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Road Rage And Aggressive Driving Crimes In Colorado – What Is It? How Is It Charged? 

By Colorado Traffic Crime Criminal Defense Attorney – Lawyer – H. Michael Steinberg

In Colorado – road rage is becoming almost epidemic. It can lead to very serious charges ranging from Felony Vehicular Homicide and Assault, to Felony Menacing, to Misdemeanors such as Reckless and Careless Driving – Assault and Disorderly Conduct.

Road Rage And Aggressive Driving

Road Rage And Aggressive Driving

A Colorado police officer may describe aggressive driving as a form of automobile operation in which an the driver deliberately behaves with contempt towards another driver or drivers and then drives in a manner as to increase the risk of an automobile accident.

Road rage – and aggressive driving are not usually the result of a alcohol or drug related driving  – but rather the kind of person driving the automobile.  An aggressive driver may drive so recklessly that he will accidentally injure or kill another driver and in the most extreme cases, in an example of true Road Rage – will “hunt another driver down” and then deliberately attempt to cause injuries to the other driver.

“Road Rage,” is the most serious form of aggressive driving and is much more likely to result in road traffic accidents, criminal acts against other drivers, injuries, and possible fatalities.

It is an “assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by the operator or passenger(s) of another motor vehicle or an assault precipitated by an incident that occurred on a roadway.” In order for an incident to be defined as road rage, there must be “willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others.”

In other words, road rage means that someone deliberately tried to harm you as a result of something that happened while you were driving your car. 

So What is Aggressive Driving in Colorado and Elsewhere?

Aggressive driving is considered to be the progression of unlawful driving actions on the order of: speeding, improper or excessive lane changing, failing to signal intent, failing to see that movement can be made safely, or, improper passing (such as using an emergency lane to pass, or passing on the shoulder).

The following actions are generally considered acts of Road Rage. Generally aggressive driving, including:

Sudden acceleration, braking, “brake checking,” and close tailgating.

Cutting off another driver in a lane.

Deliberately preventing another driver from merging.

Sounding the vehicle’s horn or flashing lights excessively, especially flashing the “brights.”

Rude gestures – Shouting verbal abuse, threats, or even spitting at another driver.

Intentionally causing a collision between vehicles, or attempting to

Running another driver off the road.

Swerving to prevent passing or to threaten another driver.

Exiting the car to attempt to start a confrontation.

Striking another vehicle with an object.

Threatening to use, using, or brandishing a firearm or other deadly weapon (such as a knife or a bat).

Throwing projectiles from a moving vehicle with the intent of damaging other vehicles. 

Compare Those Behaviors That More Reflect Aggressive Driving:

Exceeding the posted speed limit,

Following too closely,

Erratic or unsafe lane changes,

Improperly signaling lane changes,

Failure to obey traffic control devices (stop signs, yield signs, traffic signals, railroad grade cross signals, etc.).

operating a motor vehicle in a selfish, pushy, or impatient manner, often unsafe, which directly affects other drivers.

Driving, or attempting to drive, at a speed different from the prevailing speed and affecting other drivers by the following series of actions:

Maneuvers which cause other drivers to react or take evasive action

Flashing lights or blowing the horn

Preventing faster drivers from passing

Verbal or nonverbal expressions of anger aimed at other drivers when designed to encourage retaliation on the part of other drivers.

Deliberately ignoring traffic controls usually demonstrated by increasing speed or failing to slow for the controls.

Driving in a way that attempts to gain an advantage over other drivers, e.g., appears to be taking an unfair advantage, breaking notions of equity (e.g., ramp meter violations, shoulder riding).

Road Rage Differs from Aggressive Driving

The media does not help with confusing media portrayals and political responses to the problem, This media hype make it important to distinguish between “road rage” and “aggressive driving” .

Many in law enforcement hold the commonly held assumption that aggressive driving leads to road rage is valid. Research – on the other hand – does not show a clear linkage.

The classic concept of aggression – which can lead to road rage results from the driver’s environment. The frustration that arises from congestion increases the probability increases that drivers will respond  by displaying aggressive driving behavior. Other frustrations include work zones and traffic control devices.

NHTSA, has defined aggressive driving as “a combination of unsafe and unlawful driving actions that demonstrate a disregard for safety” Several states modify that definition to  “when individuals commit a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property.” Still others define aggressive driving as the operation of a motor vehicle involving three or more moving violations as part of a single continuous sequence of driving acts, which is likely to endanger any person or property.”

NHTSA’s survey on aggressive driving attitudes and behaviors demonstrated that more than 60 percent of drivers see unsafe driving by others, including speeding, as a major personal threat to themselves and their families AND more than half admitted to driving aggressively on occasion.

These drivers stated that – from their perspective  – common characteristics of the aggressive driver include such findings as:

They are high-risk drivers, more likely to drink and drive, speed, or drive unbelted. 

Their vehicle provides anonymity, allowing them to take out their frustrations on other drivers.

Their frustration levels are high, concern for other motorists, low.

They consider vehicles as objects and fail to consider the human element involved; therefore, they seldom consider the consequences of their actions.

They run stop signs, disobey red lights, speed, tailgate, weave in and out of traffic, pass on the right, make unsafe lane changes, flash their lights, blow their horns, or make hand and facial gestures”

 (Aggressive Driving and the Law: A Symposium. 1999).

Colorado Does Not Have A Crime Called Aggressive Driving

Nearly a dozen states have enacted “aggressive driving laws” that enhance the common traffic ticket to a more serious misdemeanor or a felony. The penalties always include mandatory classes in how to manage so called ” traffic emotions.”

While several states have actually defined aggressive driving and have criminal laws directed against it … Colorado – instead of enacting a crime defined as “aggressive driving” has sections of the traffic code that define certain crimes that “bracket” the concept of  aggressive driving. 

