Law enforcement officers in Arizona and Washington state are asking the public to go to the Web and report reckless drivers online.
This is perhaps the newest strategy in dealing with the problem of aggressive driving, joining more conventional methods such as education campaigns and crackdowns by police.
"It's just another tool to solicit the public's help in fighting aggressive driving," said Trooper Johnny Alexander, a spokesman for the Washington State Patrol. "We only have so many troopers out there."
Motorists in Washington can log onto the state patrol's Web site and click on a link to report areas where aggressive driving is consistently a problem. They can also report what kind of recklessness they've seen, when and how often the incidents occur and the offenders' license plate numbers. The site received 90 reports the first week after it was created last October, Alexander said.
The information is sent out to the state's eight district commanders and eventually makes its way to sergeants in problem areas. The patrol then devises a strategy that might include using motorcycle teams, unmarked patrol cars and even aircraft to target the aggressive drivers in those areas.
Additionally, law enforcement officers contact the registered owners of vehicles that are reported repeatedly or are caught in a particularly reckless act, Alexander said.
"We'll contact that person in person," he said. "Or we'll send them a letter letting that individual know that ... 'your vehicle has been identified constantly for aggressive driving behavior' — and, basically, cut it out or we will seek charges."
Alexander emphasized, however, that the focus of the Web link is on "hot spots" where aggressive driving is a constant problem, rather than isolated incidents. He says those cases should be reported to 911 so officers can try to catch the offending motorist in the act.
In Arizona, Lt. Mark Hafkey of the Phoenix Police Department launched his own Web site — unsafedriver.com and safedrivinginstitute.com — to allow people to lodge complaints about bad drivers.
When drivers go to the site to make a report, they are asked for information including the license plate number of the vehicle and the date, time and location of the incident. Users can click on a drop-down menu of about 20 different violations.
More than 1,000 people from at least 25 states have made complaints, Hafkey said. And for an annual fee of $24.99, motorists can receive e-mails notifying them if their car is reported. Motorists can also refute complaints made about them.
The site is a private business and is not affiliated with the Phoenix Police Department, Hafkey said. The existence of the database may deter reckless drivers, he said. Plus, he said, the Web site allows motorists to channel their anger constructively.
"It allows folks to report unsafe drivers on the road, in their neighborhoods, anywhere in the country," he said.
Hafkey said the information is available to law enforcement, and he hopes insurance companies will also view it as a resource. "Right now, people slow down or drive safer when they see a marked police car. If not, they don't. ... This system is going to change that. It allows everybody to be a traffic cop."
But Mantill Williams of AAA, the motorists' club, questions whether people might use such Web sites to falsely accuse someone of reckless driving. He said motorists should focus more on safety than memorizing license plate numbers.
"Your No. 1 priority is to try and avoid them if you encounter an aggressive driver, not for each driver to be Rambo and police every other driver," Williams said. "Yes, the police can't be everywhere, but eventually that person's going to get caught."
Hafkey said police have to rely on eyewitness accounts all the time. The Web site asks for details about the vehicle to reduce the number of mistakes and fraudulent reports, he said. The site also states that it is against the law to make fraudulent complaints.
If "you want to make 10 complaints on your ex — malicious, fraudulent complaints — our system will flag it," he said.