Chapter 2: Description of
Aggression Suppression Program

The Aggression Suppression Program was designed to combine enforcement and public awareness efforts to effect positive changes in drivers' attitudes and behaviors related to aggressive driving. The following objectives were established:

Rather than focusing generally on aggressive driving throughout the Milwaukee area, the Aggression Suppression Program adopted a more targeted approach. The enforcement and publicity efforts defined the following specific traffic offenses as aggressive driving:

Following the program kick-off, the remainder of the six-month enforcement and awareness program was organized into a series of three-week campaigns, each addressing a specific offense, for example, speeding, tailgating. In addition, although the publicity and enforcement efforts were designed to change the attitudes and behaviors of the general driving public, these efforts also were targeted to specific locations and times.

A description of these program elements, the program coordination and management, the participating agencies, and the evaluation plan is provided below.

Program Planning and Coordination

The Aggression Suppression Program was coordinated by the City of Milwaukee Safety Commission, which also functions as the Safety Division of the Milwaukee Police Department. In addition to planning and coordinating the program, the Safety Commission was responsible for developing and implementing the public awareness efforts.

In recent years, Milwaukee City and County have conducted a number of special programs to enforce traffic violations, including speeding and hit and run. In addition, the Milwaukee Police Department in fall 1996 implemented a "quality of life" enforcement program; this program focused particularly on speeding and other traffic offenses. The number of citations issued to drivers by the Milwaukee Police Department for moving traffic violations increased from 79,008 in 1995 to 148,867 in 1997, and then declined to 130,799 in 1998.

The involvement of the Milwaukee County Law Enforcement Executives Association (MCLEEA) in the Aggression Suppression Program ensured that the program would be implemented countywide. MCLEEA member agencies include the City of Milwaukee Police Department, the Milwaukee County Office of the Sheriff, and the 18 suburban law enforcement agencies in the County. All twenty MCLEEA member agencies participated in both the publicity and the enforcement efforts. Five of these agencies received funding to conduct special enforcement; these agencies included the Milwaukee County Office of the Sheriff and the law enforcement agencies of the cities of Milwaukee, Glendale, Wauwatosa, and West Allis.

An advisory committee assisted in planning and implementing the program and met monthly during the six-month enforcement period to help coordinate and monitor the project. The committee included representatives of the five enforcement agencies that received funding; the Bureau of Transportation Safety and the Traffic Operations Center, Wisconsin Department of Transportation; and the Infrastructure Service Division, Department of Public Works, City of Milwaukee. The Advisory Committee also included a representative from the evaluator Preusser Research Group, Inc. Additional partners included the Wisconsin AAA, County and municipal judges, the City of Milwaukee attorney, the District Attorney, and the Court Commissioner.

Public Awareness Program

A key component of the Aggression Suppression Program was publicity about the nature of the aggressive driving problem and the special enforcement efforts. The public awareness program consisted primarily of the distribution of various public awareness materials and earned media coverage, that is, news coverage "earned" by making news. A special effort was made to secure coverage by the four local television stations. The federal demonstration grant funds did not permit the purchase of media time, since it is unlikely that other law enforcement agencies attempting to replicate the strategies successfully used in Milwaukee would have funds to purchase media.

The publicity began with a press event in October 1998, announcing the selection of Milwaukee as the first aggressive driving program demonstration site. The event involved the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, the Mayor and Chief of Police from the City of Milwaukee, the County Executive and Sheriff of Milwaukee County, and a number of other local officials and dignitaries.

The publicity plan for the Aggression Suppression program, provided in Table 2.1, included 13 media events. Local and national enforcement representatives and highway safety officials attended the kick-off press conference on March 30, launching the special enforcement efforts. At the event, the logo and name of the program were introduced. Enhanced enforcement activities also were announced, including the use of in-vehicle video cameras, plainclothes law enforcement observers at targeted intersections, unconventional patrol vehicles, and magnetic "Aggressive Driving Patrol" signs placed on patrol vehicles during traffic stops. Reporters were given an opportunity to view the mobile video cameras and to film a special enforcement effort at a nearby intersection. Reporters also were encouraged to ride along with sheriff's patrol squads to observe aggressive driving behaviors on the freeways and to witness aggressive driving enforcement. All four local television stations, the major daily newspaper, a suburban weekly newspaper, and two radio stations attended the press conference. Extensive coverage of the kick-off occurred in all the media. Also on March 30, copies of the press release and other materials were mailed to 400 employers and to area high schools, driver education schools, and school bus companies.

