Road rage is aggressive or angry behavior by a driver of an automobile or other road vehicle which includes rude gestures, verbal insults, physical threats or dangerous driving methods targeted toward another driver in an effort to intimidate or release frustration. Road rage can lead to altercations, assaults and collisions that result in serious physical injuries or even death. It can be thought of as an extreme case of aggressive driving.
- Legal status
- As a medical condition
- As a stressor
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
- United States
- US rankings
The term originated in the United States in 1987–1988 (specifically, from Newscasters at KTLA, a television station in Los Angeles, California), when a rash of freeway shootings occurred on the Interstate 405, 110, and 10 freeways in Los Angeles. These shooting sprees even spawned a response from the AAA Motor Club to its members on how to respond to drivers with road rage or aggressive maneuvers and gestures.
According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety that examined police records nationally, there have been over 1,200 incidents of road rage reported per year in the United States, a number of which have ended with serious injuries or even fatalities. These rates rose yearly throughout the six years of the study. A number of studies have found that individuals with road rage were predominantly young (33 years of age on average) and male (96.6%). In Germany, a gun-wielding truck driver was accused of firing at over 762 vehicles and arrested in 2013, an exceptional case of road rage. According to authorities, the autobahn sniper was motivated by "annoyance and frustration with traffic".
In some jurisdictions, there may be a legal difference between "road rage" and "aggressive driving". In the U.S., only a few states have enacted special aggressive driving laws, where road rage cases are normally prosecuted as assault and battery (with or without a vehicle), or "vehicular homicide" (if someone is killed).
The legal definition of road rage encompasses a group of behaviors expressed while driving or stemming from traffic-related incidents. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines road rage as when "an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property; an assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by the operator or passenger(s) of one motor vehicle on the operator or passenger(s) of another motor vehicle caused by an incident that occurred on a roadway". This definition makes an important distinction between a traffic offense and a criminal offense.
As a medical condition
Road rage is not an official mental disorder recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), although according to an article published by the Associated Press in June 2006, the behaviors typically associated with road rage can be the result of a disorder known as intermittent explosive disorder that is recognized in the DSM. This conclusion was drawn from surveys of some 9,200 adults in the United States between 2001 and 2003 and was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.
As a stressor
A stressed driver’s behavior depends on that driver’s coping abilities. Generally, drivers who scored high on aggression tests used direct confrontation strategies when faced with stress while driving, including long honks of the horn, persistence to fight the other driver, swerving, and tailgating. Many drivers who experience road rage have admitted that they believe they commit more traffic violations.
Stressful driving situations and road rage can be a vicious cycle that is difficult to escape. Driving presents many stresses any time a person is behind the wheel because of high speeds and other drivers making different decisions. As stress increases, the likelihood of a person having road rage increases dramatically and if a person has road rage, their stress levels increase. Typically, younger males are more susceptible to road rage because their emotions are often triggered by assumptions and not reason.
People who customize their cars with stickers and other adornments are more prone to road rage than other people, according to one study. The number of territory markers predicted road rage better than vehicle value or condition, and furthermore, only the number of bumper stickers, and not their content, predicted road rage.
Road rage is a relatively serious act: It may be seen as an endangerment of public safety. It is, however, not always possible to judge intent by external observation, so "road ragers" who are stopped by police may be charged with other offences such as careless or reckless driving, or may be fined.
In New South Wales, Australia, road rage is considered an extremely serious act. Any person who chases another motorist or shows intimidating and/or bullying towards another road user can be charged with predatory driving, a serious offence that can leave the culprit in jail for up to 5 years. Offenders can also be fined A$100,000 and disqualified from driving, whether or not he or she intended to harm the victim physically. If the predatory driving results in a physical assault or harm, and/or the victim's car was intentionally damaged, penalties can be much more severe.
Additionally, most common-law countries prohibit common assault, which could apply to road rage where the personal safety of the victim is seen to be threatened. The common law regards assault as both a criminal and civil matter, leading to both public criminal penalties and private civil liabilities.
Road rage, insults and rude gestures in traffic can lead to fines and even prison sentences to drivers who shout insults or make offensive gestures while driving.
In New Zealand road rage is, in itself, not an offence. However, when another road-user is physically assaulted or killed, then the offending parties are prosecuted for the specific offence committed. Drivers have a legal duty to take reasonable care to avoid endangerment of human life when operating a vehicle (s 156 Crimes Act 1961); failure to discharge this duty, such as an act of aggressive driving, can give rise to liability in criminal nuisance (s 146 Crimes Act 1961). Ramming a vehicle constitutes intentional or reckless damage to property, a criminal offence, with a maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment (s 269 Crimes Act 1961). The New Zealand Police generally regard "road rage" complaints as a low priority and the courts currently have no powers to disqualify drivers who physically assault another road user.
Road rage is a criminal offence in Singapore. When found guilty, the offender may be jailed for up to two years and/or fined up to $5,000 for causing hurt.
In the UK, road rage can result in criminal penalties for assault or more serious offences against the person. The Public Order Act 1986 can also apply to road rage. Sections 4A and 5 of the 1986 Act prohibit public acts likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress. Section 4 also prohibits threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause a victim to believe that violence will be used against himself or another.
In some jurisdictions, such as the Commonwealth of Virginia, it is easier to prosecute road rage as reckless driving instead of aggressive driving simply because the burden of proof does not require "intent" to successfully convict.
It is likely that those causing serious injury or death during "road rage" incidents will suffer more serious penalties than those applicable to similar outcomes from simple negligence. In April 2007, a Colorado driver was convicted of first-degree murder for causing the deaths of two motorists in November 2005. He will serve a mandatory sentence of two consecutive life terms.
Fourteen U.S. states have passed laws against aggressive driving. Only one state, California, has turned "road rage" into a legal term of art by giving it a particular meaning. In Virginia, aggressive driving is punished as a lesser crime (Class 2 misdemeanour) than reckless driving (Class 1 misdemeanour).
A 2007 study of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas concluded that the cities with the least courteous drivers (most road rage) are Miami, Phoenix, New York, Los Angeles, and Boston. The cities with the most courteous drivers (least road rage) are Minneapolis, Nashville, St. Louis, Seattle, and Atlanta.
In spite of this, in 2009, New York, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, Atlanta and Minneapolis/St. Paul were rated the top five "Road Rage Capitals" of the United States.