The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Automobile Association of America (AAA) define road rage as extremely aggressive driving. Examples of road rage, according to the NHTSA, include “following too closely, driving at excessive speeds, weaving through traffic, and running stop lights and signs, among other acts.”
New Yorkers are among the most road rage-y drivers in the world, according to one study. In Brooklyn several years ago, an angry driver threatened an Uber driver with a boxcutter. The victim fortunately suffered just minor cuts and bruises, but the attack could have turned fatal. Other road rage incidents in New York over the past several years have featured gunfire, visible display of weapons, baseball bat and crowbar attacks, and beatings.
These attacks, unfortunately, mirror national statistics. Eighty percent of drivers say they experienced anger, aggression, or road rage at least one time in a 12-month period, according to a survey by AAA. Drivers frequently admitted to cutting vehicles off, causing a collision, tailgating, and screaming at other drivers, all as a means of venting extreme emotions. In fact, AAA believes that over half of deadly vehicle accidents involve at least one driver’s anger or aggression.
In this blog post, we examine the frightening phenomenon of road rage, and discuss what you can do to protect your safety and your legal rights if a road raging driver harms you.
Road Rage Is Against the Law
Drivers should never allow any emotion to control their driving behavior, anger least of all. When driving a vehicle becomes an expression of a person’s anger or frustration, accidents happen, and people get hurt and die.
It will probably come as no surprise to learn that road rage-fueled driving violates the law. Extreme road rage behaviors—those in which a driver uses a vehicle as a weapon or means of harming others—can constitute assaults, attempted manslaughters, and similar violent crimes.
Even when driver anger does not target a specific person or vehicle, road rage can also constitute reckless driving, defined under New York law as any driving behavior that endangers people and property on a public highway or interferes with other driver’s use of a public highway unreasonably. This includes any display of aggression behind the wheel.
Reckless driving can include the following actions, all of which can constitute signs of road rage:
- Following too closely (tailgating);
- Ignoring traffic signals/failing to yield;
- Changing lanes frequently or failing to signal;
- Chasing other vehicles;
- Cutting off other vehicles;
- Brake-checking other vehicles by coming to a sudden, unexpected stop; and
- Distracted or impaired driving.
Similarly, signs of aggression behind the wheel often include:
- Flashing headlights;
- Verbal threats and threatening behavior;
- Getting out of a vehicle or attempting to get out; and
- Displaying a weapon or weaponized items, such as guns, baseball bats, heavy objects.
The penalties for these behaviors vary, according to the specific offense.
Reckless driving is a misdemeanor under New York law. The penalties can include a jail sentence and a fine. For a first offense, fines rise as high as $300. For repeat offenses, the fines can range up to $1,125. Convicted drivers will also receive points on their driver license.
Road rage incidents that involve violent behavior that constitutes a felony are punishable by imprisonment, probation, and fines, among other sanctions.
Road-Raging Drivers Also Face Civil Liability
Road rage does not just subject drivers to criminal penalties. A road-raging driver who causes an accident will also face legal liability for the harm the accident causes.
Broadly speaking, this liability may include the obligation to pay compensation to accident victims for:
- Medical bills, including the costs of doctor’s visits, hospitalization, emergency room visits and transportation, surgery, diagnostic tests, prescriptions, medical devices, and more.
- Wages lost from missing work or an inability to return to work because of accident-related injuries.
- Property damage caused by the road rage-related crash;
- Pain and suffering caused by the injuries inflicted by the road raging driver;
- Loss of life enjoyment and damage to personal relationships resulting from the accident injuries; and
- Punitive damages in the event a judge or jury finds the road rage behavior constituted willful and wanton conduct.
Every road rage accident has its own unique facts, so there is never any guarantee that the damages above will apply in any particular case. Speaking with an experienced motor vehicle accident injury attorney is the best way to figure out the type and amount of damages you might have the right to recover after a road rage-related crash injures you.
Safety Tips for Avoiding Road Rage Drivers
The scariest thing about road raging drivers is that you do not know what they might do. Staying safe from their conduct requires trying to keep a cool head about you, and practicing defensive measures to keep yourself out of harm’s way.
Here are some tips to follow if you encounter a road-raging driver on the road:
- Do not engage. Many of us tend to react to unexpected acts of aggression by getting our backs up and responding in-kind. Behind the wheel, it is critical not to allow your emotions to get the best of you that way. If a road-raging driver targets you, DO NOT ENGAGE. Ignore that driver. Do not yell back. Do not retaliate. Do not gesture. Look straight ahead and do your best to tune that driver out, for your own safety.
- Get out of the way and distance yourself. A road-raging driver, by definition, has lost control. Give that driver’s vehicle the same wide berth you would give a car tumbling end-over-end. In other words, get out of the way and put distance between your vehicle and the road rager’s. Slow down. Pull off at the nearest exit. Let the driver around you.
