Road Rage & Aggressive Driving: Behaviors, Incidents, Fines & PenaltiesUpdated Dec. 16, 2020
Aggressive driving is a behavior that can result from unchecked emotions or excessive stress while behind the wheel. Any purposeful, dangerous action fueled by frustration, impatience, anger or stress qualifies as aggressive driving. It is important to understand that we are all capable of becoming aggressive drivers under the right conditions. There is a very fine line between feelings of anger or stress and aggressive behavior, especially where people with naturally negative dispositions are concerned.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines the term aggressive driver as a person who “commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property.” Other definitions expand on this idea, saying that aggressive driving is “any continuous sequence of dangerous driving acts that may endanger people or property” OR “any single intentional violation that requires a defensive action on the part of another driver.”
Aggressive driving occurs when a driver is overcome with stress, anger or frustration to such a degree that they are willing to disregard traffic control devices, road rules and the safety of other road users. Driving aggressively forces other road users to take defensive or evasive action to avoid harm; it is a serious offense and often results in collisions.
Examples of aggressive driving behavior
Here are some typical examples of aggressive driving behavior, as identified by the NHTSA in their accident analysis system:
- Tailgating another vehicle
- Braking suddenly when being tailgated by another vehicle
- Erratic lane changing
- Driving on a road shoulder, sidewalk or median to get ahead of traffic
- Passing in an area where passing is prohibited
- Failing to signal a turn or lane change
- Driving too fast for conditions
- Racing another road user
- Failure to yield the right-of-way
- Driving through a red light
- Rolling over a pedestrian crosswalk while it is still occupied by pedestrians
An aggressive driver will often commit several violations simultaneously, or in succession. Even as isolated events, each of the actions on this list will endanger the person committing them and every other person in the vicinity.
What is road rage?
The terms “aggressive driving” and “road rage” are often used synonymously, though they refer to different behaviors. Aggressive driving is the less severe of the two behaviors but frequently leads to road rage. If an aggressive driver becomes so overwhelmed with anger that they have no regard for the consequences of their actions and seek to harm other road users on purpose, it is known as road rage. When road rage takes over, a driver may go out of their way to hurt other people by using their car as a weapon or getting out of the car to launch a physical attack with their fists, a tire iron, or even a gun.
In general, road rage occurs when an already aggressive driver is “tipped over the edge” by an incident on the road. For instance, they may have been experiencing anger and behaving recklessly while late for work in tightly packed traffic, only to be completely overcome by road rage when another motorist inconsiderately cuts in front of them. Ironically, aggressive driving behavior often leads to accidents, collisions and roadway incidents which in turn, bring on road rage!
Never engage with a driver who is experiencing road rage. This extreme state of anger can turn a calm, law-abiding person into a violent criminal. They may even attack bystanders who were not involved in the original incident.
Typical road rage behaviors
So, what does road rage look like? Drivers acting on road rage are hard to miss! While overcome by anger, they may:
- Deliberately hit or threaten to hit another vehicle with their own
- Get out of their vehicle in moving or standing traffic to threaten another person
- Deliberately cut off or block another vehicle
- Tailgate another vehicle
- Brake suddenly, perhaps in a manner that causes another vehicle to hit them
- Open their car door suddenly, often into the path of another vehicle, pedestrian or cyclist
- Speed up to prevent somebody from passing them
- Speed up to “chase” another vehicle or road user who has angered them
Road rage behaviors are so dangerous that they are largely considered to be criminal acts, rather than misdemeanors. A motorist caught driving aggressively and endangering other people is likely to be punished with a driving ban, a sizable fine and in extreme cases, a term of imprisonment. The danger posed by such drivers is extreme as they do not care about these consequences at the time of committing the offense, as they are utterly blinded by anger. As fines and penalties rarely work as a deterrent to stop a road rage situation from escalating out of control, drivers who are suffering from road rage must be avoided at all costs.
Avoiding road rage incidents
Drivers who are experiencing road rage should be considered high-priority hazards. They are ticking time-bombs who are capable of near-enough anything if something does not go their way. Extreme anger manifests itself differently in different people. You might spot a road-raged driver engaging in one of the tell-tale behaviors listed below. If you do, give them as much space on the roadway as possible.
- Yelling, gesturing, cursing, honking and being verbally abusive to other road users.
- Muttering under their breath and gripping the steering wheel hard, possibly while speeding or weaving through traffic.
- Fixating on a single driver, following them, cutting them off or otherwise refusing to leave them alone.
- Forcibly claiming the right-of-way or blocking another vehicle from doing so.
- Driving through stop signs or ignoring other traffic control devices.
While the presence of an aggressive driver on the roadway dramatically increases risk for every other road user nearby, remember that you still have the power to minimize the danger by making safe choices. Do not let the behavior of other drivers work you up. Stay calm, keep your distance and consider every action you take carefully. If you believe an aggressive driver may injure somebody or cause a collision, you can pull over at the next safe opportunity to call the police.
Understanding the dangers of road rage
Our nation’s busy highways are the ideal breeding ground for road rage. As a people, we are more pressured and overworked than ever before and each year, more and more vehicles appear on our already congested roads. Road rage is a growing problem that endangers every road user at one time or another. Let’s get a clearer picture of the issue.
Using information gathered by the NHTSA’s Fatal Accident Report System (FARS), the American Automobile Association found that aggressive driving was a factor in at least 56 percent of fatal traffic accidents from 2003 to 2007. We say “at least” because incidents related to aggressive driving or road rage are difficult to track accurately. In order to qualify as an aggressive driving incident, it must be evident that one or more of the drivers involved took deliberate action, motivated by aggression. The true percentage of fatal crashes that can be attributed to aggressive driving is likely to be much higher.
The FARS data used in the above-mentioned survey included a wide range of aggressive driving behaviors, including failure to yield the right-of-way, erratic or reckless driving, passing illegally and failure to signal. Though it should be noted that speeding was by far the most frequently committed and most deadly aggressive driving offense. The fatal impact of speeding has been continually highlighted in older and more recent data alike. In 2016, a total of 9,234 fatal crashes were caused by “driving too fast for conditions or in excess of posted limit or racing”, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Despite growing public awareness of the issue, many drivers still admit to driving at unsafe speeds. One survey found that:
- 78% of drivers who took part believe that aggressive driving is a serious problem.
- However, over 50% of drivers who took part admitted to driving 15 mph over a posted speed limit within the last 30 days.
To do your part in the fight against road rage, practice defensive driving and do everything you can to reduce the risk caused by another person’s aggressive behavior. Of course, you must also monitor your own stress levels and mental state every time you get behind the wheel. Anger and frustration are a slippery slope that can quickly lead to uncontrollable rage if left unaddressed.
Road rage fines and penalties
Depending on the damage caused by the offense, aggressive driving can result in complete loss of your license or long-term license suspension. If serious injury or death has been caused by the perpetrator’s actions, it is likely that aggressive driving will result in a prison sentence. Large fines and other penalties such as mandatory anger management courses may also apply.
For more information on aggressive driving fines and penalties in your state, check out an up-to-date copy of your driving handbook or the DMV website. Traffic laws, violations and punishments do differ a little from state to state. As road rage and aggressive driving are such serious and often life-threatening offenses, the fines and penalties they incur are severe everywhere in the United States.
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