Is Road Rage A Criminal Offense?

Everyone has heard about road rage these days. Incidents are always shown on the news, in the papers, and online. It’s not uncommon to read about a road rage encounter or hear someone you know has been a victim of road rage. 

Despite all we know about it from the media and other sources, there are still some misconceptions, false information, and wrong interpretations of what road rage is and how it is dealt with.

Is Road Rage A Criminal Offense

Many people are unaware of the difference between road rage and aggressive driving. Even more, people are unaware of its status, is it a crime or not. 

So, when talking about whether or not road rage is a crime, a good place to start is by defining what road rage actually is. 

Defining Road Rage

Both road rage and aggressive driving involve unsafe driving performances, however,  these two are not the same thing.

Aggressive driving may occur when someone commits one or more moving traffic offenses that endanger others, specifically other road users.  

These types of actions can include things such as; speeding, tailgating, changing lanes without warning, and a failure to yield right of way. All these actions fall under aggressive driving, but not road rage. 

Road rage is the act of using your car as a weapon to retaliate against other road users in a multitude of ways. This includes actions such as the following; 

  • Tailgating extremely close, or even going as far as nudging the bumper of another motor vehicle. 
  • Sudden and extreme braking in front of another vehicle without just cause. ( A valid reason would be if there was a sudden appearance of a hazard that created the need for stopping in an emergency- this would not count as road rage).
  •  The prolonged or consistent sounding of your horn to harass another road user.
  • Forcing another driver off of the road. 
  • Getting out of your vehicle with intent to harm or injure another road user.

The defining feature in these types of road rage is that these actions are deliberate and purposeful, and they are done with intent to cause harm or fear to another road user.

These actions are often triggered by a series of events rather than a single event, sometimes these triggers are nothing concerning driving, but can simply be life, work, or relationship issues that result in rage being projected onto the road, against other drivers. 

Is Road Rage a crime?

The largest defining difference between road rage and aggressive driving is how these two are defined and treated by the law.

Aggressive driving, on one hand, will usually result in a misdemeanor ticket, you will pay a fine and perhaps get a couple of points on your license. This may of course result in an increase in your insurance premiums, however, that is the worse can scenario for this offense.  

Road rage, on the other hand, is treated differently and is treated as a criminal offense. This is simply because the driver engaging in said road rage is doing so with the intent to cause harm to others.

This can result in jail time, fines, and in a worst-case scenario, it can result in being convicted of a felony. 

A major reason that road rage is not understood well as a criminal act is that laws around it vary in each state. That being said, almost all states view it as a crime. But not all laws that prohibit road rage provide specified punishments for it. You should check your local state laws for more information non the specifics of your state. 

When looking at states that may not have road rage laws, aggressive and violent road behaviors are often punished under a different law. A good example of this is the state of California.

California does not have a road rage law, so instead, they often punish incidents of road rage under other laws.

Theses can include, unlawful attempt to commit a violent injury on another person, assault with a deadly weapon, hit and run reckless driving, and criminal threats- of which are defined as making spoken, written, or electronic communication that causes another person to fear or their safety or the safety of their family. 

Punishments under these types of laws depend on the severity of the action and whether or not it involves a misdemeanor or felony, punishments can go as far as a fine, jail time, or both. 

Avoiding Road Rage

Road rage is a problem that shows rapid growth in the United States. In fact, over seven years, more than 200 murders and 12,000 injuries were caused by road rage in the united states. 

Protecting yourself against road rage is key to avoiding committing this act, be sure to give yourself time to get where you are going. If you are upset take some time to gather yourself before you get behind the wheel, or just sit for a bit before starting the engine and take some time.

You should also try to express patience with slow drivers or those who may be in your way. Avoid threatening hand gestures, tailgating, and any leaning on your horn, and never stop to confront another driver.

If you fear someone else is acting aggressively to you, change lanes and slow down to create distance, even take a detour or leave the highway. Do not make eye contact or respond to the other driver. Never stop or pull over, if you are being followed be sure to lock your doors and drive to the nearest police station. 

Variations by State

Examples of how differences in how road rage is viewed by different States. 

Connecticut- Road rage is considered 3rd-degree criminal mischief (1st degree is a felony and 2nd degree is reckless damage causes over $250). 

Florida- Florida laws differ, left-lane hogging drivers who drive ten miles below the speed limit can receive a ticket of $60 under a larger ‘road rage’ law. Road rage law here also addresses teens and aggressive driving. 

Texas- Texas does not have an official road rage policy. It assumes that drivers who commit this probably have other moving violations as well. If road rage results in physical attacks against another road user then this is covered under existing laws.