Is Road Rage a Criminal Offense?

Is Road Rage a Criminal Offense?

In a perfect world, drivers would never have a conflict with other drivers on the road. No one would be cut off or get rear-ended. No one would drive slowly in the fast lane, and people would be patient with you when you’re lost or confused while you’re driving. 

For that matter, in a perfect world, drivers wouldn’t get lost or confused while they were driving. 

Unfortunately, our world is not perfect. People make mistakes, have bad days, and travel in unfamiliar territory in their rental vehicles

One aspect of our not-so-perfect world is road rage, and it’s a stark reality that drivers could encounter without warning. We hear about road rage in the news frequently, but that doesn’t mean we all understand road rage. 

So, what is road rage? Is it really a problem? Is it a criminal offense? What can you do if you find yourself in a road rage situation?

What Is Road Rage?

Many people think road rage is the same thing as aggressive driving, but they are only similar. Aggressive driving is when a person commits one or multiple traffic violations that endanger other drivers or property. 

Examples of aggressive driving violations include:

  • Speeding
  • Tailgating
  • Sudden, unpredictable lane changes
  • Jumping in front of other drivers (cutting them off)
  • Failing to yield to the right of way

While doing any or all of these is unsafe and would result in a traffic ticket, these are not necessarily acts of road rage. 

Road rage occurs when the driver uses their vehicle as a weapon to act out against other drivers, typically in retaliation for acts perceived as affronts by other drivers. 

Examples of road rage, to clarify the distinction, would include:

  • Tailgating too close – Dangerously close or actual nudging of the other car
  • Braking suddenly in front of another car without real cause to force a possible collision
  • Honking your horn for long periods of time to harass other drivers
  • Exiting the vehicle with intent to injure another driver
  • Forcing other drivers to leave the road

Road rage is deliberate and purposeful acts that are intended to harm other drivers. Sometimes, the rage a driver feels can be brought on by several stressors from driving or other external factors like work, financial strain, or problems in a personal relationship. 

One reason that it is so hard for people to distinguish aggressive driving from road rage is that aggressive driving can escalate into road rage. To fully understand the difference, it’s important to understand aggressive driving.

What Is Aggressive Driving?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, aggressive driving, as defined above, is an occurrence of multiple traffic violations that endanger other drivers, pedestrians, or property. 

Some additional examples of aggressive driving include:

  • Ignoring traffic signs
  • Passing illegally on the shoulder or the sidewalk
  • Running red lights
  • Ignoring other drivers
  • Driving recklessly

When this aggressive driving escalates into road rage, does it become a criminal offense?

Is Road Rage a Criminal Offense?

The law views aggressive driving and road rage very differently. Aggressive driving offenses are given misdemeanor traffic tickets. 

These tickets require that you pay a fine, and they may ding your driving record with a one or two-point deduction. These tickets and point deductions can cause increases in your auto insurance premiums. 

In contrast, road rage is considered criminal because the driver had the mens rea, or criminal intent, to cause harm. A road rage offender can be taken to jail, pay high fines, or even be convicted of a felony. 

Most states consider road rage a crime, but not all states have laws that address road rage that clearly define the prohibition of road rage and the proper, specific punishments for road rage. 

Check with your local DMV website or the website of the area you’ll be traveling to if you’re in a rental car to fully understand the laws for the area. 

Many people admit to committing aggressive driving behaviors, but how does that affect your driving?

Road Rage And Your Driving

As the phrase suggests, road rage means that the driver is in a hostile state of mind while driving. Your own behaviors may provoke road rage in other drivers. 

Some behaviors that could make the situation worse include:

  • Shouting or screaming
  • Honking your horn excessively
  • Making threats
  • Using obscene gestures
  • Jumping in front of other drivers (cutting them off)
  • Aggressive tailgating
  • Blocking a car from accessing a lane
  • Chasing another vehicle
  • Deliberately hitting another car
  • Exiting your car in order to threaten, attack, or injure another person

Road rage is a dangerous behavior, but what causes it?

Causes Of Road Rage

Road rage may just be an initial knee-jerk emotion to another driver’s actions. It becomes the criminal road rage discussed above if the driver chooses to act, or rather react, on that emotional response. 

Some common triggers of road rage include:

  • Heavy traffic
  • Frustration with distracted drivers
  • External stress

Knowing what triggers road rage may not be enough to avoid it, and unless you prepare yourself with how to react, you may not know how to respond if you feel that road rage creeping up on you.

Tips For Dealing With Road Rage

Aggressive driving and road rage are a real and present danger to drivers, whether they themselves could experience road rage or just become a victim to someone else’s. So, it’s important to know how you should deal with potential road rage. 

Here are some tips:

  • Allow plenty of time to get where you’re going. 
  • Take time to calm yourself before you get behind the wheel.
  • Remind yourself that slow drivers are not likely to be annoying you on purpose. Try to be patient.
  • Keep your offensive hand gestures to yourself.
  • Leave the tailgating for sporting events only.
  • Lay off the excessive horn honking.
  • Never confront another driver.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of the rage from another frustrated driver, remember:

  • Create space between you and the other driver.
  • Get off the road you’re both on if necessary.
  • Avoid eye contact with the other driver.
  • Don’t react or respond to the other driver.
  • Don’t stop or pull over on the side of the road.

If you are being pursued by another driver, lock your doors and take a route to the nearest police station. A good rule to follow for yourself is to drive safely, remain courteous to other drivers, and never drive when you are angry or upset. 


It’s easy to become stressed in our lives. Sometimes our life’s stress mounts, and driving among other drivers can exacerbate your frustrations when things happen—responding to stress while behind the wheel can result in aggressive driving. 

Aggressive driving is not a good way to behave while driving, and it can be dangerous for the aggressive driver and others. When stress and aggressive driving compound into acts of aggressive driving with the intent to harm others, that is road rage. 

Road rage is a criminal offense, and it is taken seriously by the law. Learning to manage your stress and responses to frustration can help you avoid road rage. 

Being aware of your situation may help you avoid becoming a victim of road rage. Be sure to familiarize yourself with how to respond if you find yourself in a road rage situation.

DOT HS 809 707 |
Aggressive Driving |
Mens Rea | Wex | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute |

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