- Get to safety. If a road raging driver will not leave you alone, head for a safe, public place where you can seek refuge and get help. If possible, do not make any decision that leaves your vehicle and road raging driver’s vehicle alone on any road.
- Call 911. As we’ve said, road rage is illegal. A road raging driver represents a serious hazard to you and everyone else on the road. Do your part and report that driver’s conduct to the authorities right away, before the driver hurts you or someone else.
After a Road Rage Accident, Safety Comes First
If you get into an accident caused by a road rage driver, your safety takes top priority. Take quick action to ensure you do not come to further harm by calling 911 immediately.
Make this your very first action, if possible. You have witnessed, and falling victim to, what is most likely a serious crime.
Alert law enforcement so that they can take appropriate emergency action to keep you safe and detain the road raging driver. Tell them, specifically, that the accident involves a road-raging driver, so that they know what to expect in responding to the scene.
Also, as above, do not engage with the driver. Do not get into an argument about whose fault the crash was. If possible, do not even make eye contact. Likewise, do not get out of your vehicle until law enforcement arrives.
Once the police arrive, give them the space they need to take control of the scene. State clearly and calmly what happened. If you were menaced before the collision, state how. Remember, gestures, yelling, and other actions toward you personally are as important as specific driving decisions, such as cutting in front of you or hitting your bumper.
Under normal circumstances, drivers in a collision must exchange contact and insurance information. After a road rage crash, however, engaging with the other driver may put you in harm’s way. So, instead, ask law enforcement to collect that information for you. If you fear for your safety in giving the other driver your information, tell the police and let them decide how to proceed.
If you carry a smartphone, consider taking pictures of the accident scene, the other driver, the affected vehicles, and your injuries. Safety first, though. Take pictures after law enforcement arrives. If the situation turns volatile and picture-taking makes things worse, exercise caution.
Always Seek Medical Attention
After any accident, road rage-related or otherwise, see a doctor right away. Do not rely on your own assessment of your injuries. Do not assume that just because you feel fine that you are, in fact, fine. Only a doctor can examine you and diagnose your condition. Some harm, such as traumatic brain injury (TBI), spinal cord injuries, and internal injuries, may not show symptoms immediately and can prove fatal if not treated quickly.
Follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations. Keep a record of medical visits and the treatment recommended. Following this advice will not only protect your health, it will also generate important records that may prove useful in seeking compensation for your injuries.
Work With a Lawyer After a Road Rage Accident
We encourage anyone harmed by a road rage-related crash to seek advice from an experienced motor vehicle accident injury attorney right away. Here are some reasons why.
Managing Civil and Criminal Processes
A road rage accident that leaves someone injured will often attract the attention of law enforcement and lead to prosecution of the road raging driver (assuming police apprehended the driver, of course). As a victim of the road rager, you may have the right to seek compensation from him or his insurance company. However, prosecution of the driver may affect when and how you can enforce those legal rights.
An experienced car accident injury attorney has the know-how to evaluate the potential legal complexities involved in seeking compensation from someone who also faces criminal charges, and to guide you through the process as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Identifying Other At Fault Parties
Believe it or not, the road-raging driver is not always the only party with legal liability for the accident the driver causes. Other parties may also face liability for the driver’s actions. In particular, a driver who rages while behind the wheel of a work vehicle may put his or her employer on the hook for damages from the accident, also.
Others could also face liability if their actions contributed to the driver’s loss of emotional control. For example, if side effects from a prescription medication fueled the driver’s outburst, then the driver’s medical providers may face liability in some circumstances.
Experienced lawyers know to look behind the facts of every motor vehicle accident, to make sure they identify all parties with potential liability for a client’s injuries. Even cases that seem obvious may hide additional parties who should pay compensation for a road raging driver’s behavior.
Protecting Your Rights From Unscrupulous Parties
Road rage accidents that leave victims seriously injured threaten to put insurance companies and others on the hook for substantial monetary damages. Sometimes, those parties will try their hardest to avoid taking financial responsibility for a road raging driver’s conduct. A lawyer can help protect you from the tactics those parties employ.
For example, liability insurance companies have been known to reach out directly to accident victims to offer them a settlement of claims before lawyers get involved. These settlements inevitably offer mere pennies-on-the-dollar compared to what victims have a legal right to receive as compensation for their injuries. Insurers hope injured accident victims will need the money so badly that they agree to settle before getting guidance from an experienced motor vehicle accident attorney. Falling for that tactic can leave victims empty-handed and out-of-luck when they realize their injuries inflicted far more harm than they initially realized.
Road rage accidents should not happen, but they do. Victims of reckless, road-raging drivers deserve to hold those perpetrators accountable. Do not wait to seek experienced, diligent legal help if a road rage-related crash causes harm to you or a loved one. Contact an experienced motor vehicle accident attorney right away for a free case evaluation.