Ask one group of people what they think the answer is to the problem of frazzled, frustrated, aggressive American drivers and they'll say something like this: "Wider, straighter roads, and more of them - that's the solution."
Ask another group, and they'll give you an entirely different answer: Design roads in a way that encourages drivers to go slow, to be calm - narrower streets, raised pedestrian crosswalks, trees planted on both sides of the road, cobblestones, perhaps.
What both sides do agree on is that aggressive driving - known, at its worst, as road rage - is on the rise. In response to a recent American Automobile Association poll, motorists in the Washington, D.C. area identified aggressive driving as the No. 1 threat to highway safety, ahead of drunken driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that two-thirds of last year's 41,000 auto deaths were the result of aggressive driving - speeding, cutting off other drivers, tailgating.
It's hard to believe that wider, straighter roads (and streets), and more of them, are the answer. Many drivers simply will want to get there even faster and will feel more fed up with anything (or anyone) that gets in their way. And that's to say nothing of the impact that bigger, faster roads would have on communities - on pedestrians, bikers, and children, for example, who would have less space to walk, ride, and play.
We cheer those community advocates and transportation engineers leading the charge to design and redesign cities and suburbs in more traffic-calming - and pedestrian-friendly - ways. We're also encouraged that more state and local police departments are taking the aggressive-driver problem seriously and are making more of an effort to enforce traffic laws.
Better road design and stricter enforcement can help to calm drivers (or at least make streets safer) - but, in the end, the responsibility lies with all of us as individual drivers. No one should take at face value the idea that life is stressful and the car is a good place to release some of that stress. And the local roads and highways near home are not raceways.
We all simply should drive the way we'd like others to drive - avoiding doing anything to them we wouldn't want done to us. That way, everyone can stay calm and safe.