Is road rage a crime?

Road rage in Wisconsin is a problem.  But is it a crime?  Our top criminal defense attorneys explain:

Road rage incidents occur every day on Wisconsin highways.  Whether it be an aggressive driver, or an aggressive response to a careless driver, these incidents can certainly be dangerous.  Is tailgating a crime?  Is cutting another driver off a crime?  Does it matter whether this was fueled by anger?

If you’re charged in connection to a road rage incident, certainly it’s important to get a criminal defense attorney involved.  At Van Severen Law Office you’ll meet a few of Wisconsin’s top criminal defense attorneys.  We’re all prepared to fight for you and to achieve the very best result in your case.  Contact us immediately at (414) 270-0202.

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What is road rage?

Aggressive driving takes many forms.  Tailgating, weaving in and out of lanes, and speeding are all certainly forms of aggressive driving.  An unfortunately it happens a lot.  A AAA survey found that nearly 80% of drivers expressed significant anger or aggression while behind the wheel at least once over the course of the prior year.  Certainly the consequences of aggressive driving can be harmful: according to the Insurance Information Institute, aggressive driving played a role in 56% of fatal crashes between 2003 and 2007.

What encourages road rage?

Here are some common factors that often contribute to road rage incidents or aggressive driving behavior.

  • Traffic delays
    • Heavy traffic, sitting at stoplights, looking for a parking space or even waiting for passengers can increase a driver’s anger level.
  • Running late
    • Running behind for a meeting or appointment can cause drivers to be impatient.
  • Anonymity
    • If drivers feel that they probably won’t see other drivers again, they may feel more comfortable engaging in risky driving behaviors like tailgating, cutting people off, excessive honking, or making rude gestures.
  • Disregard for others and the law
    • Some drivers may think the rules don’t apply to them.
  • Habitual or learned behavior
    • For some drivers, aggressive driving may be the norm.

Potential criminal charge: Recklessly endangering safety

Recklessly endangering safety charges come in two forms: first and second degree.  Section 941.30 of the Wisconsin Statutes prohibits recklessly endangering safety.

Wisconsin Criminal Jury Instruction 1345 provides us the elements of first degree recklessly endangering safety:

  • Firstly, the defendant endangered the safety of another human being; and
  • Secondly, the defendant endangered the safety of another by criminally reckless conduct; and finally
  • The circumstances of the defendant’s conduct showed utter disregard for human life.

Second degree recklessly endangering safety removes the third element.  It simply requires the government to prove the first two listed above.

While this crime is certainly on the aggravated end of things, a road rage incident could lead to a recklessly endangering safety charge.  For example, let’s consider an extremely aggravated road rage situation: the driver is swerving in and out of lanes towards another vehicle on a highway while going 70 miles an hour.  The driver is swearing at the other, shouting obscenities, and brake-checking the other driver.  The aggressor is not letting the other driver escape.  This doesn’t sound like first-degree recklessly endangering safety – this isn’t an incident where the aggressor seems to show utter disregard for human life.  But a creative prosecutor could charge 2nd degree.  These actions certainly endangered the safety of the victim driver.  And secondly, the defendant was acting in a way that satisfies “criminally reckless conduct.”

More likely charge: disorderly conduct

Disorderly conduct is a catch-all charge in Wisconsin.  Frequently when law enforcement officers aren’t sure what to charge, they’ll simply pursue a disorderly conduct charge.  Disorderly conduct is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail.  Section 947.01 of the Wisconsin Statutes prohibits disorderly conduct.

Wisconsin Criminal Jury Instruction 1900 prohibits disorderly conduct.  The elements require the government prove:

  • Firstly, the defendant engaged in violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, unreasonably loud, or otherwise disorderly conduct; and
  • Secondly, the conduct of the defendant, under the circumstances as they then existed, tended to cause or provoke a disturbance.

The scenario above certainly satisfies the definition.  Firstly, the aggressor was being profane, probably unreasonably loud, and otherwise disorderly.  And considering the danger that driver placed others in, the situation tended to cause or provoke a disturbance.

But the line here is certainly grey.  Consider a much more mitigated situation: the aggressor gets mad and simply, repeatedly brake checks the other driver.  A creative prosecutor may argue that this is “otherwise disorderly” conduct and that the situation tended to cause of provoke a disturbance.  But as a defense attorney, this is certainly the kind of case we look forward to defending at trial.  This is a creative argument but certainly a weak one.

A man yells at another.
Certain actions that constitute road rage can be charged criminally in Wisconsin. Contact us at (414) 270-0202 regarding your road rage incident.

Contact our criminal defense attorneys immediately about your road rage case

Road rage isn’t automatically a crime.  But when taken to an aggressive level, you could certainly be exposing yourself to criminal prosecution.

When facing any kind of criminal conviction, it’s important that you hire a top criminal defense attorney.  At Van Severen Law Office you’ll meet some of the best criminal defense attorneys in Wisconsin.  And we all want to help you.  Whether your charge is a ticket, a misdemeanor, or a felony, it’s important that you protect your liberty, your record, and your name moving forward.

Because we recognize things happen around the clock, 7 days a week, we answer phones 24/7.  Contact us immediately at (414) 270-0202.

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