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“Come at me, bro!” The consequences of road rage.

As far as your author is aware, no one is immune from “road rage.”  Even the most courteous, patient, caring, thoughtful of us are susceptible to becoming angry at other people for what we perceive as ignorant, aggressive, or dangerous driving that poses a threat to ourselves, our loved ones or anyone else on the road.  The basic instinct to react to others’ bad driving is exacerbated by stressors such as heavy traffic, road work, bad weather and ever-increasing time constraints.  Our vehicles (the bigger the better) provide us with a false sense of security, a sanctuary from which we may demonstratively swear at our commuting comrades before reciprocating with an equally aggressive act.  However, our reflexive response [anger] to the bad driving habits of others only serves to make matters worse.  

It comes as no surprise that when polled, an overwhelming majority of people believe their driving skills are above-average.  News flash, that’s a statistical impossibility.  Further, the illusion of control is a good predictor of aggressive behavior.  The better a driver you think you are, the more susceptible to road rage you become.  Let that sink in as you ponder the frequency with which you get angry on the road.  Now consider that a person who is driving while angry has an illusion of control, but their anger inhibits vital cognitive functions such as attention, reasoning and judgment.  It’s a recipe for disaster.  

With the increasing prevalence of cameras mounted in vehicles, the Internet is chock full of video depicting road rage that end in violent confrontations.  Want to see people at their worst?  Do a YouTube search for “road rage.”  Indeed, before one decides to engage in automotive combat, he or she would be wise to consider the consequences of his or her actions.  To our many readers in the commercial transportation industry, identifying and dealing with angry drivers before tragedy strikes is imperative to long-term success in the marketplace.  

Consider the following fact pattern:  Driver A passes and cuts off Driver B on a two-lane road.  Driver B takes offense, lays on the horn and begins swearing at Driver A.  Driver B, in a fit of rage, tries to retake his position in front of Driver A.  Driver A speeds up to prevent Driver B from passing.  Sound familiar?  It’s not uncommon.  

In May, 2019, a federal jury entered a $26.5 million dollar verdict against two transportation companies and their drivers for a road rage incident which killed a woman and left her husband severely injured.  Plaintiffs accused the drivers of three (3) semi-trucks and an RV of engaging in a miles-long bout of road rage that culminated in the truck driver trying to pass the RV.  When the RV blocked one of the semi-trucks from reentering his lane, a head on collision occurred with the plaintiffs’ passenger vehicle.  

After deliberating for six hours following a nine-day trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the surviving husband and the estate of the deceased wife, finding that the concerted negligence of the RV transportation company, the trucking company and their respective drivers caused the fatal crash.  Included in the verdict were $1.5 million dollars in punitive damages against the trucking company and $5 million dollars in punitive damages against the RV transportation company.  Both companies were determined to be vicariously liable for the actions of their drivers.  No doubt about it, this was an avoidable crash.  The jury’s award of punitive damages against the transportation companies reflected the drivers’ wanton disregard for the safety of other drivers.     

So what do we do to combat our inherent susceptibility to road rage?  Start by giving up your illusion of control.  You can’t fix the world, so don’t try.  Accept that there are going to be inconsiderate or otherwise poor drivers out there and that they are going to do unpredictable, stupid things in pursuit of a timely arrival at their respective destinations.  Try to let go of the inevitable frustration or provocation that you encounter on the road.  Focus on what you can control, which is your own emotions and actions behind the wheel.  Find serenity behind the wheel, slow your breathing and control your heart rate.  At the end of the day, take solace in arriving at your destination safely and without confrontation.  

For questions or comments regarding casualty claims arising out of negligence on the roadway, including road rage, please feel free to contact Benjamin Dill (bdill@setlifflaw.com) at 804-377-1272 or Steve Setliff (ssetliff@setlifflaw.com) at 804-377-1261.