We see it every day and everywhere on the road. Drivers speed, weave in and out of multiple lanes of traffic, block you from merging or lane changes, tailgate, and more.
Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that the number of fatal crashes caused by aggressive driving increased from 80 in 2006 to 467 in a recent year, a nearly 500 percent increase in only a decade. According to the NHTSA, 66 percent of traffic fatalities are the result of aggressive driving.
Safe driving requires clear-headedness, focus, and self-control. Strong emotions can affect your physical driving ability and place others at risk. People who are experiencing road rage are driving “under the influence of impaired emotions,” says Leon James, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii and co-author of Road Rage and Aggressive Driving.
What Causes Road Rage?
Road rage can occur for many reasons. Everyone occasionally becomes frustrated while driving due to traffic conditions or poor judgment of other drivers. But for some drivers, the anger persists, increases, and can lead to disastrous consequences.
Despite safer cars and strict traffic laws, road rage is a risk for everyone on the road. Those experiencing road rage may be under stress or feel threatened by the actions of another driver. Young men seem to be most susceptible to road rage, but the problem crosses age and gender lines. Anyone can feel rage behind the wheel. That’s because anyone can take offense at what they think another driver is doing.
What Is the Difference Between Road Rage and Aggressive Driving?
The difference between aggressive driving and road rage is not always clear-cut. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), aggressive driving is a traffic violation, while road rage is a criminal matter. Road rage involves situations in which a driver “commits moving traffic offenses 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 passenger of another motor vehicle.”
Aggressive driving causes an estimated one-third of all crashes and about two-thirds of the resulting fatalities. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety defines road rage as “any unsafe driving maneuver performed deliberately and with ill intention or disregard for safety.”
Anywhere you go, aggressive driving is disturbingly common. In some cases, people see driving as a type of competition. They exert control over others by demonstrating their aggressive driving habits, which they believe are virtuous or righteous. Nearly 80 percent of drivers said that they experienced “significant anger, aggression, or road rage” while driving. Road rage incidents often start when other drivers tailgate, fail to signal, or wander out of their lane, or otherwise drive poorly. Drivers respond in an “assertive” manner by yelling, gesturing, or aggressive honking. The aggressive behaviors often increase and intensify.
About 2 percent of drivers say they have tried to force another vehicle off the road. While general stress contributes to driver anger, research suggests that road rage is primarily triggered by one event. Typically, this will involve one driver unintentionally doing something that offends another driver. However, the response of the other driver determines what happens next.
Some drivers will be irritated but just shrug off the potentially triggering event. But others will be enraged and act accordingly. Aggressive driving and negligence cause many otherwise preventable car crashes. If an aggressive driver is intentionally trying to hurt someone, their behavior crosses over into road rage.
Another way to think about the distinction between road rage and aggressive driving is to consider consequences. Road rage, particularly when it results in a confrontation, can have significant consequences. These range from traffic tickets, arrests for reckless driving, suspension or revocation of a driver’s license, losing or paying more for car insurance, property damage, or severe or fatal injuries. Road rage aggressors have shot, stabbed, beaten, and run over victims.
Common Examples of Road Rage Conduct
Road rage has become almost commonplace and often escalates quickly. A recent survey conducted by The Zebra indicates 2.8 percent of survey respondents reported feelings of anger and aggression every time they drive. They may sideswipe or hit other vehicles. Some drivers leave the car to confront another driver. They may shove or get into a physical fight with another driver.
One AAA survey, designed to identify attitudes and behaviors related to driver safety, found that approximately eight million drivers are engaging in aggressive driving behaviors. Aggressive drivers often deliberately tailgate. Other aggressive behaviors include cursing or shouting at other drivers, excessive horn honking, deliberately driving very slowly in the left lane, or cutting off other vehicles.
According to NHTSA’s Fatal Accident Report System (FARS), other common behaviors include:
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, nearly 80 percent of drivers demonstrated road rage in the past year. Drivers confirmed that they had experienced significant anger, confronted other drivers, tailgated, and even deliberately hit other cars. The problem often begins when a driver makes driving errors or demonstrates bad driving habits. Then 50 percent of the drivers who witness the errors become aggressors themselves, responding with honking, rude gestures, yelling, and aggressive driving. Sometimes the aggression escalates and becomes deadly.
Statistics from AAA also reported:
- Suddenly speeding up
- Changing lanes recklessly
- Passing where prohibited
- Failure to yield right of way
- Disobeying traffic signs or signals
- Disobeying safety zone laws
- Failure to observe posted warnings or instructions on vehicles
- Failure to signal
- Exceeding the posted speed limit or driving too fast for road conditions
- Racing another vehicle
- Making an improper turn
- Sudden braking
- Driving in forbidden areas, such as sidewalks, medians, or the shoulder of the road
- Excessive use of horns
- Flashing of lights
- Use of hand gestures
- Shouting threats or obscenities
- Displaying a gun or other weapon
- Intentionally causing a crash
- 51 percent of respondents deliberately tailgate.
