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Broadly defined, “road rage” is when a driver overreacts to some perceived provocation or slight by another driver and chooses to express his or her anger and frustration in a
How exactly the enraged driver expresses their anger will largely determine what kind of criminal charges they may face. Four possible criminal charges for a road rage incident are:
Aggressive or reckless driving. California Vehicle Code 23103 VC makes it a crime to “drive a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” Courts will look at such things as speeding, swerving, tailgating or other displays to determine whether a driver violated the law. A driver convicted under this statute can face up to $1,000 in fines and up to 90 days in jail. The penalties can be higher if the reckless driving causes bodily injury or great bodily injury to someone other than the driver.2
Assault. If the angry driver threatens or attempts to apply force to another driver or pedestrian, and the other person reasonably believed that the acts of the driver would directly and probably result in the application of force to that person and the driver actually had the ability to do so, they could be charged with assault under Penal Code 240 PC. Assault is a misdemeanor that could result in up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines upon conviction.3
Assault with a deadly weapon. A car can be considered a “deadly weapon” under California law. If a driver used a car in a manner that could be considered assault – such as if the driver purposefully sped toward a pedestrian as if they were about to hit him and then stopped or swerved at the last minute, the driver could face assault with a deadly weapon in California under Penal Code Section 245. Assault with a deadly weapon can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony. A felony conviction could result in up to four years in State Prison. If the angry driver pulled out a gun, he or she could also face charges for brandishing a firearm under Penal Code Section 417.4
Battery. If their road rage actually results in the driver hitting or using force against someone else, they could face battery charges under Penal Code 242 PC. Consequences of a battery conviction include a fine of up to $2,000 and/or up to six months in county jail. A battery that results in serious bodily injury is a separate criminal offense (Penal Code Section 243(d)) with more severe penalties.5
As explained below, the California DMV under 13210 CVC can suspend your driver’s license for engaging in road rage.
Road rage can lead to such criminal charges as assault, battery, and reckless driving.
These crimes can be misdemeanors or felonies depending on whether the incident involves weapons or causes injuries.
Can I lose my license?
Yes. The California DMV can punish you for a road rage incident by suspending your driver’s license for six months for a first-time offense or one year for a subsequent offense. The DMV can do this even if you never get charged or convicted of a crime.
How can I fight the charges?
Depending on the circumstances of the case, you may try to fight road rage-related criminal charges by arguing:
there was an emergency, and you acted out of necessity;
the incident was an accident; and/or
you broke no traffic laws.
Can I sue if I am the victim of road rage?
If you are the victim of road rage, you may be able to sue the at-fault parties for:
negligence per se;
intentional infliction of emotional distress; and/or
trespass to chattel.
You can seek money damages to compensate you for:
lost wages from being too injured to work;
pain and suffering; and/or
You may also be eligible for punitive damages if the at-fault party acted in a particularly shocking or malicious way.7
For additional help…
If you have been charged with a crime relating to a road rage incident, give our experienced and aggressive California criminal defense attorneys a call to discuss your case. (For Nevada law, see our article, “Road Rage in Nevada Can Drive You Straight To Jail.”)
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.