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.