In early April publicity focused on two special enforcement initiatives designed to increase the flow of traffic. On April 5 it was announced that Gridlock Enforcement would begin to target motorists who stopped in the intersection during the green light or entered the intersection after the traffic light had turned yellow or red. On April 12 it was announced that Ramp Meter Enforcement would begin; this enforcement targeted drivers who failed to stop for a red light at a ramp meter or who used the car pool lane when driving alone.

Table 2.1
Aggression Suppression Publicity Plan to Support Enforcement Phase
April-September 1999
Aggression Suppression Logo
March 30 Campaign Kick-off; Enforcement Begins
April 5 Gridlock Enforcement (Blocking the Intersection) Announced
April 12 Highway Ramp Meter Enforcement Announce
April 19  
May 9

Milwaukee County Law Enforcement Executives Association hosts first press conference; three-week patrols announced.

Space Patrol: Police will pay special attention to drivers not leaving enough space between vehicles, tailgating.

The use of laser technology to measure the distance between cars is unveiled.

April 26 Hotline Announced
May 3 Trained Citizen Observer Class Announced
May 10  
May 31
Angel Patrol: Police will look for drivers driving faster than their guardian angel can fly over the posted speed limit.
May 31  
June 21
Kindergarten Patrol: Police will watch for drivers who did not learn in kindergarten that red means stop.
June 21  
July 12
Flasher Patrol: Police will watch for drivers not using their flashers or turn signals when turning or switching lanes.
July 12  
August 2
Courtesy Patrol: Police will pay particular attention to discourteous drivers who think "me first" and fail to yield the right-of-way.
August 2 August 23 Rude Attitude Patrol (a.k.a. Bird Watchers Patrol): Police will watch for drivers who have lost personal control, yelling, beeping, flashing lights, giving gestures, tailgating, etc.
August 23 September 13 Basket Patrol: Police will look for drivers who like to weave, those who cut in and out, and speeding as they weave their way through traffic.
September 13 September 30 Time Management Patrol: Police will watch for those people who don't manage time well and speed to try to make up for it.

A key feature of the Aggression Suppression publicity plan was a series of "sub-theme" campaigns, each addressing a particular type of aggressive driving. Thus, beginning on April 19, the publicity plan called for a series of eight public awareness campaigns, each lasting three weeks and addressing an aggressive driving behavior that was emphasized by the enforcement patrols (Table 2.1). An attention-getting descriptive slogan was associated with each theme. For example, the campaign to encourage the use of flashers or turn signals was entitled the "Flasher Patrol," and the "Basket Patrol" featured drivers who weave, cut in and out of traffic, and speed. Each campaign was launched by a press conference hosted by one of the participating enforcement agencies.

Extensive earned media coverage occurred throughout the six-month program. In general, television and radio coverage was more extensive than coverage by the print media. Each press conference to announce one of the special patrols was attended by three or four television stations and was often attended by one or more radio stations. The press releases featured the special enforcement equipment described below. The publicity highlighted the roadway corridors and intersections that were targeted by the enforcement efforts, also described below.

The aggressive driving patrols were frequently the subject of radio call-in talk shows. In particular, the Rude Attitude Patrol generated extensive press coverage after one radio station questioned whether enforcement agencies were exceeding their authority. The radio station interviewed an attorney about whether drivers' constitutional rights were being violated. This concern was precipitated by the program's press announcement, which indicated that enforcement agencies would be "watching those who lose personal control by yelling, beeping, flashing lights, giving gestures, tailgating, etc." Additional press conferences were held to explain that although these behaviors might not constitute traffic violations, the behaviors might draw officers' attention to potential traffic violations, such as speeding or running a red light.

