it; just don’t assume that road rage is the real problem.