Violence in society

February 17, 2001

Violence in society

By ANDREW SCHOTZ / Staff Writer

On-the-job homicides, road rage and school shootings aren't new phenomena in the United States. They may not even be on the rise.

But each time there's another incident, many people wonder if society has gone over the edge.

There's probably no single cause provoking these acts of anger.

But we might start by looking at fax machines, beepers, pagers and e-mail - anything that makes us addicted to instant results and gratification, said John Witmer, a clinical social worker at Brook Lane Health Services in Hagerstown.

We're impatient and we're edgy.

"Everything is so high-speed, so there's less of a tolerance," he said. "Everything needs to be done now."

Police officers who witness breakneck drivers on the roads will concur. Too many drivers are late and racing to make up time.

Ever-worsening traffic makes us crazy, too, said Pennsylvania State Police Capt. Rick Stein, of the Bureau of Patrol in Harrisburg.


"Congestion just creates anxiety and stress in people," he said.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike handled about 48 million vehicles in 1974. Last year, it accommodated about 160 million vehicles, Stein said.

"That only means shorter tempers," he said.

'Aggressive driving'

State Police in Maryland and Pennsylvania have set up programs to crack down on "aggressive driving," defined as rapid lane changes, speeding and cutting off other drivers.

These are sometimes precursors to the more serious "road rage," where a confrontation turns into a threat, a physical assault or even death.

The U.S. Highway Safety Office has said that tens of thousands of traffic accidents each year are connected to aggressive driving, including road rage. It is now a leading cause of death in young children, according to, a Web site devoted to drivers and drivers' behavior.

A June 1999 report prepared for The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety states that enforcement and education are the most common tools of prevention, ahead of legislation.

Pennsylvania State Police started two aggressive driving enforcement programs in 1997.

In "Operation Centipede," police cruisers sit along the highway about every two or three miles. Troopers watch mainly for speeders. Driving 10 to 15 mph over the speed limit is considered aggressive driving, Stein said.

The second program is called "Ticket the Aggressive Driver," or TAG-D. Troopers look for other traffic violations, such as unsafe lane changes and failure to signal.

A police aircraft may be used to help with the patrol.

The programs have cut the number of accidents on Pennsylvania's highways, Stein said.

About a month ago, he said, state police began a pilot program in which three cruisers on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and three in Harrisburg use less conspicuous light bars. The bars rises about an inch from the roof instead of a foot and are configured differently, letting the cars blend better into traffic.

While the proliferation of cell phones creates another distraction on the roads, the phones also help police get quick information about highway incidents, Stein said.

Maryland State Police look for drunken drivers, speeders and aggressive drivers when they conduct saturation patrols a few times a year, said Corp. Rob Moroney, a state police spokesman in Pikesville.

He's found that confrontations cool quickly when an officer pulls a driver over.

"Once they stop, they calm down."

Workplace violence

The Society for Human Resource Management, an Alexandria, Va., organization, looked at workplace violence in a 1999 survey in which 681 human resource professionals replied.

Fifty-seven percent of the respondents said there had been a violent incident at their workplace in the last three years, up from 48 percent during the 1996 survey.

Of the violent incidents reported, 41 percent were verbal threats and 19 percent involved pushing or shoving. One percent were shootings and another 1 percent were stabbings.

Personality conflicts were cited as the No. 1 cause of violence. Firings were fifth.

The survey concluded that companies should train "all employees to recognize the warning signs of violent outbursts ..."

A national telephone survey - " 'Desk Rage' in America: The Year 2000," conducted by Opinion Research Corporation International last October and November - found that 23 percent of American workers have been driven to tears because of workplace stress.

One in 10 said physical violence has happened at work.

Integra Realty Resources, a national commercial appraisal and counseling firm that commissioned the study, recommended that employees take frequent breaks, manage their time, make their work area comfortable and drink less coffee. Plants and good lighting may help, too.

But when it comes to terrorist incidents, like this month's shooting at a suburban Chicago engine plant or last month's shooting at a county office and restaurant in California, there may not be much employers can do.

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