For actual Road Rage cases – crimes arising out of intentional damage to physical property that reflect aggressive and violent acts and that can be charged are such crimes as attempted murder, criminal mischief, felony or misdemeanor assaults, disorderly conduct, and many other “creative” felonies and misdemeanors.

The most commonly charged crimes that are charged are reckless and – or careless driving.

Colorado’s Traffic Crime of Reckless Driving – 42-4-140

42-4-1401. Reckless driving – penalty

(1) A person who drives a motor vehicle, bicycle, electrical assisted bicycle, or low-power scooter in such a manner as to indicate either a wanton or a willful disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.

[HMS – In the author’s opinion aggressive driving should be less than reckless driving, but more than one simple act or failing to yield right of way.]

Then There is The Colorado Traffic Crime of Careless Driving

42-4-1402  Careless driving

A person who drives a motor vehicle, … in a careless and imprudent manner, without due regard for the width, grade, curves, corners, traffic, or use of the streets and highways and all other attendant circumstances, commits careless driving, which is a class 1 misdemeanor traffic offense when the actions are the proximate cause of bodily injury or death to another.

Conclusion And Colorado Criminal Defense Strategy Road Rage and Aggressive Driving Cases

NHTSA estimates that about one third of all traffic crashes and  two thirds of traffic fatalities are  attributable to driving behavior commonly associated with aggressive driving (e.g., violations such as improper lane changing, improper passing, red light running, and speeding).”

The Role Of Anger Management Classes In Aggressive Driving Cases

When my clients are charged with provable misdemeanors and felonies arising out of aggressive driving cases – I recommend to them classes that help them control their temper while driving.  These anger management classes have a very positive impact on the DA’s and judges assigned to adjudicate these cases.

No Surprise

A 1998 study addressed the importance of distinguishing between aggressive driving violations and other types of offenses. The study found that subjects scoring high on a scale assessing anger were more likely to have received violations for offenses classified as aggressive, but not for other types of offenses.

Road Rage And Aggressive Driving – Road Rage As A Mental Disorder?

Although not likely to be “tried” in a jury case – a psychologist – Arnold Nerenberg, Ph.D – has claimed to have “discovered” road rage as a new mental disorder.  The reason NOT to argue this in court is the backlash in the US over “pathologizing” behavior. Therefore defining road rage as a mental disorder attempts to exempt individuals from bearing responsibility for their actions.  Something that would backfire if not handled properly in trial.

But the theory has some merit. If Road Rage is recognized as an ” impulse control disorder” then perhaps neurology can help us to understand it better.

Consider this analysis of how Road Rage occurs:

Unleashing Your Inner Alligator

Neurologist Paul MacLean proposes that the human mind is the combination of three brains, one of which is known as the reptilian brain and is similar to the brain found in reptiles. This part of the human mind, which consists of the brainstem and cerebellum, is responsible for our sense of survival and the fight-or-flight reaction we have to fear and stress. Road-rage incidents stem from the stimulation of the reptilian mind — a driver experiencing road rage feels threatened and responds aggressively to ensure survival. MacLean states that the reptilian brain is inflexible, compulsive, ritualistic and incapable of learning from previous experience [source: Kheper].

A road rage incident happens when at least one driver chooses to act out in anger. Usually, the driver is already feeling stress when something triggers an aggressive reaction. Many road-rage drivers reported being under duress in other areas of their lives, like work or relationships, all of which contribute to a driver’s stress level, making him more vulnerable to engaging in irrational behavior.

Dr. James also identifies several aspects of driving that contribute to our frustration and stress levels, including:

Immobility – we’re stuck sitting behind the steering wheel and can’t physically relieve tension.

Constriction – because we must drive on roads, our options are limited, often giving us the feeling of being boxed in.

Lack of control – although we maintain control of our own vehicle, many other variables like traffic, lane closures, and the behavior of other drivers, are completely outside of our influence.

Territoriality – like many animals, human beings react negatively when we feel our space is threatened by someone else.

Denial and loss of objectivity – we tend to overlook our own faults and place blame on others.

Unpredictability – we all know that every time we drive there are going to be unexpected events, such as someone pulling out into traffic ahead of you without warning — this makes driving more stressful.

Ambiguity – because there’s no culturally agreed-upon way to signal an apology to another driver,

it’s easy to misinterpret someone’s actions as a sign of aggression or insult

Please call our law firm if you have questions about ..

Road Rage And Aggressive Driving

H. Michael Steinberg has been a Colorado criminal law specialist attorney for 30 years (as of 2012). For the First 13 years of his career, he was an Arapahoe – Douglas County District Attorney Senior  prosecutor. In 1999 he formed his own law firm for the defense of Colorado criminal cases.

In addition to handling tens of thousands of cases in the trial courts of Colorado, he has written hundreds of articles regarding the practice of Colorado criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on the Fox News Channel, CNN and Various National and Local Newspapers and Radio Stations.  Please call him at your convenience at 720-220-2277 

If you have questions about Road Rage And Aggressive Driving in the Denver metropolitan area and throughout Colorado, attorney H. Michael Steinberg will be pleased to answer those questions and to provides quality legal representation to those charged in Colorado adult and juvenile criminal matters.

In the Denver metropolitan area and throughout Colorado, attorney H. Michael Steinberg provides quality legal representation to those charged in Colorado adult and juvenile criminal matters..as regards Road Rage And Aggressive Driving.

 


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___________________________
H. Michael Steinberg Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
The Colorado Criminal Defense Law Firm of H. Michael Steinberg
A Denver, Colorado Lawyer Focused Exclusively On
Colorado Criminal Law For Over 30 Years.
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