For the uninitiated, road rage and aggressive driving might sound synonymous. But, the two are not the same. While aggressive driving might get you a traffic violation, road rage – apart from yelling and gesticulating – is a criminal offense and as such is punishable by the law. You will need an attorney.

Aggressive Driving vs. Road Rage

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines aggressive driving as “the operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger persons or property.” It occurs when someone “commits a combination of moving traffic offenses,” such as overspeeding, weaving in and out of traffic, tailgating, running a red light, or other similar offenses where a motorist would get ticketed for committing a traffic violation.

On the other hand, the NHTSA defines road rage as “an assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by the operator or passenger(s) of one motor vehicle or precipitated by an incident that occured on a roadway.” It is typically an intentional and willful act of extreme rage with violent intent typically consisting of hazardous behavior that can lead to accidents or death.

Common road rage behavior include profanity, rude or inflammatory gestures, honking, intimidation or harassment of other drivers with headlights or brakes, physical attacks, forcing another car off the road, and hitting, bumping, ramming, or sideswiping another vehicle. At its worse, road rage may include gun violence and even lead to intentional murder. Because of its characteristic willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others, road rage is legally classified as a criminal offense.

Road Rage Statistics

According to the NHTSA, 2021 was the deadliest year for road rage. The agency recorded an average of 44 people shot and killed or wounded during a road rage shooting each month that year.

However, road rage incidents have been on the rise for decades now. Since 2013, road rage has caused about 300 deaths, according to the NHTSA, and the American Psychological Association attributes 30 murders to road rage each year.

And, it’s a fairly common occurrence on the road. According to a survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, about 8 million drivers in the U.S. engaged in extreme road rage behavior, with nearly 80 percent of drivers expressing significant anger, aggression or road rage behind the wheel at least once in the past year.

Factors That Lead to Road Rage

More and more drivers are hitting the road in the country, which leads to traffic and congestion. Clogged roads lead to longer commute hours, which the NHTSA notes directly contributes to increase in aggression and road rage.

In addition to longer hours on the road, here are other contributing factors to road rage:

  • Traffic delays – Anger levels tend to rise due to sitting through stop lights or heavy traffic, hunting for parking space or waiting for passengers
  • Running late – Impatience levels also rise when drivers are running late for work or other appointments
  • Disregard for others and the law – Indifference to the rules of the road and others on the road
  • Habitual or learned behavior – Aggressive driving and other extreme behavior has become the norm for the driver
  • Anonymity – Incidents of risky behavior rise due to less chances of seeing the other drivers on the road again

Furthermore, gender and age might also play a role in road rage. Studies have found that males tend to exhibit road rage behavior more than females. Road rage was also most likely exhibited by drivers ages 25 to 39.

Certain circumstances also increase the incidents of road rage. For instance, an analysis of Instagram posts by the Auto Insurance Center found that the use of the #roadrage hashtag peaked toward the end of the week and between 5 pm and 7 pm – peak commute hours.

Legal Consequences of Road Rage

While almost every U.S. state considers road rage a criminal offense, laws vary from state to state.

In Alabama, for instance, the Anti-Road Rage Act prohibits drivers from staying in the leftmost lane on interstate highways without passing another vehicle for more than 1.5 miles. So, when in Alabama, remember to pass others when in the fast lane. Emergency vehicles are exempted as well as certain circumstances including heavy traffic, bad weather, road construction or preparing to exit the highway from the left lane.  

In states with no road rage laws, road rage behavior are typically classified as reckless driving, hit and run, assault with a deadly weapon, threats to safety, willful and unlawful use of force or violence on another person, and unlawful attempt to inflict a violent injury upon another. Punishments for these aggressive and violent behaviors vary. Depending on whether the conviction involves a misdemeanor or felony, road rage behaviors can be punishable with a fine, jail time or both.

In addition, if a civil lawsuit is filed by road rage victims, reparation could include reimbursement of medical expenses, compensation for pain and suffering, and reimbursement of lost income. The court may also award punitive damages for especially harmful behavior.

It’s best to check your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website to learn about road rage laws in your locality.

How to Handle Road Rage

As always prevention is better than cure, so the best thing to do is avoid road rage. Here are some tips to do just that:

  • Plan or allot enough time to get to your destination, including some buffer time for traffic or other situations that might arise during your travel.
  • Extend your patience and keep your cool. If you do get upset, take time to cool off or calm down.
  • Don’t engage in aggressive driving or dangerous/risky behavior when driving. Always be courteous and good mannered on the road.
  • Consider taking a defensive driving course.
  • Avail of car insurance as protection against aggressive driving or road rage incidents.

Sometimes, though, despite your best efforts, you still might find yourself in a potential or actual road rage incident. Here are tips on how you can deal with that:

  • Keep your distance from an aggressive driver. You can change lanes, slow down or exit the highway.
  • Don’t stop. This could lead to a confrontation or other dangerous consequences.
  • Don’t make eye contact or respond to drivers displaying aggressive behavior on the road. Reciprocating will only lead to escalation of a risky situation.
  • Keep your doors and windows locked and drive to the nearest police station, fire station, or other heavily populated area where you can ask for help.

When it comes to road rage, it just isn’t worth the risk and danger. Don’t let emotions – yours or others – get the better of you. Remember that the most important thing is to arrive at your destination safe and sound.

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