If you’ve ever been the target of another motorist’s road rage, you know how terrifying the situation can be. In a road rage scenario, you have no way of knowing if the agitated motorist will simply hurl angry words or if the situation could escalate into physical violence.
For a cyclist, experiencing road rage from someone in a car can be particularly frightening. Without the barrier of a vehicle for protection, a cyclist can feel especially vulnerable to someone else’s anger and potentially violent behavior. Such a situation happened recently in the Bay Area, when a man riding a bicycle in traffic drew the ire of a man in an SUV, as documented in a video posted on Reddit.
Despite the motorist’s apparently hostile and highly intimidating behavior, the cyclist walked away relatively unscathed. However, such an incident raises important legal questions. If you’re the victim of a road rage incident on a public road during a bike trip, what are your legal rights, and what are the potential civil and criminal legal repercussions for the intimidating driver?
Is Road Rage Against the Law?
Road rage is defined as an unsafe driving maneuver that disregards someone else’s safety and is done deliberately. It can include cutting off another driver or bicyclist, running a vehicle or bike off the road, cutting off other cars or bikes, or physically assaulting someone.
When an enraged driver acts out of illogical anger, serious criminal charges can result. Charges can include:
- Assault, if a driver physically harms another individual.
- Assault with a deadly weapon, if a driver threatens someone with a gun or another weapon.
- Harassment. A charge of harassment can result from menacing behavior like tailgating, gesturing or yelling obscenities. The behavior also can be legally classified as distracted driving.
- Endangerment, for compromising the safety of another individual.
- Traffic violations like speeding, unsafe lane changes and others.
In California, a conviction of assault against a driver, passenger, pedestrian or cyclist due to road rage also can result in a suspended license. The California penal code also imposes potential penalties of imprisonment for up to four years and a fine up to $10,000 for an individual convicted of assault with a deadly weapon.
How Can Cyclists Avoid Road Rage Incidents?
Mental health experts say road rage is akin to driving under the influence of emotional impairment. Most road rage incidents are initiated by young men, but anyone can fall under the grasp of rage behind the wheel. For some people, cyclists cause particular irritation because they can cause traffic to move more slowly.
If you ride a bicycle, you may become the target of an angry, hostile individual on the road even if you follow all traffic laws. To avoid becoming involved in a potentially dangerous altercation with another driver, consider the following actions:
- To avoid angering motorists, obey all traffic laws. If someone else becomes aggressive or cuts you off, don’t gesture or yell.
- To stop yourself from becoming angry, try to empathize with the other driver, and leave plenty of time to reach your destination.
- Try to put as much space as possible between you and a driver who seems angry or who is driving erratically. If someone makes you feel threatened, move to a safe area and call police.
Can Cyclists Sue for Road Rage?
A number of road rage cases have resulted in high-profile lawsuits that have made national news in recent years. In one 2015 case, the victim of a road rage incident filed suit for emotional distress against an NFL player. The player, Orson Charles, pleaded guilty to a charge of wanton endangerment after he pointed a gun at another motorist several times. He received a one-year suspended sentence.
The victim in the case is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for his emotional distress that allegedly was caused by the incident with Charles. Nightmares, paranoia, anxiety and fear of driving and confrontation are among the negative impacts the incident caused, the victim’s attorney stated, adding that the victim does not feel safe in his home.
If you are physically, mentally or emotionally harmed because of someone’s dangerous driving or bad behavior in a road rage incident, you may be entitled to compensation in several forms. Compensation can include coverage of your medical care, lost time from work, property damage, emotional distress, and pain and suffering. In some cases, courts also award punitive damages when a guilty party’s behavior was especially malicious or egregious.
If You’ve Been Hurt in a Road Rage Incident, Contact a Knowledgeable Attorney
Road rage cases are always dangerous, and they can cause serious injuries or death for cyclists, who are unprotected by a vehicle. If you have been the victim of a road rage assault, you may be entitled to compensation. To speak with a compassionate, professional attorney who is knowledgeable in laws relating to road rage, contact Appel Law Firm LLP at 888-511-6905.