Overall, it was believed that the Aggression Suppression Program succeeded in sustaining media interest by using novel and different sub-campaign themes, involving multiple enforcement agencies, staging novel media events (for example, patrol ride-alongs), and drawing the media's attention to innovative enforcement technologies and strategies.

The press events were coordinated with additional mailings to businesses and schools and the distribution of bumper stickers, posters, flyers, and other publicity materials. Posters for each special patrol and copies of the press announcement were sent to participating law enforcement departments and to all high school driver education teachers and 450 businesses in the Milwaukee area. As part of the Aggression Suppression Program, the City of Milwaukee Police Department developed a "Distance between Cars Laser" poster and card, a "Gridlock" flyer, an "Aggression Suppression" flyer, an "Aggression Suppression Keep Cool, Drive Courteously" sticker and poster, and a citation book-sized informational card for officers' reference as they worked this project. The card contained the statutory reference for each offense that is often considered aggressive driving.

Additional publicity materials were provided by the State's "Let It Ride" program, which was implemented by the Wisconsin Bureau of Transportation Safety through its Task Force on Road Rage. These materials included a "Let It Ride, Courtesy Rules the Road" booklet and an "Aggressive Driver" flyer, which was distributed by officers to drivers issued tickets for aggressive driving violations. In some cases, the Aggression Suppression logo was placed on the State's materials. The State's "Let It Ride" public service announcement was distributed to television stations in the Milwaukee area and shown at 120 movie theaters throughout the State. In September 1999, the Bureau of Transportation Safety distributed to high schools a videotape on aggressive driving, which used the same theme as the "Let It Ride" public service announcement. The Aggressive Driving Program sent copies of this videotape to businesses in the Milwaukee area.

The publicity program also included the following:

The original publicity plan called for the establishment of an aggressive driving hotline. However, this proved unfeasible because the cell phone companies required indemnification. There also were concerns that there would be liability to the City or County if the service were discontinued at some point. The use of citizen observers was deemed to have limited success, due to several factors. The observers were recruited from the police auxiliaries, but the concept gradually lost the support of the law enforcement agencies. The agencies were concerned that they would be burdened by a large volume of reports and that the citizen observers would take action on their own and possible endanger themselves. Only two referrals were received from the observers, both for violations occurring on the freeway. The program organizers hypothesized that the citizen observers were either afraid to report violators or apathetic. Despite these problems, however, it is possible that the publicity about the observers and the hotline had a general deterrent effect on drivers by raising the public's perception that enforcement of aggressive driving offenses had increased.

An Aggression Suppression logo was created and placed on materials, but it was not ready in time for some of the earlier materials.

Enforcement Program

All 20 enforcement agencies in the City and County participated in the enforcement component of the program. The primary agencies involved in the enforcement program were the City of Milwaukee Police Department, patrolling Milwaukee's city streets, and the Milwaukee County Office of the Sheriff, patrolling the freeway and interstate roadways. Both agencies received project funding for overtime enforcement.

The law enforcement agencies of the surrounding suburban cities were encouraged to participate to the extent possible, with support from the Wisconsin Highway Safety Office ("Section 402") funds. Wauwatosa, Glendale, and West Allis received Section 402 funding for increased enforcement of aggressive driving offenses, as part of an aggressive driving pilot project coordinated by the Wisconsin Bureau of Transportation Safety. From May to September 1999, these three agencies undertook special enforcement of aggressive driving offenses and participated in the publicity efforts. During this period, the special enforcement hours totaled 288 hours in Wauwatosa, 140 hours in Glendale, and an estimated 800 hours in West Allis.

Fifteen additional suburban law enforcement agencies participated voluntarily in the program without special funding. All publicity and enforcement materials were provided to these 15 agencies, as well as to West Allis, Wauwatosa, and Glendale, and all these agencies participated in the publicity events.

The special enforcement efforts of the Office of the Sheriff were coordinated by its Traffic Division and focused on the particular traffic violations designated by the program as aggressive (tailgating, ramp meter violations, high occupancy vehicle (HOV) violations, stopping in an intersection, excessive speed, running a red light, running a stop sign, failing to use a turn signal, failing to yield right-of-way, cutting in and out of traffic). For the purposes of the program, the Office of the Sheriff defined speeding as "aggressive driving" if the vehicle speed exceeded the posted speed limit by 20 MPH or more. In all, 1,455 overtime hours were dedicated to aggressive driving enforcement and funded through the NHTSA grant. An additional 760 hours of dedicated aggressive enforcement were funded through the matching efforts of the Office of the Sheriff.

