Aggressive drivers are among the most dangerous drivers on the road. Whether because they are late and in a hurry, or distracted by emotions and filled with rage, AAA estimated that 56% of crashes occurring between 2003 and 2007 involved some form of aggressive driving. In a similar study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it was estimated that up to 66% of traffic fatalities could count aggressive driving as a contributing factor.
15 states have laws on the books that prescribe penalties specifically for aggressive driving. Illinois is not among them, however, our state’s laws do prescribe penalties for reckless driving and aggravated reckless driving. Reckless driving is a Class A misdemeanor which is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2500 fine. If an accident results from reckless driving behavior, a driver can be charged with aggravated reckless driving which is a Class 4 felony that is punishable by between 1-3 years in prison and a penalty that can be as high as $25,000. Should the incident involve a child or school crossing guard, the penalty can be 2-5 years in prison. The law also allows for the revocation or suspension of a drivers license upon conviction of any of these offenses.
Statistically, AAA’s studies on aggressive driving have shown that male drivers under the age of 19 are most likely to drive aggressively, and that the behavior can easily become a habit. Aggressive driving can include honking the horn excessively, weaving in and out of traffic, failure to signal when changing lanes, making rude gestures including giving the proverbial “finger,” tailgaiting, even bumping other vehicles at intersections. These actions can easily distract a driver’s attention or cause them to take evasive maneuvers that can lead to an accident.
More serious cases of aggressive driving are classified as blatant assault. These can include throwing objects, ramming, sideswiping, forcing a vehicle off the road. Frighteningly, the NHTSA statistics show that roughly 37% of road rage incidents involve a firearm either being brandished or discharged. These behaviors will almost certainly result in criminal charges being filed against a driver.
It is not just motorists who are the targets of aggressive drivers. Increasingly, pedestrians and bicyclists are facing the wrath of drivers whose blood is boiling over. The privately funded “Close Call Database” lists hundreds of incidents of road rage direct at cyclists throughout the Chicago area. The database was created to help cyclists avoid high risk areas in an effort to reduce the number of accidents and injuries.
Chicago accident attorneys are all too aware that the most vulnerable victims of road rage are pedestrians as they do not have the means to quickly evade an aggressive driver. It is unknown the exact extent of this problem, however, increased incident rates of pedestrian/vehicle accidents are on the rise as pedestrians attempt to navigate crosswalks, walk across parking lots, or walk down roads where sidewalks aren’t present. It is believed that many of these incidents are the direct result of aggressive drivers who simply can’t wait for the slow moving pedestrian to get out of the way.
When operating a motor vehicle, drivers should plan plenty of time to arrive at their destination. One of the leading causes of aggressive driving is “being late.” While traffic and other factors can result in delays, none of these delays are worth the civil or criminal penalties that can result. Further, drivers should remember to apply the rules of the road responsibly. This means using turn signals, maintaining adequate distance between vehicles, and allowing vehicles to merge while in traffic. With the roads becoming ever more crowded, it is important for driver’s to recognize their own driving behaviors and to drive defensively when on the road.
If confronted by an aggressive driver, pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists should not respond to taunts and aggression. Instead, they should contact law enforcement and proceed to a safe location where they can be met by police. Police also advise staying as calm and courteous as possible to avoid escalation an angry situation into a violent situation.
Drivers who witness aggressive driving are encouraged to report incidents directly to the police by dialing 911 or 999 for the State Patrol. When calling, it is important to provide details including direction of travel, vehicle make/color, license plate, and any other information law enforcement asks for. Whenever possible, they will dispatch an officer to investigate. Should the officer witness an aggressive driving even, they can then stop the driver and issue citations based on what they are able to see. While police certainly want individuals to report incidents of aggressive driving, they caution that motorists should keep their distance and not attempt to confront an aggressive driver themselves. With hundreds of murders and thousands of injuries attributable to road rage every year, it is wise advise to heed.