As the metro area continues to grow and road construction struggles to keep up with the increase in traffic, “road rage” incidents have become increasingly common. As traffic slows and tempers flare, it is important to know the steps that you should take as the victim of an aggressive driver and the risks you face should you be the one to lose your cool.
When faced with an aggressive driver, the best option is always to take steps to disengage and if necessary, call the police. If there has been an accident, make sure to get the other driver’s license plate (if possible, take a picture of them and the car) and remain in your vehicle until law enforcement arrives. If the other driver takes off, do not follow them and remain on scene to provide the police with any information you were able to obtain. Following a driver will expose you to more dangerous driving and cause an already volatile situation to escalate quickly.
If you find yourself in a situation after an accident where you feel unsafe, make sure that you call the police and clearly communicate that you are only leaving the scene of the accident because you are in fear of the other driver, and either drive directly to the nearest police station or arrange a safe place to meet with a law enforcement officer. Remember that the police did not witness what occurred, and the narrative for who is at fault can be mixed up if law enforcement is led to believe that you were the one who fled the scene.
Any attempts to go tit for tat – such as tailgating a driver who has cut you off in traffic – may result in you being charged. “But he started it!” is not a defense to the many traffic infractions and even criminal charges, such as Careless of Reckless Driving, that can come from being sucked into a game of aggressive driving one-upmanship. Provocation is not justification.
In some circumstances, road rage rises to the level where you must take actions to defend yourself. Colorado law allows a person to defend themselves from what they reasonably believe to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force, provided the degree of force that they use is reasonable under the circumstances. Self-defense does not apply, however, if you provoked the other person’s actions or if you were the initial aggressor and have not fully withdrawn from the situation before acting in self-defense. Deadly force is only justified in a road rage situation when there is a reasonable belief that a lesser degree of force is unjustified, and you have a reasonable fear that you or anther person is in imminent danger of great bodily injury or death.
Colorado law also allows a person to defend their property with a reasonable and appropriate degree of physical force if acting under a reasonable belief that the other person will damage their property. Deadly force, however, is not permitted to defend property.
In many instances, people will display a weapon, such as a gun or a knife, when they feel threatened by another driver and want them to know that any further aggression will be met with self-defense. Displaying a weapon such as a gun can result in a felony charge for menacing. Self-defense does apply. If you find yourself in such a situation, it is important to clearly communicate to law enforcement that you only displayed a weapon because you were in fear of imminent injury or property damage. If possible, call the police before escalating to the level of displaying a weapon. Remember that the key is reasonableness- therefore any steps taken to minimize the amount of a threat you present, such as displaying that you have a firearm but not pointing it at the other driver, will strengthen a claim of self-defense. If a weapon has been involved in an incident, be sure to follow all instructions from law enforcement and clearly communicate the location of the weapon and that you are not a threat. Even if you are the victim, expect to be detained and patted down for officer safety when contacted by the police.
If you find yourself being investigated or charged for a road rage incident, it is always important to speak with an attorney as soon as possible. Because of the dangers that road rage presents to the public, prosecutors will seek more severe punishments, even for charges that in other circumstances are treated as low-level offenses. The implications of a conviction for a charge related to a road rage incident range from losing your driver’s license, fines, or a short jail sentence up to serious felony charges that can carry a mandatory prison sentence.