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What is Road Rage and What can Happen if I get Angry Behind the Wheel?

By Practice Group Leader, Road Traffic Defence

You’re late for work and there’s a driver hogging the middle lane so you can’t overtake, how do you respond?

If you do more than mutter under your breath, chances are you could land yourself in trouble with the law.

And it seems many of us are risking both our licences and our lives by letting minor frustrations on the road get the better of us.

Research carried out recently by Slater and Gordon has revealed over three quarters of Brits suffer from road rage with almost one in ten saying they have driven recklessly or dangerously as a result.

Motorists hogging the middle lane, bad parking and inconsiderate drivers not saying thank you were the most common reasons why people lose their cool.

One in five drivers say they suffer from road rage often or every time they drive with 20 per cent of those who get angry behind the wheel admitting to doing it when they have children in the car.

What constitutes road rage?

The dictionary definition is sudden violent anger provoked in a motorist by the actions of another driver.

But don’t let the term violent anger fool you into thinking you have to assault somebody to be accused of having suffered road rage. Indeed, anything from beeping your horn, rude language or gestures, verbal insults, physical threats or dangerous driving methods such as swerving or braking dangerously in an attempt to intimidate or release frustration, can all be deemed as road rage.

When does your anger behind the wheel become a criminal offence?

It’s difficult to say when it happens because even if your frustration while driving doesn’t end in an altercation, many people are convicted for driving carelessly as a result of their anger. And just as screaming at somebody or threatening another person in the street when they annoy you is unacceptable, and often illegal, it is also the case when driving. Road rage isn’t an actual offence but if your anger on the road leads you to drive dangerously or carefully, breach the peace by shouting at other road users or assault someone, then you could find yourself in serious trouble with the law.

What kind of penalties can you receive for road rage offences?

They’re very wide ranging. We surveyed 2,000 people across the UK and found more than one in 10 had been in trouble with the police while driving. While only six per cent had actually been convicted of a road traffic offence related to their driving, many more had been stopped and spoken to by police or cautioned. However, while your first speeding offence may only lead to you receiving points on your licence, if it’s anything more serious such as assault or a dangerous driving conviction, you could easily land yourself a custodial sentence. In fact, should an incident occur and it’s discovered that you have been driving aggressively, swerving or racing, it will land you in serious trouble. Road rage is a huge aggravating factor which courts take very seriously.

And don’t think you’ll be safe if you perceive the other driver caused the road rage episode. Worryingly only nine per cent of those surveyed by us thought they were to blame when they got angry behind the wheel. I worked on a case a few years ago where two drivers were both found guilty of dangerous driving and sent to prison. Each believed the other to have aggravated the situation, but the judge noted that both their actions could have had lethal consequences and jailed them both.

It’s crucial you stay calm behind the wheel. Remember to ask yourself, are the actions of another driver really worth risking your life for?

Paul Reddy is a driving offence solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.

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