"For many years we have been taking cases related to "road rage" and "air rage" to trial. In fact, we do so routinely. In this article we will discuss the current paranoia that exists regarding "road rage" and how to avoid criminal charges."
Maury D. Beaulier
We all experienced some level of rage while driving. This anger may manifest itself by beeping your horn, flipping the finger or cursing out loud. Though these acts are not illegal, the may escalate into acts of aggressive driving and ultimately criminal acts which have been labeled as "road rage".
Road rage is the term applied to acts of harassment or violence that occur while driving. To be more specific, one study "Controlling Road Rage: A Literature Review and Pilot Study" defines road rage as "an incident in which an angry or impatient motorist or passenger intentionally injures or kills another motorist, passenger, or pedestrian, or attempts or threatens to injure or kill another motorist, passenger, or pedestrian."
It should be noted that "road rage" and aggressive driving are not synonymous. While aggressive driving may be provocative and precipitate a road rage incident, the conduct, though it may violate traffic laws, does not carry with it a criminal intent. Aggressive driving may include tailgating, abrupt lane changes and/or speeding. These potentially dangerous behaviors are traffic offenses, but are not criminal behavior. By contrast, road rage is uncontrolled anger which often results in acts of violence including assault and even homicide.
Concern over what has become known as "road rage" has swept across the United States in recent years. Scrutiny regarding this type of criminal conduct can be attributed in part to three factors -
- Increased motor vehicle use
- the widespread use of cell phones which facilitates reporting;
- the fact that the conduct has now been given a specifically identifiable label called "road rage".
Though road rage incidents are relatively infrequent, the number of reports are continue to grow prompting aggressive prosecution and even specific legislation designed to curtail the conduct. In 1998, nine states introduced 26 aggressive driving bills. On the state level, however, only Virginia and Arizona have enacted specific legislation related to road rage incidents.
Aggressive prosecution of road rage incidents has created a new area of specialization in law. Charges related to road rage may include varying levels of assault including assault with a deadly weapon if the vehicle itself is used in an act of violence. Some cases have even escalated to include attempted murder and murder charges.
- On Tuesday, July 18, 2000, A truck driver appeared in Court accused of the road-rage attempted murder of three people, after he attempted to run them down with his vehicle.
- Our office was quoted on a case in Alabama Post Herald, September 25, 2000- where a trial is getting underway regarding a road rage shooting death. In that case, Shirley Chapman Henson stands trial on a murder charge in Columbiana after shooting another driver on an Interstate 65 South off-ramp last November after the two women had jockeyed for position in rush-hour traffic. Witnesses testified that Henson tailgated Foster for miles.
- In April, 2000, a Tennessee jury returned a verdict of voluntary manslaughter against a man who was shot another driver six times -- twice at close range -- as he sat in the driver's seat of his Nissan pickup on a gravel road in Hardin County after a road rage encounter in which the victim failed to signal a turn.
Prosecutors have become caught up in some of the hysteria behind road rage incidents and often vigorously prosecute even minor alleged offenses and weak cases. As a result, it is necessary for those accused in road rage incidents to mount an especially vigorous defense. Road rage cases present many vexsome issues for a prosecutor. Since road rage incidents are often precipitated by the conduct of one or more drivers over a relatively large geographic area as the cars move down the road, any one witness may have only a small portion of the facts. As a result, a thorough and complete investigation must be carried out in order to piece together all of the observable facts to determine if the conduct of the accused was reasonable. In many cases, there are mutual acts of aggressive driving by the alleged assailant and the victim. This may blur the line of culpability and give rise to effective claims of self-defense. If a vigorous defense is presented, prosecutorís may be persuaded to stay prosecution which does not result in a conviction or to reduce charges to disorderly conduct or some other lesser charge.
Obviously, the very best defense is avoiding the charge altogether. Some tips include the following: :
- Don't take traffic problems personally
- Signal your turns and obey the traffic laws
- Use the left lane as a passing lane even if you are driving at or above the speed limit. This allows faster moving traffic to pass without conflict
- Avoid eye contact with an aggressive driver
- Don't make obscene gestures
- Don't tailgate or, if in front, donít step on the brakes to send a message to a tailgater to back off
- Don't honk your horn in anger
Moreover, if you become involved in an incident that begins to escalate, remove yourself from the situation or use your cell phone to contact the appropriate authorities before the matter gets out of hand.