- 47 percent of those polled yell at other drivers.
- 45 percent of drivers honk in anger or annoyance.
- 33 percent or 67 million drivers make obscene gestures.
- 49 million drivers (24 percent) attempt to block another vehicle from changing lanes. Half of that number (12 percent of all drivers) intentionally cut off another driver.
- Nearly 8 million drivers (4 percent) will get out of the car to confront the other driver.
- About 6 million drivers (3 percent) deliberately ram another car.
Consequences of Road Rage
Most behaviors associated with aggressive driving are illegal. Not all states have laws specifically against road rage. However, most have statutes that apply to aggressive driving. Even if a state lacks laws that specifically govern road rage, when road rage causes accidents or injuries, prosecutors may charge drivers with serious crimes such as assault, vehicular homicide, or attempted homicide. Road rage may not constitute a specific charge in all jurisdictions, but the perpetrator may face serious penalties from other charges regardless.
A road rage incident may lead to traffic offenses such as careless driving or reckless driving. Acts that are unsafe or negligent, such as tailgating or speeding, may be considered careless driving. Reckless driving is a more serious charge. It refers to driving with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others. Intent plays a part. The driver knows the actions are not safe but does them anyway. It is a misdemeanor with possible fines, imprisonment, or both.
In some circumstances, prosecutors may charge the at-fault driver with assault and battery. For example, if the other driver intentionally hits your vehicle with their vehicle, leaves the car, and physically attacks you or your vehicle, or the other driver forces you off the road and then assaults you, the driver may face assault or battery charges.
The charge can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the nature and extent of the victim’s injuries. If the enraged driver shoots or harms another person with a deadly weapon, then the charges will be far more serious. Studies show that 37 percent of the aggressive driving incidents that occur involve at least one firearm.
Most people know that acts of road rage are illegal, so a driver who has, for example, tried to run someone off the road or otherwise caused a road rage accident often does not stay around after the accident, so many incidents of road rage are also hit-and-run incidents.
Filing a Civil Claim After a Road Rage Incident
If you were injured in a road rage accident, you may sue the driver for any personal injuries or property damage to your vehicle. Even if the at-fault driver is not facing criminal charges, you can still pursue a car accident lawsuit. A civil claim asserts that the road rage driver was negligent, reckless, or intentional in their misconduct, and that their actions caused the injuries for which you are seeking compensation.
Evidence of a road rage incident may take several forms, such as the police report, statements from others who witnessed the incident, dashcam footage, or medical records showing your injuries, treatment, and expenses. Photos of your injuries, the vehicles, and the accident scene will help prove your claim. Also, if there were any video cameras in the area, they may have recorded the incident.
Compensation After a Road Rage Incident
After a road rage attack, you may be suffering from far more than ordinary car accident injuries.
If you’re injured in a road rage incident, you could file for damages such as:
- Medical bills, which include the treatment you received upon arriving at the hospital and any future treatments you need because of your accident
- Lost wages, which includes the time you had to take off work to recover, visit the doctor, receive treatments for your accident, and attend court hearings.
- Pain and suffering, which includes any emotional and physical pain that you’ve suffered because of the accident, such as PTSD, depressing, and anxiety, and physical discomfort or chronic pain
- In some cases, punitive damages.
What to Do in a Road Rage Situation
If you become involved in a road rage situation or a victim of an accident caused by a driver with road rage, you should exercise extreme caution to protect yourself and others who are with you. Unfortunately, you do not know what is going on in the other person’s mind. Stay calm and do not engage the other driver. It could make the difference between a minor accident and a deadly encounter.
If you see a road rage situation developing:
- Stay on well lighted and traveled roads
- Do not engage or escalate the conflict. Avoid yelling, making eye contact, or gesturing.
- Keep moving, and don’t stop if you can help it. Leave the area as soon as you can
- Report the incident to the police as soon as possible
- In the event of an accident, wait for the police and do not confront the aggressor.
Were You Injured in a Road Rage Incident?
Unfortunately, traffic laws and car safety systems offer little or no protection from an aggressive driver or one experiencing road rage. It is essential to file a civil claim promptly, before the statute of limitations runs out, and while evidence is easily available.
If you were injured or your vehicle was damaged in a road rage accident, a compassionate car accident injury attorney can explain your options and guide you through the legal process. Contact Nicolet Law Office, S.C. today for a free initial consultation.