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What is the Difference Between Aggressive Driving and Road Rage?

November 2, 2020

It is up to all drivers on the road to engage in safe driving behaviors. Obeying the rules of the road and proceeding cautiously is the best way for drivers to protect themselves and other motorists. Aggressive driving and road rage are unpredictable and can result in fatal car accidents. The American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that aggressive driving is a factor in more than half of all fatal crashes. In the state of Virginia, aggressive driving and road rage may also result in jail time.

What are Common Aggressive Driving Behaviors?

Aggressive driving can be described as any combination of driving behaviors that puts people or property in danger. There are a number of behaviors that could be considered aggressive:

Speeding: Virginia has a statewide speed limit of 55 miles per hour on most highways, and certain types of vehicles, such as tractor trailers, must obey a 45 mile per hour limit. Exceeding the posted speed limit makes it more difficult to respond to slower traffic, changes to traffic patterns, stopped vehicles, or other hazards that may impede drivers on the road. Speeding drivers are also at risk of losing control of their vehicles, especially in slippery road conditions, and can have difficulty steering properly. Speed can also increase the risk of a rollover accident when navigating tight turns or curves in the road. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) estimates that speed is a factor in one-third of traffic-related deaths.

Tailgating: Tailgating is another common aggressive driving behavior. Following another vehicle too closely can be very dangerous, especially if the vehicle in front has to adjust their speed suddenly. Tailgating vehicles may not have enough time to stop or slow down and may cause a rear-end accident. Accidents like this, particularly ones that occur at high speeds, can cause serious damage and devastating injuries.

Disregarding Traffic: Many aggressive driving offenses involve failing to observe proper traffic patterns. An aggressive driver often fails to stay in their marked lane, stop, slow down, or yield to the vehicle that has the right-of-way. Driving the wrong way can also be considered aggressive. Ignoring traffic rules as posted makes it difficult for other vehicles to anticipate an aggressive driver’s actions, and this confusion can result in serious car accidents.

Unsafe Lane Changes: People often engage in aggressive driving behaviors when passing. When overtaking another vehicle, drivers must move to the left and leave at least two feet of space between them and the slower vehicle. It is also important to not move back to the right lane until it is completely safe to do so. There are only certain circumstances in which it is permissible to pass on the right, including when the vehicle being overtaken has signaled its intent to turn left, or when there are two or more unobstructed lanes of traffic moving in the same direction. Similarly, the vehicles being overtaken have some responsibilities; if they speed up to try to avoid being passed or fail to move to the right, this can be considered as unlawful aggressive driving.

What is Road Rage?

Road rage occurs when a driver engages in aggressive driving behaviors with the intent of harassing, intimidating, or endangering other motorists. Drivers committing road rage are often fueled by anger and are not thinking rationally. Road rage is a form of assault with a motor vehicle, or an assault precipitated by an incident on the road. According to the American Safety Council (ASC), road rage was a factor in 12,610 accidents and 218 murders over a seven-year period.

What Causes Road Rage?

There are many circumstances that can result in road rage. Often, drivers engage in road rage as retaliation against another vehicle for some perceived slight, such as cutting them off. Drivers may attempt to get back at them by tailgating, aggressively passing them, attempting to race or chase them, or tapping their bumper. When one driver engages in road rage, the other motorist may respond, escalating the situation. The ASC estimates that about 50 percent of drivers who are targeted by road rage respond with some kind of aggressive behavior.

Sometimes, violent altercations can happen outside the car. Road rage drivers may get out of the car and confront another driver by yelling, making obscene gestures, or even threatening violence. Approximately 37 percent of all road rage incidents involve some type of firearm. If this altercation is happening in traffic, it is even more dangerous for the drivers involved and for those sharing the road with them.

In many cases, there is not one single thing that incites road rage but rather the culmination of several things. Stress is often a factor in both aggressive driving and road rage accidents because it clouds judgment. Drivers may be bringing other stressors from the day into the car with them, including issues at work or at home. Minor incidents often trigger aggressive drivers.

How Can I Avoid Road Rage?

There are steps drivers can take to set themselves up for success on the road. Drivers who can maintain their focus and avoid highly stressful situations will be better equipped to maintain their emotions and engage in safe driving behaviors.

A driver can avoid road rage by doing the following:

  • Make sure one is properly prepared for a trip.
  • Get plenty of rest before driving.
  • Eat before getting behind the wheel.
  • Use the restroom before getting into the car.
  • Check traffic patterns and weather conditions.
  • Leave plenty of time for the trip. Drivers who are in a hurry to get somewhere often let safety lapse.

If drivers feel themselves getting stressed because of the trip or external stressors, they should pull over and take a moment to reset. Some people find driving inherently stressful, and they may also have anxiety about long trips. Stressed drivers may find that relaxing music or breathing exercises are helpful.

Drivers who find themselves targeted by road rage should absolutely not engage with the other driver. Acknowledging or responding to them may only encourage them and escalate the situation. Instead, they should slow down and let the other driver get away from them. If the other driver will not leave them alone, they should contact the police.

What are the Penalties of Aggressive Driving in Virginia?

While reckless driving is considered a traffic violation, road rage is a criminal violation. In Virginia, drivers who engage in aggressive driving with the intent to intimidate or harass another driver can be charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor, the punishment includes up to six months of jail time, and a fine of up to $1,000.

If the driver’s intent is to injure someone else, this escalates a Class 1 misdemeanor, which can be punished by up to 12 months in jail, and a fine of up to $2,500. Proving intent is the key to deciding whether the driver’s behavior is considered a criminal offense. A person who is injured in an aggressive driving accident in the state of Virginia can pursue a personal injury lawsuit to recover compensation for their injuries. If a victim wishes to pursue a lawsuit, a knowledgeable lawyer can assist.

Virginia Beach Car Accident Lawyers Advocate for Victims of Aggressive Driving

If you were injured in an aggressive driving or road rage accident, one of our dedicated Virginia Beach car accident lawyers can help you. At East Coast Trial Lawyers, we are committed to holding aggressive drivers accountable. We help victims get the compensation that they need for recovery. Call us at 757-352-2237 or contact us online for a free consultation today. Located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, we serve clients throughout Chesapeake, Eastern Shores, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Suffolk, Virginia, as well as North Carolina and nationwide.

Areas We Serve

Our law firm proudly serves clients injured anywhere in Virginia or North Carolina on personal injury claims, including cases with traumatic brain injury, spinal and neck injury, wrongful death, and more serious injuries. As Virginia Beach personal injury attorneys with many years experience, our team of lawyers will be ready to fight for you. If you were injured on the job, our Virginia Beach Workers Compensation lawyers are ready to serve you.

Call 757-352-2237 or fill out the online contact form for a free consultation about your personal injury, workers compensation, or other attorney services. Our firm adopts a team approach to every case, so while one primary lawyer will be assigned to your case, you have the benefit of an experienced team of lawyers, all working on your side. We are located in Virginia Beach, VA, and serve clients who were injured anywhere in Virginia or North Carolina.

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