By Jonathan Mummolo and Mark Berman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 15, 2008
As traffic in the Washington region continues to worsen, wrecking dinner plans, ruining Little League games and raising the blood pressure of millions every day, a new survey offers some (small) consolation: At least we're not getting any ruder on the roads.
In the third annual AutoVantage Road Rage Survey, released this week, the Washington region maintained the dubious honor bestowed upon it last year, ranking as the fifth-rudest metropolitan area in the country, according to motorists surveyed.
"So we're still lewd, rude and crude, huh?" said John B. Townsend II, of AAA Mid-Atlantic. "It speaks about the Jekyll-and-Hyde personality. We will do things behind the wheel, say things to people behind the wheel, that we wouldn't say face to face. Traffic has become so depersonalizing that it lapses the sense of who we are and what we are."
Miami, Boston, New York and Baltimore are listed as less courteous than Washington, which is considered worse than congestion havens Atlanta and Los Angeles. The most courteous cities were Pittsburgh, Portland, Ore., Seattle, Minneapolis and Cleveland.
For some Washington area drivers, fifth place was a shockingly good rank.
"I'm surprised it's not 1 or 2," said Mitch Sherman, 59, of Columbia, who commutes an hour and 10 minutes to his job in Old Town Alexandria. At least once a year for the past five years, "somebody's given me the finger or yelled something," he said.
Although he might have reciprocated in his younger days, not anymore.
"Nowadays, people might pull out a gun," he said. "You just don't know."
Just how are Washingtonians expressing their rage? Oh, the usual: Forty-nine percent said they had honked their horns in anger in the month before the survey; 35 percent said they had cursed at another driver; 8 percent said they had made an obscene gesture; and 1 percent said they had slammed into the car in front of them deliberately.
"You actually see people using their car as a weapon in some cases," said Todd Smith, a spokesman for AutoVantage, a national auto club.
The study also found that Washington was the most likely place for drivers to slam on their brakes at the last minute; 40 percent said they see that daily.
Veteran cabdriver Yousuf Safa, of Burke, said the best response to road rage is to look the other way.
"For me, it's better not to look at it," he said. "That way, you keep yourself calm."
Perhaps most surprisingly, Washington landed in a four-way tie with New York, Minneapolis and Cincinnati as the least likely place for people to send text messages, e-mails or use a BlackBerry while driving every day. However, 25 percent said they talk on a cellphone daily, the sixth-most in the country.
The survey, conducted by Prince Market Research, was based on 2,512 phone interviews with drivers in 25 major metropolitan areas. It has a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.
In a study released in September by the Texas Transportation Institute, the Washington area moved from third to second place nationally for the worst traffic.
Alan Pisarski, author of "Commuting in America," said that in addition to the maddening gridlock, Washington's melting-pot quality might contribute to the amount of road rage.
"What you have to mention, but mention carefully, is the cultural factor," said Pisarski, who lives in the Falls Church area.
"Washington is a crossroads town. It's a crossroads town ethnically, with people coming from other countries, but it's also a very diverse town from the people coming from all over America," Pisarski said.
"People in Baltimore, for instance, are famous for [going] through green lights after they turn red. Ya know, 'It used to be green, therefore it's okay.' When I was in South America, in Chile, people tend to leave early: 'It's going to turn green soon, therefore I can leave.' . . . You put them all in one place, and you're bound to get those kinds of conflicts, those kinds of inharmonious, shall we say, interactions."