Aggressive Driving Versus Road Rage

Many drivers are guilty of showing hostility to other drivers occasionally but when does aggressive driving escalate to road rage, and what difference does it make legally?

Utah drivers

Photo by: State Farm

Driving can be a stressful event when dealing with other drivers on the road that don’t always make the best decisions. Although bad drivers are literally everywhere, residents of the Beehive State seem to think that the majority of horrible drivers call Utah home. Many Utah drivers will encounter (or cause) at least one incident a day that shows inexperience, poor judgement, disregard for other drivers, or distraction on the road. When these events occur it can be upsetting and how drivers handle their annoyance or anger towards other drivers could make the difference between whether or not they face criminal charges.

Four vehicles – one life lost

Early last month, hundreds of vehicles heading north towards St. George, Utah on I-15 remained at a standstill for several hours, after authorities processed the scene of a road rage incident that claimed the life of innocent driver on the opposite side of the freeway. There is no information on what caused the road rage, but fellow drivers reported three vehicles that were headed southbound on I-15 were being driven aggressively when things quickly escalated. In an attempt to pass a car on the inside shoulder, one of the drivers involved lost control and struck a northbound vehicle, killing 69 year old Michael Prinaris of Henderson, Nevada instantly.

Aggressive driving

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.” They state that an aggressive driver may display the following behaviors:

• “Following too closely,
• Driving at excessive speeds,
• Weaving through traffic, and
• Running red lights and signs, among other acts”.

Road rage

Photo by: Mike Kline

The NHTSA states, “aggressive driving occasionally escalates to gesturing in anger or yelling at another motorist, confrontation, physical assault, and even murder. ( . . . ) Road rage is the label that emerged to describe the angry and violent behaviors at the extreme of the aggressive driving continuum.” The turning point between aggressive driving and road rage is someone can drive aggressively, possibly putting others on the road in danger while road rage is deliberate actions intended to do harm to another driver.

Aggressive driving a.k.a reckless driving

According to the NHTSA “an important distinction is that aggressive driving is a traffic violation, while road rage, aside from the yelling and gesticulating, is a criminal offence.” While it is true that more serious criminal consequences can occur from committing acts of road rage, the state of Utah actually punishes aggressive drivers as well. Utah Code 41-6a-528 defines reckless driving as when a person operating a vehicle does so “in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property; or while committing three or more moving traffic violations ( . . . ) [within]three miles of less in total distance.” Utah’s definition of reckless driving sounds a lot like what can occur during aggressive driving and that can result in class B misdemeanor charges.

Misdemeanor charges for road rage

Road rage is punishable by whatever criminal act a person performed because they were angry at another driver. Beyond reckless driving charges, road rage can also produce charges of:

• Misdemeanor assault if one driver physically assaulted the other driver;
• Threat of violence; also a misdemeanor charge;
• Possession of deadly weapon (vehicle) with criminal intent, a class A misdemeanor.

Felony road rage charges

Photo by:Beau Giles

Unfortunately for many cases, Road rage can also result in felony charges such as:

• Aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon, a third degree felony;
• Manslaughter, a second degree felony; or even
• Aggravated murder, a first degree felony.

Anyone facing charges related to an aggressive driving or road rage incident should seek the help of an attorney immediately.

Prevent Holiday Road Rage – Drivers Cautioned to be Courteous

Drivers who are out shopping for gifts or traveling for the upcoming holidays are cautioned to be extra courteous in an attempt to prevent road rage incidents that can spike this time of year.

Stressful countdown to Christmas

Road Rage

Photo by: Mike Kline

As we enter the last week of shopping before Christmas, those who have left some or all of their holiday shopping until now are probably feeling the crunch as the days left to buy gifts enters the single digits. As these late shoppers weed through what is left of picked over gifts and navigate through the crowded stores, the tension can continue to build, leading to increase in stress and road rage incidents once they hit the road.

Increased traffic, decreased time

With these stressed out holiday shoppers abound, poor weather, and an increase in out of town visitors who are unfamiliar with Utah roads, traffic can quickly become congested which leads to aggressive drivers with short fuses. All it takes is someone not using a blinker or cutting another driver off to quickly send a fellow driver over the edge and for road rage to take place.

Prevent holiday road rage

As road rage claims another victim, a 3 year old boy in Arkansas, authorities are cautioning drivers to be courteous and take steps to lower stress levels while driving. Drivers are encouraged to:

• Plan on extra time for travel. Whether traveling, shopping, or merely trying to get to school or work on time, drivers should give themselves a little extra time to navigate through holiday traffic.

• Practice calming techniques. If sitting in traffic makes a driver’s blood boil, drivers should practice techniques such as deep breathing, listening to peaceful music, or self-coaching to decrease their tension while behind the wheel.

• Do not retaliate. If another driver is being aggressive, don’t try to get revenge for their behavior. Refrain from slamming on the brakes for tailgaters or displaying offensive hand gestures when another driver shows hostile behavior. Retaliating will never help in times like these, and can quickly lead to road rage.

By following the above suggestions, the instances of road rage can be reduced dramatically. Any driver who is facing charges related to road rage should seek the counsel of a criminal defense attorney.