When Road Rage Strikes: How Can You Protect Yourself?


You’re stuck in stop-and-go traffic on the freeway. Suddenly, another driver cuts you off. Reacting instinctively, you quickly hit the brakes and tap your horn at the inconsiderate driver. Without warning, the enraged driver stops and exits their car, aggressively rushing toward your vehicle with a metal rod in hand. In a seemingly psychotic state, the driver starts bashing your car with a crowbar, smashing glass and mangling the body of your vehicle. Terrified and in shock, you grip your steering wheel and desperately think to yourself, “What in the world is happening?” The answer? Road rage.

As far-fetched as this violent scenario may seem, road rage is an all-too-common occurrence on roadways across the United States. In fact, according to 2019 data from the Automobile Association of America (AAA), “nearly 80 percent of drivers expressed significant anger, aggression or road rage behind the wheel at least once in the previous 30 days.” 

ABC7 Eyewitness News  and other media outlets have detailed multiple road rage incidents across Southern California since 2022 involving a male Tesla driver, who has violently assaulted several drivers, including women and senior citizens. The assailant has been filmed beating victim’s vehicles with a metal pipe, as well as physically assaulting others during his violent fits of road rage. In an effort to identify and apprehend the perpetrator, the California Highway Patrol has asked for tips from the public. As of January 24, 2023, media reports indicate that the suspect has been identified, but has not yet been arrested. 

If you are the victim of a road rage incident, you may be experiencing emotional trauma, in addition to physical injuries and property damage. The personal injury lawyers at Carpenter & Zuckerman are adept at navigating road rage incidents, as well as all forms of assault and other personal injury matters. Contact CZ Law today to learn how we can protect you; we will fight to secure rightful compensation on your behalf!

Aggressive Driving vs. Road Rage: What Is the Difference?

AAA defines aggressive driving as “any unsafe driving behavior, performed deliberately and with ill intention or disregard for safety.” According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), road rage is defined as "an assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by the operator or passenger(s) of one motor vehicle or precipitated by an incident that occurred on a roadway." 

It is important to understand that both AAA and NHTSA differentiate between aggressive driving and road rage. The main difference is that aggressive driving behaviors constitute traffic violations; whereas, most road rage behaviors are classified as criminal offenses, with the exception of yelling and gesturing. Another important distinction is that aggressive driving behaviors are not necessarily directed at an individual car or driver, whereas acts of road rage generally cross over into specific, violent actions aimed at another driver or vehicle. While not all incidents of aggressive driving are categorized as road rage, all occurrences of road rage include aggressive driving behaviors. 

The following lists of common aggressive driving behaviors and specific road rage behaviors further illustrate the difference between the two categories of risky driving behavior:

Aggressive Driving Behaviors: 

  • Excessive speed
  • Weaving through traffic
  • Failing to stop at stop lights & stop signs
  • Failing to yield the right-of-way
  • Failing to signal lane changes
  • Cutting in front of other drivers, then dramatically slowing down
  • Blocking other cars from passing or changing lanes
  • Using headlights or brakes to punish other drivers
  • Tailgating

Road Rage Behaviors:

  • Cursing or making obscene hand gestures at other drivers
  • Throwing objects
  • Sideswiping or ramming other vehicles
  • Forcing another vehicle off the road

What Causes Road Rage Incidents?

Contributing Factors in Road Rage Incidents

According to NHTSA, a number of factors contribute to aggressive driving behaviors, including:

  • Running Late – Busy schedules are a major contributor to aggressive driving. “I’m late” is a top excuse cited by motorists who are stopped for traffic violations.

  • Traffic Congestion – While frustrating to all drivers, traffic delays translate into anger more rapidly for impatient motorists.

  • Disregard for the Law & Others- Psychologists have suggested that shifting cultural norms and media influences, in combination with directly learned aggressive behaviors, have combined to reduce respect for authority and civility in our society.

  • Anonymity – Psychologists cite a vehicle’s insulated environment as contributing to an emboldened feeling of anonymity amongst drivers, leading some to display aggressive behavior they would not use in face-to-face interactions.

  • Habitual or Clinical Behaviors – Mental health disorders and chronic anger issues contribute to aggressive driving and road rage.

How to Protect Yourself When Road Rage Strikes

Austrian Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl is most often credited as the author of the profound quote: Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

While being the victim of road rage is not only terrifying, but also thoroughly unjust, the best choice to prevent the situation from escalating is to remain calm and refrain from retaliating, unless you are in imminent danger of bodily injury or death. 

If you are involved in a road rage incident with another driver, follow the guidelines below to protect yourself and your passengers to the greatest extent possible: 

Safety Tips During a Road Rage Incident

  • Call 911 immediately: Call for emergency help immediately if you are a victim or witness of a road rage incident.

  • Use GPS & drive to the nearest police station: If you are being followed by an aggressive driver, use your phone or vehicle’s navigation system to locate the nearest police station. Call ahead or drive to the station and alert the police using your car horn & emergency indicators.

  • File a police report and request a copy for documentation purposes.

  • Remain in your vehicle: If you are in traffic or stopped, do not exit your vehicle. Take cover if it appears that the assailant has a weapon.

  • Do not engage the offender: Do not make direct eye contact, return obscene gestures, or otherwise attempt to engage the offender verbally or physically. This will only escalate the situation.

  • Capture video or photos of the incident, as discreetly as possible. However, never compromise your safety. Watch for visual cues from the assailant and set your device down if they appear to become more agitated by it. 

  • Gather witness contact information from witnesses of the incident. They may have valuable evidence to contribute to your case.

  • Seek a medical evaluation as soon as possible after the incident. Be sure to report physical as well as emotional symptoms you are experiencing. Retain medical and mental health records relating to the incident.

  • Obtain repair estimates for any damage to your physical property caused by the road rage incident. 

  • Contact a personal injury lawyer who is experienced in handling road rage cases.

CZ Law Fights to Protect Road Rage Victims

NHTSA research attributes the overall increase in aggressive driving and road rage incidents to the fact that “there are more drivers driving more miles on the same roads than ever before.” Whatever the ultimate combination of factors causing the increase in road rage since the 1990s, victims of violent road rage incidents deserve to be fiercely advocated for.

The experienced car accident and assault attorneys at CZ Law take great pride in fighting on behalf of innocent injury victims. Our firm was founded on the principle of standing up to those in power, and giving voice to the voiceless. We will fight unceasingly until justice is secured for our deserving clients, including maximum compensation for their physical injuries, emotional suffering, and property damage.  

CZ Law has been advocating on behalf of road rage victims for the past 27 years. We have a strong track record of delivering excellent results to our clients, including over $2 billion in verdicts and settlements since the firm was founded in 1995. CZ Law maintains offices throughout California and Washington, including Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, Garden Grove, San Diego, Bakersfield, and Seattle.

If you are the victim of a road rage incident, contact the skilled personal injury attorneys at Carpenter & Zuckerman today. CZ Law is standing by and is ready to fight on your behalf. Call CZ Law  today at (310) 273-1230, or fill out our contact form for a FREE consultation.

Related Articles