Driving can be stressful. There are more and more cars on the road and people are often in a hurry, which leads to traffic congestion and frustration. Anyone who has ever been cut off by another driver, tailgated or yelled at, naturally feels annoyed. Anyone who managed to barely avoid getting into an accident has likely experienced momentary panic or fear, and an increase in heart rate. These are normal reactions to the stress involved with everyday driving.
What is not normal is a person acting aggressively or violently towards another driver because of a perceived slight or failure to drive a certain way. Road rage is a term used to describe people who drive aggressively or act violently. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines road rage as “a motorist’s uncontrolled anger that is usually provoked by another motorist’s irritating act and is expressed in aggressive or violent behavior.” The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) expands that definition stating that road rages involves a driver who “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.”
The statistics involving road rage are alarming. They include:
- Males, and teenagers in particular, are more likely to engage in road rage
- Road rage accounts for 66% of all traffic fatalities
- Approximately 30 people are killed per year in road rage incidents
Examples of road rage include:
- Verbal. Yelling curses, threats or insults at another driver.
- Honking. Honking the horn aggressively and yelling at another driver while driving by.
- Offensive gestures
- Using high-beams to intimidate drivers who aren’t driving fast enough.
- Aggressive actions. Examples include, speeding up and cutting someone off or braking, positioning a car so another driver cannot get by, forcing a driver off the road and bumping or hitting another car.
- Shootings. The number of shootings involved in road rage incidents is on the rise .In the Charlotte, North Carolina area in the past two months alone, two serious road rage incidents occurred. The first incident happened on I-95 in Charlotte, when a man was shot and killed. The second occurred in a Charlotte suburb and involved a driver in one lane firing shots into a vehicle in the next lane in an apparent road rage incident. Fortunately that driver was not injured.
A number of behaviors can trigger road rage incidents, including:
- Distracted driving. The constant use of cell phones has led to an increase in distracted driving. That in turn has led to an increase of road rage as drivers report being frustrated by distracted drivers who are driving too slowly, drifting or failing to properly obey traffic signals.
- Detours and construction
- Driving too slowly. While speeding has always been an issue, so is driving too slowly. Someone for example, going 25 mph in a 55 mph zone creates a hazard for those nearby.
Road Rage and the Law
It is important to understand that aggressive or reckless driving alone (speeding, running red lights and stop signs, and not stopping pedestrians in a marked crosswalk) is a traffic violation and will be treated as such. In most cases, where no one is injured by the aggressive or reckless driving, the driver will be charged with a traffic violation and likely fined. If there is an injury, for example another car was hit and a driver or passenger injured when the aggressive or reckless driver failed to stop at a red light, then a personal injury claim will exist.
In situations involving reckless, or aggressive road rage level behavior, criminal charges might apply. It is important to know the laws of the state in which you are driving. North Carolina law distinguishes aggressive driving from reckless driving, as follows:
- Reckless driving is defined by N.C. Gen. Stat. §20-140 as (a) “[a]ny person who drives any vehicle upon a highway or any public vehicular area carelessly and heedlessly in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others. . .” and (b) any person who drives any vehicle upon a highway or any public vehicular area without due caution and circumspection and at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property. . .” Reckless driving in North Carolina is a Class 2 misdemeanor, which means that the driver can be sentenced to a maximum of 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
- Aggressive driving is defined by N.C. Gen. Stat. §20-141.6 as driving at a greater speed then “is reasonable and prudent under the conditions then existing,” or speed[ing] in a school zone, and “driv[ing] carelessly and heedlessly in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others.” Acting in willful or wanton disregard, required two of the following: running a red light or stop sign, passing illegally, not yielding to a right-of-way, and/or tailgating. Aggressive driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor, or a maximum of 120 days in a jail and a discretionary fine.
Despite the classification of misdemeanor as set forth above, if a person or other driver is injured in a road rage accident, then, in addition, there will be a personal injury claim, the same as there would be in any other car accident or pedestrian accident. A road rage victim is entitled to the same damages as any victim of a car accident or pedestrian accident - economic (medical expenses, lost wages) and non-economic (pain and suffering). A road rage victim may, under certain circumstances, be able to recover punitive damages.
Road rage accidents happen more often than people realize. The Charlotte, NC based lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC are experienced car accident attorneys who can help you understand your rights and whether or not you have damages and should proceed with a claim. Please contact our office at 704-714-1450. There is no fee for an initial consultation.