Is aggressive driving on the rise? New research says yes, and some research—and a unique patent—could help us to address this problem on our roads.

According to AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s 2019 data, nearly 80% of drivers expressed significant anger, aggression, or road rage behind the wheel at least once in the previous 30 days. Traffic fatalities didn’t slow down during the pandemic either—in fact, they sped up.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Admin., suggests 38,680 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2020, which is an estimated increase of about 7.2% compared to 2019. At the same time, vehicle miles traveled in 2020 decreased by about 430.2 billion miles or about 13.2% decrease. The big takeaway here is while our roads were less crowded, they certainly were not safer.

There is a combination of factors for this staggering development. Aggressive driving has increasingly become a major cause of concern for many road users. AAA defines it as any unsafe driving behavior, performed deliberately and with ill intention or disregard for safety. This can include speeding in heavy traffic, tailgating, cutting in front of another driver and then slowing down, running red lights, changing lands without signaling, or blocking cars attempting to pass or change lanes.

Building on this concept, road rage are extreme cases of aggressive driving including cursing and rude or obscene gestures, throwing objects, sideswiping, or forcing a driver off the road. Some of the statistics might shock you. Roughly 25% of drivers speeded up when another vehicle tried to overtake them. 55 million drivers admitted this! Another 34%—or 75 million drivers—followed a vehicle in front closely to prevent another vehicle from merging in front of them. These are just a handful of the shocking numbers.

What can be done? AAA suggests managing your behavior and managing your responses, while dealing with confrontation. Perhaps, more importantly, don’t offend, be tolerant and forgiving, and do not respond. Simply, don’t be one of those angry drivers that flips the bird to another driver. We need to send butterflies, not birds. Simply, we all need to lower the tension.

What if there is another way to manage all this road rage? What if technology could help? MIT has been doing research on this for a couple of years. Startup Affectiva developed out of the MIT Media Lab. The automotive AI (artificial intelligence) solution understands what is happening inside a vehicle. The deep learning software uses in-vehicle cameras to measure in realtime the state of the cabin, the driver, and the occupants. It can measure everything from drowsiness to aggression, to safety features.

This is all a great step in the right direction. I applaud all these measures to help us be better when we are behind the wheel. Again, I think it’s about being more considerate to everyone. Sadly, it’s now almost three decades and we are having the same discussion about road rage for which I lost a cousin. Much like distracted driving, we still are talking about the same issues, but the good news is that we are working to use technology to help us all be better citizens when it matters most.

Other universities are also looking into this. A recent patent application has proposed a system for identifying aggressive driving behavior for a driver of a vehicle, which includes an edge computing device that can acquire spatial-temporal data for the vehicle from one or more sensors that are part of traffic infrastructure. The patent was filed at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on 29th April 2021 on behalf of the Board Of Regents of the University of Michigan, and the Denso Corp., a Japanese automotive components manufacturer owned by Toyota.

The first edge computing device includes a processor and instructions executable by the processor that execute deep learning methods on the data from the sensors to cluster the data as a driving score. A trained model is applied to the driving score to determine an aggressive driving behavior risk level, and the first edge computing device is configured to predict the aggressive driving behavior based on the aggressive driving behavior risk level.

Time will tell the impact such technology will have on our roads. One thing is for sure: the opportunities to reduce aggressive driving behaviors could potentially save lives—and that is something worth innovating for.

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