When someone exhibits road rage, they exhibit violent behavior toward other drivers on roads and highways. Road rage might start with someone yelling and using rude hand gestures but can quickly escalate to tailgating, speeding, and other behavior that causes motor vehicle accidents in California.
Some people might get bad news while talking on the phone, might be having a bad day in general, or might have issues with anger management. Road rage does not encompass a single crime but usually consists of several crimes or moving violations.
Road Rage: A Criminal Offense in California
While the state does not have a specific road rage law, it mentions road rage in its laws. The penalty for an assault that is considered road rage is six months suspension for the first offense and a year’s suspension for a second or subsequent offense. In addition to the suspended license, the court could order the person convicted of road rage to attend a court-approved anger management “road rage” course.
Road rage could lead to charges of misdemeanors or felonies, which have penalties including jail, prison, and fines. Suppose someone injured another person in a fit of road rage. In that case, the injured person could also recover compensation for damages in civil court.
Road rage crimes include:
Assault is an attempt to commit a violent injury against another person. For example, a driver threatens to run you off the road or into oncoming traffic. The perpetrator does not have to touch you for the police to charge them with assault. Penalties could include up to six months in the county jail, probation, fines, and anger management classes.
Assault With a Deadly Weapon / Aggravated Assault
The vehicle is a deadly weapon when used to harm another person. A person exhibiting road rage could find himself charged with assault with a deadly weapon or aggravated assault in a case of road rage.
Penalties could include community service, minor fines, up to four years in the state prison, a $10,000 fine, and a “Strike.” If the road rage incident resulted in severe or catastrophic injuries, the court could increase the prison term by several years.
Battery is an “unlawful use of force or violence.” For example, in a fit of road rage, the angry driver stops, gets out of her vehicle at a stoplight, and punches another driver. Whether the victim suffered an injury does not matter. The penalties for battery are similar to assault.
Brandishing a Firearm
If someone shows or draws a firearm and is angry, threatening, or rude, the police could charge that person with brandishing a firearm. Even pointing it at the sky is grounds for punishment. Brandishing a firearm could be a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances when the police catch up to you.
Suppose a driver threatens another driver with harm, injury, violence, or death to scare the victim. In that case, the perpetrator could face misdemeanor or felony charges. Punishment is either in the state prison or county jail.
Hit and Run
When a driver hits and leaves the scene after damaging your vehicle or causing injuries, that is a hit and run. If the damage is to property only, it is a misdemeanor, which comes with jail time and a fine of up to $1,000. If the incident causes injuries, it could be a misdemeanor or a felony with fines of up to $10,000.
When someone drives with disregard for the safety of others around them, that is reckless driving. Examples are driving over 100 miles per hour, intentionally swerving into someone, tailgating, weaving through traffic, and especially at high speeds.
If a driver causes an accident because of reckless driving but does not cause an accident, the police could charge the person with a misdemeanor. If the reckless driver injures someone, the police could charge him with a misdemeanor or felony. Felonies have a punishment of up to three years in state prison.
Suppose someone leaves their vehicle and kicks yours in a fit of road rage. In that case, the police could charge them with vandalism. If the damage is under $400, the police may charge them with a misdemeanor. If the damage is over $400, the police may charge them with a felony, punishable by up to three years in state prison.
Road Rage Behaviors and Fatal Accidents
According to the Insurance Information Institute, driving behaviors associated with road rage cause nearly 51,000 fatalities.
The organization lists these behaviors as:
- Driving too fast for conditions.
- Driving more than the posted speed limit and/or racing.
- Driving under the influence of medication, drugs, and/or alcohol.
- Failing to stay in the proper lane.
- Failing to yield the right of way.
- Distracted driving, including eating, talking on the phone, or talking to someone in the vehicle.
- Carelessly operating the vehicle.
- Operating the vehicle in a reckless, erratic, or negligent manner.
- Failing to obey police officers and traffic signals and/or signs.
- Oversteering and/or overcorrecting.
- Falling asleep.
- Poor vision because of buildings, glare, rain, snow, lights, trees, and other objects and/or conditions.
- Driving the wrong way on a one-way street or highway.
- Improperly turning.
- Swerving and/or avoiding because of a slippery surface, wind, and other conditions.
What to Do When an Enraged Individual Targets You
If someone on the road is targeting you, get away from that person as soon as possible. If you have to slow down to drop back, get off the next exit, or even drive to a nearby police station if you are on city streets, do what you need to do to get away.
Control your anger and do not let your emotions take over, as it will only worsen the situation.
Additional tips include:
- Do not take it personally. The person does not know you, and their anger is his problem, not yours.
- Avoid making eye contact with the enraged driver, as she could see that as a challenge.
