On July 15, the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) released a national survey on traffic safety. The NSA’s survey asked drivers what they believed to be the top-three traffic safety priorities as Americans get back out on the road in the COVID-19 era. The biggest concerns cited were: Distracted Driving, Impaired Driving, and Aggressive Driving.
Additionally, the survey found that 22% of drivers feel less safe getting back on the road. When asked why, an overwhelming 69% of drivers listed ‘Aggressive Driving’ as the reason.
While crime remains historically the lowest in Flagler County since 1995 and Aggravated Assault is down 29% since 2017 preliminary statistics for the first six-months of 2020 show an increase in Aggravated Assault cases. An analysis of the cases leading to this rise shows domestic violence and road rage incidents are the two causes. While always unacceptable behavior, the recent increases in these two offenses are believed to be influenced by individuals responding poorly to COVID-19 stress and pressures which are significant and prolonged in nature. An analysis of the cases by the FCSO Crime Analytics Unit shows domestic violence increased the first six months of 2020 after a significant decline resulting from FCSO’s Domestic Violence initiatives. In these cases, the analysis showed that a knife or gun were introduced into the argument before law enforcement was called or arrived. Road rage incidents were another factor, where drivers took their anger out on another driver by pointing a firearm or shooting at the other vehicle. Similar causation factors are being reported across the nation and all believe it is the result of COVID-19 related pressures of being unemployed or lockdown at home.
The pandemic has compelled people to stay at home more often and to be more on-edge than normal, sometimes resulting in violent outbursts, introducing a knife or gun in an argument or resulting in road rage incidents.
Initially, the pandemic saw fewer drivers on the roadway, resulting in fewer crashes and traffic. At the same time Flagler County saw more aggressive driving behavior. From April to June, FCSO responded to five separate road rage calls for service where the suspect in the case pointed a firearm at the victim due to road rage. These incidents took place on Interstate 95, State Road 100, US Highway 1, and at the intersection of Belle Terre Parkway and Palm Coast Parkway.
Due to this information, Sheriff Rick Staly initiated a new traffic safety campaign with one key message: ‘Don’t Engage in Road Rage!’ A new public service announcement was released by the FCSO and can be viewed on Facebook and YouTube or at www.flaglersheriff.com.
In the video, several children are shown exhibiting road rage behaviors while driving battery-powered ride-on vehicles. A closer look reveals that the children are learning this behavior by watching how their parents react behind the wheel.
“When we see an emerging problem, we address it immediately. We expect safe and responsible driving and we have zero tolerance for domestic violence in Flagler County,” said Sheriff Rick Staly. “Good safety practices start in the home. Kids are watching from the back seat and what you do behind the wheel now can shape what they do in the future. Through campaigns like ‘Don’t Engage in Road Rage’ we hope to educate the public, save lives and keep drivers calm behind the wheel.”
“Violent and aggressive driving is extremely dangerous and drivers must take the necessary measures to ensure that they are not a danger on the road,” continued Sheriff Staly said. “These incidents are avoidable and if you feel that you cannot contain your anger with other drivers, it’s time for you to seek help. Driving is not a contest – the goal is for everyone to arrive alive.”
To continue to combat domestic violence in Flagler County, the FCSO continues to focus on education and prevention, and works closely with the Family Life Center, the local domestic violence shelter in Flagler County. In 2017, Sheriff Staly created a task force to combat the growing problem of domestic violence through a community-driven solution. Since then, local leaders in judicial, mental health, law enforcement, education and faith-based groups routinely come together to develop strategies and programs to tackle the problem of domestic violence. Since inception of the task force, domestic violence crimes have decreased each year until COVID-19 struck. Electronic bracelets, enforcement, dedicated detective and analyst and prosecution have all helped to reduced domestic violence overall.
For more information on Road Rage and to view the NSA’s national survey click here.