The enhanced enforcement efforts of the City of Milwaukee Police Department also focused on the particular offenses defined as aggressive. The program was coordinated through the Department's Special Operations Bureau Motorcycle/Traffic Enforcement section. Under the NHTSA grant, 5,700 patrol hours and 900 administrative and supervisory hours were funded.

In general, exceeding the speed limit by at least 15 MPH was considered "aggressive" by the City Police Department, although the Department recognized the difficulty of setting a speed threshold that would be appropriate for all types of city streets. Increased enforcement of unsafe driving offenses occurred throughout the City, and intensified enforcement also was targeted toward eight specific roadway corridors and seven signalized intersections (Table 2.2). Some, but not all, of the targeted intersections were located on the targeted corridors.

The selection of the targeted corridors was based on a review of historical crash data and citation data for the City of Milwaukee. The City's Infrastructure Services Division, Department of Public Works, provided detailed information on the number and characteristics of crashes occurring at various locations, including information on the contributory crash factors. The targeted corridors were located on high-volume arterial roadways. The criterion for selection was 20 or more crashes occurring over the prior three years and involving the following factors: excessive speed, speed too fast for conditions, failing to yield right-of-way, following too closely, disregarding a traffic signal or sign, and improper overtaking. Historical crash data also provided the basis for the selection of the targeted intersections. Each of the selected intersections had at least 35 aggressive driving-related crashes in the prior three years.

Table 2.2
Aggression Suppression Program 
Targeted Enforcement Locations in the City of Milwaukee
  • West Brown Deer, North 76th to North 107th
  • West Capitol, North 27th to North 76th
  • West Center, North 8th to North Sherman
  • West Fond du Lac, West Walnut to City limits
  • West Good Hope, North 43rd to North 91st
  • West Hampton, North Green Bay to North 76th
  • West National, South 2nd to South 35th
  • South 16th Street, West National to West Lincoln
  • North 107th and West Silver Spring
  • North 91st and West Silver Spring
  • West Capitol and North Sherman
  • West Fond du Lac at W. Capitol- North 51st/52nd
  • North 76th and West Mill
  • South 27th and West Howard
  • East Locust at North Oakland

The enforcement effort included the following innovative strategies:


The Preusser Research Group (PRG), Inc., conducted an evaluation of the Aggression Suppression Program. A process evaluation addressed the following questions: 1) What were the key elements of the program? 2) Was the program implemented fully and in accordance with the plan, that is, did the level of publicity and enforcement of aggressive driving increase? 3) What elements of the program were most successful, and which were least successful? An outcome evaluation examined whether there were positive changes in drivers' awareness, knowledge, and perceived risk related to aggressive driving; aggressive driving behaviors; and crashes. In addition, as the first comprehensive evaluation of a community aggressive driving program, the evaluation was intended to develop and test methods to assess future aggressive driving programs.

In conducting the process evaluation, a review was made of planning documents and official reports to NHTSA, publicity materials, and files of press clippings. To help prepare a full description of the program activities and assess the relative success of different program elements, discussions were held with the Project Manager and key officers in the Office of the Sheriff and Milwaukee Police Department.

The following types of data were either obtained or generated for the evaluation:

  1. Data on the numbers and types of citations issued by the Office of the Sheriff and the Milwaukee Police Department for the six months of the program and for a six-month baseline period.
  2. Data on self-reported attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors related to aggressive driving, collected through self-administered surveys of a representative sample of Milwaukee drivers, conducted prior to, during, and after the program.
  3. Observational data on driving behaviors, collected by videotaping traffic during pre-program, mid-program, and post-program periods at target and comparison intersections and on a limited access highway.
  4. Data on the numbers and characteristics of crashes occurring during the program and for a baseline period for the entire City and for the eight roadway corridors targeted by the program and eight comparison corridors.