This is the third segment of our Who is Responsible series that addresses major roadway safety concerns. We have all witnessed incidents involving “road rage” at some point. Angry or aggressive drivers are seen yelling, making gestures, or brake checking. Some incidents have gone much further, leading to property damage, injuries and even death. Reported instances are rising, according to the Colorado State Patrol (CSP). Captain Jeff Goodwin explains that some drivers are quite dangerous at times. We will look at current data regarding incidents of road rage, some local examples, the potential civil & criminal liability, and tips for prevention.
According to AAA, roughly 80% of drivers felt anger or aggression while driving at a point within the last year. Over 50% of drivers admitted to having “tailgated” a vehicle, and 47% yelled at other drivers. Over 60% feel drivers operate more aggressively compared to three years ago. The CSP monitors calls for road rage, and reports the volume of complaints is rising. Last year, 65,341 calls were made to report incidents of road rage. Call volume is expected to be approximately 20% higher this year. With the looming influx of people in the Denver region, leading to more traffic congestion, conditions are ideal for agitated motorists.
Severe Adams County Incident
Captain Goodwin reported a man was accused of using a pair of scissors to stab another motorist amid a violent road rage incident in Adams County. Goodwin explained the Patrol is pursuing aggressive drivers. Recently, he witnessed the driver of a van travel through a red light then wildly cut through four lanes of traffic. The man was soon pulled over and charged with reckless driving.
The Patrol is documenting drivers who are the subject of complaints. Many receive multiple complaints, and once a driver gets a third complaint, a warning letter is issued via mail. When the number of complaints reaches five, a State Trooper personally delivers a warning letter, and the Patrol periodically watches the driver's behavior. Denver7 News reported on a man who accrued seven road rage-related complaints in less than one year.
Criminal & Civil Liability
Two potentially extreme acts associated with road rage are assault and battery. To summarize, assault is an attempt to commit violence against someone or the threat of violence against someone while battery is the actual use of physical force or act of violence against someone. These are both criminal behaviors, and examples of them in relation to road rage are:
- A driver intentionally collides with a vehicle;
- A driver exits the vehicle and pounds on your car; or
- One driver strikes another.
Civil liability may apply in addition to criminal charges. If a party was injured, he or she may be eligible to recover medical expenses, wage losses, and other expenses. Actions which are deemed intentional also may be subject to punitive damages, which are monetary damages that both punish the offender and deter others from such actions.
Tips & Incident Prevention
Jurek Grabowski, Research Director for AAA, explained that day-to-day stress, combined with traffic or poor driving maneuvers can develop into road rage-type situations. He reminds us to be considerate of others by not forcing drivers to respond to our maneuvers, such as by having to apply their brakes or abruptly steer to avoid a collision. Keep in mind that we all have bad days and there is no reason to make matters worse. Do not respond to yelling, gestures or other acts of provocation; instead, avoid eye contact and proceed calmly.
Actions of road rage can result in civil and criminal liability stemming from property damage, injuries and even death. The key is to stop aggressive exchanges or actions before they escalate.
In this series we have discussed police car chases (pursuit), hit-and-run accidents, and road rage incidents, which are all capable of very dangerous outcomes and legal consequences. In Colorado, the collaborative efforts of the Colorado State Patrol, Department of Transportation, and law enforcement across the state directed at these problems will hopefully produce significant improvements.