Being Well: Don’t Step on It

Dealing with road rage, bad news for sexual predators, and the fight for clean air.

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Cops are out to get aggressive drivers, so watch your road rage.

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illustration by Deanna Staffo

If you’re an aggressive driver, look out. Recent crackdowns are aimed at you, and they’re working.

In a recent poll by the American Automobile Association, 46 percent of Delaware motorists say aggressive driving is the greatest threat to safety on the roads, as are drivers who talk on cell phones and drivers who preen in rear-view mirrors. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that aggressive drivers—
responsible for nearly 35 percent of all accidents—cause two-thirds of all fatal crashes.

The most common triggers are crowded roads, rushing, road work, dangerous driving attitudes, general stress and plain old selfishness. Road bullies use their cars to intimidate others, speed past slower cars, pass on the right, weave through traffic, tailgate, blow through lights and make rude gestures, “signaling other drivers that they are the exception to the rules of the road,” says Catherine L. Rossi, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

“A whopping 48 percent cited frustration with traffic as the No. 1 reason for aggressive driving,” says Rossi. “Ironically, only 6 percent said they were in a hurry.”

In its third year, the state’s campaign to stop aggressive driving is making great strides. (The Stop Aggressive Driving campaign is part of the Office of Highway Safety’s 120 Days of Summer HEAT [Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic] campaign. HEAT includes Click It or Ticket and the Checkpoint Strikeforce Impaired Driving Prevention campaigns.)

According to Andrea Summers, community relations officer for the state Office of Highway Safety, police issued more than 6,500 citations for aggressive driving violations in 2006. She says the effort reduced fatal crashes related to aggressive driving from 61 percent in 2005 to 52 percent in 2006.

Through the campaign, state, county and local police work in teams to nab aggressive drivers. They use marked and unmarked vehicles. In addition, citizens are encouraged to call 911 to report aggressive drivers.

You can also make a difference by giving yourself enough time to travel, obeying the speed limit and identifying alternative routes. Work at being a courteous and patient driver, or simply accept being late once in a while.

Bad News for Predators

Delaware’s new Child Protection Unit of the Department of Justice has lofty goals to reach in its first year. The unit, just five months old, is one of the main tools in the war against sexual offenders and others who prey on children, especially those who use the Internet as a means to reach the young and innocent.

The unit is working with the Delaware State Police High Tech Crimes Unit to develop a statewide system for managing cases of child predation, educating police agencies across the state about its purpose, and developing education programs, with an emphasis in our schools, to prevent sexual predation of children.

It is also investigating cases.

Established by Attorney General Beau Biden in March, the CPU is headed by Melanie Withers, an 18-year veteran of the Justice Department who has extensive experience prosecuting felony child sexual assault cases.

“Attorney General Biden has already visited a number of middle schools across Delaware to present an important educational message about Internet safety and the dangers posed by predators who use the Internet to meet and prey on children,” Withers says.

The child predator unit is also reviewing education programs geared toward families, teachers and community organizations.

“It used to be that locking our doors and watching our children in the park was enough to protect our children, but nowadays predators can enter your home with a click of the computer mouse,” Biden said when he announced creation of the unit. “One out of seven children will be sexually solicited on the Internet, and of those solicitations, one in 25 are aggressively contacted.”

According to Biden, more than 20,000 pornographic pictures of children are posted online each week. Close to 100,000 illegal child pornography sites are in operation.

“Let me be clear: Possessors of child pornography are predators,” he said. “It is estimated that between 40 [percent] and 76 percent of these offenders have also committed sexual offenses against children. We will aggressively pursue these criminals and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”

The Child Predator Unit is linked with the state’s sex offender registry, which allows law enforcement to monitor convicted sex offenders. The list is available to the public.

Though some offenders are serving prison sentences, others are serving probation. Unfortunately, says Withers, some predators have not been identified, though they live in our neighborhoods and in cyberspace.

“That’s why Attorney General Biden created the Child Predator Unit—to proactively identify, pursue, prosecute and punish these criminals before they prey on our children,” Withers says.

Fighting for Air

If you suspect the quality of our air is bad, it is. Helping to make it better, of course, means better things for your health.

According to the 2007 State of the Air report issued by the American Lung Association, Delaware—with New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia—has received a failing grade for air quality. That bad air affects more than 20 million residents of the region.

Half of the U.S. population lives in counties that have unhealthful levels of particulate pollution (soot) or ozone. Healthful oxygen sustains many living things. Ozone, or O3, is harmful to humans and other mammals.

“When we breathe air that has high levels of ozone, it can create an internal sunburn on our lungs,” says Terri Brixen, an education and outreach coordinator for the air quality division of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

This year’s report showed levels of particle pollution increasing east of the Mississippi River (especially along the I-95 corridor), but decreasing to the west. The report did show that, overall, ozone has decreased nationwide since 2002, but is still dangerously high.

Delaware may have that big red F on its report card, but it is trying to reduce the harmful affects of poor air quality and high ozone.

In 2006 the Ozone Partnership of Delaware changed its name to the Air Quality Partnership of Delaware to reflect increased efforts to educate residents about the dangers of various air pollutants in the region. The group urges Delawareans to adopt practices that improve air quality and citizen health.

Though local ozone levels usually peak in July, August sees its share of code red and code orange days, indicating poor air. You can help minimize the problem and protect your health in several ways:

• Use public transportation, car pool or telecommute. It cuts down on the burning of fossil fuels and greenhouse gases.

• Limit your time outdoors, especially in the afternoon, when ozone is at its highest. It’s best to avoid aerobic exercise outdoors altogether.

• Don’t top off your fuel tank. Gasoline vaporizes quickly, thus increasing air pollution.

• Use electric probes to light a charcoal grill or use a gas grill. Charcoal lighter fluid also vaporizes quickly, as do latex paints.

“Our improved ozone grades (from 2002) are certainly good news, but the increased particle pollution is an especially troubling trend,” says Tom Bream, chairman of the board of directors for the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic. “We in the Mid-Atlantic region certainly have a long way to go to have air that is safe for everyone to breathe. Science clearly shows that air pollution is dangerous—even deadly—at levels we once thought were safe.”

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