Inter-vehicular communication system research shedding light on solution to road rage problem

October 24, 1999

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Road rage! We hear about road rage almost every day in newspapers, on television, and in movies. Experts say the pressures and stresses of ordinary living cause some drivers to use their automobiles as weapons. These drivers experience a kind of uncontrollable rage that leaves other drivers in fear, in panic, and sometimes in physical pain.

How can we stop it? "Psychotherapists tell us to just avoid making eye contact with other drivers," said Scott Geller, one of the researchers involved in developing a new anti-road-rage device. "Look neither left nor right. As a result, we become prisoners of fear in our own cars, too anxious that the driver next to us may become subject to road rage."

According to Geller, professor of psychology at Virginia Tech, and Jerry Beasley, a violence-prevention expert at Radford University, both in Southwest Virginia, there?s a more direct and measurable method of combating road rage.

After 12 months of research and development, Geller, who specializes in transportation safety, and Beasley have concluded that the distress associated with road rage can be depreciated through the positive use of an inter-vehicular communication system.

Geller and Beasley and their research team have studied Inter-vehicular Communication Systems (ICS) models for the past year and have designed a device dubbed the Road Rage Reducer. "We are in the final phases of preliminary testing of the device," Geller said, "and plan to involve an entire community in a field study of the Road Rage Reducer within the next few months."

The concept of ICS devices recently attracted international attention when a computer specialist in Scotland marketed a device used in the rear window of his car to display the words, "Thanks," "Sorry," and "Help." "Currently there are over a half dozen United States patents on devices that could be used to communicate words and be placed in the rear window of a vehicle," Beasley said. However, Geller said, such devices at present are illegal in this country.

"In our research," Geller said, "we found that the display of words can interfere with a driver?s field of view and may cause unnecessary tailgating as drivers attempt to get close enough to read them." Geller cited a recent Virginia Tech study that found that paying attention to something besides driving for 15 seconds or more, or glancing more than four times from the road, increases the potential for a vehicle crash.

The Road Rage Reducer developed by Beasley and Geller employs a small, unobtrusive system of light codes. The team is now researching which works best, a flash of a color that means "Sorry," another color that means "Please," and so forth, or one color flashed a certain number of times for each desired message. "Widespread dissemination of the meaning behind the code will result in the Road Rage Reducer?s requiring only a few seconds and one to two glances to receive the messages. We think a code will work better than words in getting the message across," Geller said.

In a paper presented in November 1998, Beasley outlined the process of using the "Courtesy Code" via the Road Rage Reducer, which is presently in the patent review process.

Virginia Tech

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