Beltway bullies: Keeping your cool with aggressive drivers

Traffic backs up in the main lanes of Interstate 495 in Virginia late Thursday morning. Drivers have been slow to begin paying to use the 495 Express Lanes, which run adjacent to the main line. (WTOP/Hank Silverberg)

What’s your experience with aggressive drivers? What do you do when someone tailgates?

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WASHINGTON – Some might call them “Beltway Bullies”: Drivers who cut others off, speed and weave or get too close for comfort.

They’re called aggressive drivers, too, and a local police officer has advice on how best to handle them when sharing the same patch of pavement.

“Aggressive driving is when an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses as to endanger another person or property. These include speeding, improper passing, disregarding signs and lights, following too close, failure to yield right of way,” says Master Police Officer Allie Eggers with the Fairfax County Police Traffic Safety Division.

Dealing with drivers like this can drive up blood pressure, but Eggers says it’s important to keep cool.

“The best tips that we can give for someone is to not engage them, keep your distance, avoid eye contact, put your pride aside, don’t challenge them by speeding up or attempting to hold your own in the travel lane, don’t respond with obscene language or gestures, don’t pull off to the side of the road to confront an aggressive driver, and you need to report it,” Eggers says.

Officer Eggers advises drivers who are being followed to pull into an area with a lot of people, stay in their cars and call police.

She says she thinks frustration with the region’s notoriously tangled traffic is what spawns aggressive driving.

“But the thing that we have to remember is we have a 4,000-, 5,000-, 6,000-pound vehicle that we’re responsible for, and lives are at stake, and we have to take our own accountability and not engage that person,” Eggers says.

Officer Eggers says so far this year, Fairfax County police officers have written almost 2,000 tickets for reckless driving, and more than 15,000 tickets for general speeding.

“We have a summer HEAT (Help Eliminate Aggressive Traffic) campaign that’s going on right now. There’s four waves. We have done it through June, July and also now going into August. During the first three waves we’ve written over 14,000 citations and they’re for the disregarding of the traffic signals, failure to pay full time and attention, turning violations, yielding violations, following too close, all of those,” she says.

Eggers says before retaliating against an aggressive driver, consider the possible domino effect: a ticket and a fine or even jail time.

There also could be court costs, time off work to go to court and an increase in auto insurance.

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