Many, if not most, drivers find a lot to criticize in the driving behavior of others. The fellow ahead is driving too slow! The person behind is tailgating!
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, almost 80 percent of drivers in a survey admitted to feeling anger while behind the wheel of a vehicle. But grumbling or even swearing to themselves generally won't rise to the level of a crime. When a driver takes out that anger by acting violently toward another motorist, road rage becomes a crime.
In Texas, the term road rage is used broadly by police to describe aggressive driving, speeding, cutting off drivers and tailgating. There is no crime called road rage in the Texas statutes, but any acts of aggression that stem from road rage can result in penalties for illegal driving behavior or violence toward another person.
Road Rage in America
It's hard to turn on the news without hearing about another instance of road rage in America. Drivers and passengers are shot, run over or beaten with baseball bats. Some say the term road rage was originally coined by a local Los Angeles news station in the 1990's. But what exactly is road rage? That depends in who is answering the question.
Some classify road rage as an emotion stronger than simple anger that renders the individual experiencing it incapable of controlling their behavior. Others limit the term to rage that causes a driver to act aggressively toward another driver.
Road Rage Itself Is Not a Crime in Texas
Texas takes no view on this question. There are no legal penalties for road rage as such, since it is not a crime. Texas does impose penalties for reckless driving behavior, assault, battery and murder, all of which can have origins in road rage.
Acts of road rage that end in violence, or threaten or injure persons or property are prosecuted in the state as reckless driving or aggressive driving. These charges can result in criminal convictions including fines, loss of a driver’s license, and even jail time.
Texas Road Rage Traffic Violations
Given that road rage is an emotion triggered or heightened by the driving behavior of others, it is the actions taken by the enraged person during the road rage incident that constitute a crime, not the rage itself. What actions are associated with road rage?
There are few limits to the aggressive or violent behavior an enraged person might resort to when they confront another driver. These include honking and hand gestures, but also:
- Tailgating, defined in Texas as one vehicle following too closely behind another.
- Running a stop sign to keep up with the offending vehicle.
- Changing lanes to swerve in front of another vehicle even in the left lane.
- Exceeding the speed limit.
These are all traffic offenses and subject to penalties by the Department of Transportation. But some can rise to the level of reckless driving and can result in misdemeanor or even felony criminal charges. If the action escalates, the result can be a car accident and personal injuries.
Texas Road Rage Criminal Offenses
Traffic offenses can be dangerous and stressful for the victims, but acts of personal aggression are even more frightening.
These include the person experiencing road rage using their vehicle to hit another vehicle; running another car off the road; swerving in front of another car and braking suddenly to cause the car to stop; engaging in a physical confrontation with another driver; or using any form of weapon to harm other drivers or vehicles.
This type of aggression is against the law in Texas, and a person can be convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony and sent to jail or prison for many years. For conviction of a crime, expect fines as well and perhaps the duty to pay for the damage caused.
Penalties in Texas for Road Rage Actions
The penalties set out in Texas law for traffic violations and crimes vary depending on the charges brought. Fines can be imposed, and a driving license will be suspended if the driver is convicted of four or more moving traffic violations within a 12-month period, or seven or more moving traffic violations within a 24-month period.
If alcohol or drugs are involved, the penalties are higher. Even a first offense can lead to a fine of up to $2,000, a jail term of 180 days with three days mandatory, and loss of driving privileges for up to a year.
A second offense can carry a fine up to $4,000, a jail sentence of one to 12 months, and loss of a driver license for up to two years. For a third offense, expect a fine of $10,000 and up to 10 years in prison. These penalties are in addition to state fines of $3,000, $4,500 or $6,000 assessed upon sentencing.
Penalties for Crimes Resulting From Road Rage
In Texas, anyone who threatens, causes, or recklessly places another at risk of serious bodily injury can face charges of aggravated assault or deadly conduct. Both of these charges carry felony penalties and the possibility of prison time. Convictions of these offenses can also result in criminal fines and orders to pay restitution.
The charge can be elevated to aggravated assault in Texas if the person intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes serious bodily injury to another person, or uses a deadly weapon in the course of committing an assault crime, including threatening another with bodily injury or engaging in conduct that the victim likely will find offensive.
An Offense Can Be a Felony
Aggravated assault is a second-degree felony in Texas and can be punished by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Note that the offense becomes a first-degree felony when the offender:
- Uses a deadly weapon in a domestic matter and causes serious bodily injury to the victim.
- Assaults a public servant in a road rage incident.
- Commits aggravated assault in retaliation against a witness, informant or a person who reported a crime.
- Causes a fatality.
- Shoots a firearm from a motor vehicle at a house, building or motor vehicle and causes serious bodily injury to the victim.
For these felonies, a conviction carries up to 99 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Anyone involved in a road rage incident in Texas should consider contacting a law firm with experience in driving offenses and criminal matters. Often a free consultation is available.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.