Road Rage: An Ever-Growing U.S. Phenomenon That Injures and Kills People

Is Road Rage a Criminal Offense

The term “road rage” was first coined in 1987 by a Los Angeles news station after shots fired by a driver on an LA highway struck and killed a 3-year-old passenger in another car. By summer’s end that year, hundreds of violent roadway incidents had been reported statewide, resulting in five deaths and 11 injuries.

Per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, road rage occurs when a driver “commits moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property; an assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by the operator or passenger of one motor vehicle on the operator or passengers of another motor vehicle.”

Other simpler definitions include a driver’s “violent anger caused by the stress and frustration involved in driving a motor vehicle in difficult conditions” and “a motorist’s uncontrolled anger that is usually provoked by another motorist’s irritating act and is expressed in aggressive or violent behavior.”

The NHTSA distinguishes road rage from other types of aggressive driving by designating it as a criminal act. While aggressive driving is designated as a traffic offense. This may, however, represent a distinction without much difference. Traffic law is a type of criminal law. In those states that do not have specific road rage laws, a driver who engages in this behavior is often charged with some type of reckless driving. Such a charge, however, is itself a crime that could be either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on its seriousness.

Road Rage Examples

Examples of serious road rage behaviors include ramming another vehicle from behind; sideswiping another vehicle; forcing another vehicle off the road; physically fighting with another driver once the vehicles come to a stop; and shooting at another vehicle or its driver.

Somewhat less serious road rage behaviors include the following:

  • Yelling at another driver, especially yelling obscenities
  • Incessantly honking at another vehicle
  • Making obscene gestures toward another driver
  • Tailgating another vehicle
  • Cutting another vehicle off
  • Throwing trash or other objects at another vehicle
  • Getting in front of another vehicle and not allowing it to pass
  • Preventing another driver from changing lanes

The bottom line is that road rage involves one driver having a violent intent toward another driver. Oftentimes the person exhibiting this behavior justifies it as a form of revenge against another driver perceived to have done something bad to him or her. In other words, road rage often is “an eye for an eye” behavior. The driver engaging in it believes he or she is only giving as good as he or she got.

Road Rage Causes

The most common trigger for road rage consists of being stuck in slow-moving traffic, especially when running late. This makes rush hour and construction zone drivers especially susceptible to being either a perpetrator or a victim. Other underlying factors include a driver’s stress over some aspect of his or her life or difficulty controlling his or her temper and aggression when faced with a perceived threat or slight.

Road Rage Statistics

Sobering recent U.S. statistics include the following:

  • Road rage resulted in 218 murders and 12,610 injuries during a seven-year period.
  • Driving errors cause 92% of all traffic accidents, 33% of which can be attributed to these behaviors.
  • 82% of drivers admit to engaging in road rage or aggressive driving behaviors at least once during the preceding year.
  • 50% of victims admit to responding in kind to the aggressor.
  • 41% of drivers believe it is as dangerous as distracted driving or drunk driving.
  • 38% of drivers admit to making obscene gestures to other drivers.
  • 37% of incidents involve the use of a firearm.
  • By 2015, fatal motor vehicle accidents attributed to road rage or aggressive driving had increased to 467, a 500% increase since 2006.

Indiana, South Carolina, Alabama, Colorado and Wisconsin ranked as the top five states for road rage incidents in 2016.

Road Rage Demographics

Studies show that young males under 19 years of age are the group most likely to exhibit this behavior. Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, take part in over 50% of all road rage and aggressive driving accidents. Gen-Xers, those born between 1965 and 1980, account for 21%. Baby boomers, those born between 1945 and 1964, account for only 4.2%.

Road Rage Penalties

Each state has its own laws regarding road rage and other types of aggressive driving. Consequently, the precise charge, and therefore penalties, you face if convicted of a road rage or aggressive driving crime depend on where you live and what you allegedly did.

In California, for example, you can face charges of assault, a misdemeanor with penalties of a jail sentence of six months, plus a $1,000 fine. Another possibility is a charge of assault with a deadly weapon. This is classified as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the seriousness of its consequences. Felony assault with a deadly weapon carries a penalty of a maximum 4-year incarceration in a state prison.

Georgia considers this a form of aggressive driving, a misdemeanor of a “high and aggressive nature”. If convicted, you face a $5,000 fine and will have to take and complete a road rage course. You also face a 6-month suspension of your driver’s license for a first offense and a 1-year suspension for a second or subsequent offense.

When to Consult an Attorney

Aggressive driving brings two areas of the law to the fore. If you sustain an injury in a road rage incident caused by someone else, you have the right to sue that person and receive compensation for your economic and non-economic damages. This requires the help of an experienced personal injury attorney.

Conversely, if law enforcement officers arrest you and charge you with allegedly committing a road rage or reckless driving offense, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to vigorously defend you and protect your rights.

Work With an Experienced Local Lawyer

If you are involved in a road rage incident, submit a request online today or call us at (866) 345-6784 to get in touch with an experienced personal injury or criminal defense lawyer in your area.

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