- Keep obscene and rude gestures to yourself—in your mind. Flipping someone off will only enrage him further.
- Do not tailgate.
- Do not use the horn unless it’s necessary.
- Do not block the right turn lane or the passing lane.
If all else fails, call 911. Try to get a good description of the vehicle, including make and model, color, and, if possible, the license plate. If you can see the driver well enough out of your peripheral vision, a driver’s description can also help.
What to Do After a Road Rage Accident
After a typical accident, if you can move around without causing additional injuries, you would normally check on other drivers and call first responders. However, if someone is exhibiting road rage, it is better to stay away from them. Instead, lock your doors and call first responders.
Wait until the police get there, then:
- Give the police your statement.
- Take photos of the accident. Be sure to take pictures of the damage to the road and nearby property, including mailboxes, utility poles, yards, and fences.
- Allow emergency medical technicians to check you over, even if you believe your injuries are minor.
- Ask the officer how to get a copy of the police report. Since you will not be able to speak with the other driver because of their road rage, you won’t be able to obtain the driver’s license, registration, and insurance information. Let the police know that you did not obtain that, and if they could get that to you as soon as possible, you would appreciate it.
- Obtain contact information from witnesses.
- After the police release you from the scene, seek medical attention, even if you do not think your injuries are serious. Sometimes, injuries show up hours or even days later.
- Contact a car accident attorney who has experience representing those involved in road rage accidents.
Injuries You Might Suffer in a Road Rage Accident
Road rage accident injuries are often more severe than regular accident injuries, especially if the accident involves aggressive speeding or aggressive lane-changing. Road rage accident victims have a higher risk of suffering catastrophic injuries or even death.
Road rage accident injuries include:
- Bumps, scratches, bruises, cuts, and scrapes.
- Road rash.
- Face and eye injuries.
- Ear injuries, including deafness, if the accident causes an explosion.
- Chemical and thermal burns.
- Head, neck, and shoulder injuries.
- Traumatic brain injuries.
- Internal injuries.
- Simple and compound fractures.
- Crushed bones and other crush injuries.
- Strains and sprains.
- Pulled and torn muscles and other soft tissue injuries.
- Back and spinal cord injuries.
- Amputation of a limb or digit.
Recovering Damages After a Road Rage Accident
Even if the police charge the enraged driver with a crime, you can still recover damages. The criminal case is separate from your civil case and is not “double jeopardy.” However, it is harder for the defendant to defend their actions if the criminal court convicts them of a crime related to the road rage incident.
You could recover compensatory damages in the form of economic and non-economic damages. The court orders compensatory damages in an attempt to make you whole again. California also allows plaintiffs to recover punitive damages. However, you must prove that the defendant’s actions or inactions were grossly negligent or intentional. The court only orders punitive damages to punish the defendant’s gross negligence or malintent.
Sometimes referred to as special damages, economic damages have a monetary value and include:
- Doctors’ appointments.
- Surgeries and follow-up appointments.
- Prescriptions and prescribed over-the-counter medications.
- Ambulatory aids.
- Occupational therapy.
- Cognitive therapy.
- Physical therapy.
- Psychological therapy.
- Hand controls for your vehicle.
- Updates to your home, including handrails, grab bars, wheelchair ramps, and widened doorways.
- Medical equipment, such as oxygen machines and/or tanks, and hospital beds.
In addition to the lost wages, you could recover while you cannot work; you could also recover your loss of earning capacity if your accident injuries become long-term or permanent disabilities that prevent you from working.
You can recover compensation comparable to your salary from the accident to when you would retire.
The defendant is also responsible for replacing or repairing any personal property of value destroyed or damaged in the accident, including:
- Your vehicle.
- Cell phones.
- Clothing and other valuables in the vehicle or on your person.
If you lost a loved one because of a road rage accident, you could recover several death-related expenses, including:
- Funeral and burial expenses.
- Cremation expenses.
- Certain probate court expenses.
- Probate court attorneys’ fees and cost.
Sometimes referred to as general damages, non-economic damages do not have a monetary value.
Non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress from your injuries or the loss of a loved one.
- Loss of quality of life if you have to make life-long changes, such as taking prescriptions for the rest of your life.
- Loss of consortium from injuries or the loss of a loved one.
- Loss of companionship.
- Loss of use of a body part, such as an arm or leg.
- Loss of use of a bodily function, such as your hearing, eyesight, or bladder.
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do the chores you usually do, such as house cleaning, lawn maintenance, grocery shopping, or home repair and maintenance.
- Amputation of a digit or limb.
- Excessive scarring and/or disfigurement.
If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one because of a road rage accident in California, contact a car accident lawyer as soon as possible for a free case evaluation.