It's a novel idea - teaching compassion to domestic abusers (
see the article
"The Key to End Domestic Violence"). But
psychologist Steven Stosny, Ph.D., has found that it also works to stop
What he never expected was to discover that it also makes a
dramatic dent in road rage. It has totally unintended effects on driving.
It not only makes homes safer, it makes the highways much safer.
Stosny, who is based in Germantown, Maryland, has developed a
treatment program called CompassionPower that he administers to
batterers. Many of the abusers are violent offenders mandated into the
program by the courts.
In addition, Stosny is a behavior specialist on an aggressive
driving task force formed by the National Highway Safety Transportation
Administration. The NHSTA had decided to do something to reduce
aggressive driving in the Washington, D.C., area, because it has the
second worst record in the country.
Stosny proposed a treatment program for aggressive drivers modeled
on his program for violent offenders, those who engage in domestic
violence or child abuse (often one and the same person). But he suggested
that before he implement a trial of his aggressive-driving program, at
considerable taxpayer expense, the NHSTA should just "run some numbers"
on graduates of his domestic violence program.
Now you have to understand, neither Stosny nor anyone else talks
about aggressive driving in his domestic violence program. In fact, no
one has linked domestic violence and aggressive driving before.
And aggressive driving is notoriously hard to detect. It's not like
speeding, a relatively sustained act and one that can be monitored
Aggressive driving consists of cutting other drivers off,
tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic, running stop lights and stop
signs, and trying to intimidate people by blowing the horn or gesturing
obscenely at them. An officer has to witness these acts, which are
relatively short-lived but can cause accidents. For every violation,
there are six crashes caused by aggressive driving.
When they "ran the numbers" on graduates of Stosny's domestic
violence program, everyone was startled. Here is what they found:
Two thirds of those people court-ordered into the domestic violence
program had multiple aggressive driving violations the year before. Many
had more than 10. Many were driving on revoked licenses. In fact, 30% of
them had revoked licenses.
"These people aren't keeping cool on the road," Stosny reports. But
that was before they underwent compassion training.
What happened afterwards blew everyone's mind. The year before they
learned compassion, 312 batterers our of 400 in the program had
convictions—many of them multiple—for aggressive driving. The
year after the compassion workshop, in which not one word was uttered
about driving, there were only seven aggressive-driving convictions among
So there's very good reason for highway police to be on the lookout
for aggressive drivers. Who knows how many of them are also batterers?
And maybe they should be ticketed aggressively.
"The big hopeful thing, the reason I got involved in the aggressive
driving thing anyway," says Stosny, "is I think if you can get these
people for aggressive driving, and give them the same basic intervention,
you can catch many people who are in violent relationships where the
abuse is not being reported. And you can lower family violence. Of
course, that has to be tested."
Of course. And, hopefully, soon.