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What Do I Do if I Encounter Road Rage in Boston?

While no specific statistics are kept on road rage in Boston, these new stories indicate its prevalence and suggest that incidents may be on the rise. Boston area police, for example, suggest that the availability of guns, the willingness to use them, and even the anxieties and challenges of the COVID pandemic over the past year might fuel road rage incidents.

If you or your family are threatened or hurt in a road rage attack, you need to know what to do. Here’s a brief overview of road rage and the law.

Road Rage: What It Is

Road rage is a cousin to aggressive driving. But it has its own definition and set of associated behaviors. The definition? “Any unsafe driving maneuver performed deliberately and with ill intention or disregard for safety.”

The behaviors include:

  • Sideswiping a vehicle
  • Forcing a car off the road with another vehicle
  • Ramming a vehicle
  • Cursing and rude or obscene gestures
  • Throwing objects
  • Threatening with a gun, the car, or other dangerous weapon

Aggressive driving is indicating or displaying anger, but in less extreme ways.

Those ways include:

  • Blocking cars attempting to pass or change lanes
  • Cutting in front of another driver and slowing down immediately afterward
  • Weaving in and out of traffic
  • Changing lanes without signaling
  • Running red lights
  • Tailgating
  • Flashing headlights or slowing down abruptly to communicate anger at their driving

Both road rage and aggressive driving are potentially highly dangerous to other vehicles on the road. They are both, unfortunately, far too common in the United States. The AAA Foundation’s Annual Traffic Safety Culture Index for Traffic Safety found that almost 80 percent of drivers surveyed either acted in a way consonant with road rage or aggressive driving in a 30-day period.

What to Do If You Encounter Road Rage

The ubiquity means that it’s a very good idea to know what to do if you are a victim of road rage.

Make Your Safety the Focus

The first line of defense against road rage is to respond with your own safety in mind. It may to some degree feel natural to respond in kind, especially if you’re screamed at or rammed. But frankly, it’s dangerous.

Responding in kind escalates the situation. What you want to do is de-escalate.

It’s also natural to panic. Keep as calm as you can.

De-escalate and keep calm by getting your vehicle out of danger as quickly as possible. Pull off the road if you can and let the road rager pass by.

If the individual gets out of the vehicle and attempts to engage you or harm your vehicle, call 911. Do not get out of your vehicle. Enraged and irrational individuals may use objects against you. (Unfortunately, objects like baseball bats or even machetes have been used in road rage incidents.)

Do not engage with the individual in any way, including talking or making gestures. Road ragers may view engagement of any kind as an escalation and provocation to more rage.

Call Law Enforcement or 911

As soon as you can, call 911 or local police.

Describe clearly what occurred. Give them information on the vehicle, including make, model, color, and license plate information if you have it.

If someone is in the car with you, taking pictures of the vehicle so that law enforcement can find it is a very good idea.

Aggressive driving, reckless driving, and attempted assault are all against the law. Law enforcement can arrest and charge individuals suspected of perpetrating these actions even if you aren’t injured in the incident.

Describe clearly where the incident occurred. Often law enforcement can pull surveillance footage if it’s available.

Seek Medical Attention if You’re Injured

If you or anyone with you is injured, call 911 or go to the emergency room.

If you aren’t visibly injured but the road rage incident resulted in a vehicle accident or some kind of assault, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Some injuries don’t show up immediately or may not have noticeable symptoms. Only a doctor can tell if you are injured or not.

Get a Record of the Law Enforcement Report

After you report the incident to law enforcement, you need to get a record of what occurred. If they find the individual, did they arrest them? With what charge?

This is necessary if you or anyone else in the vehicle is injured and you want to press charges or seek compensation.

Ask law enforcement if there were any eyewitnesses or any corroborating evidence.

Keep All Records

Keep all records of the incident—your own pictures (if any), records of medical visits and treatment, and records of any repair necessary to your car. All provide valuable evidence if you want to seek compensation.

Obtaining Compensation for Injuries in Boston Road Rage Accidents

What should you do if you or another occupant of your vehicle is injured?

First, of course, seek medical attention. Follow all medical advice about the course of treatment.

Second, though, you need to think about compensation for injuries and property damage. Road rage cases are not only traumatic, they have harmful effects for which the perpetrator may owe you compensation. Legally, damage compensation is owed by parties at fault for causing injury or other harm, but victims must seek that compensation.

Here is a brief overview of compensation in Massachusetts for injury victims.

Massachusetts is a no-fault state for any vehicle accident injuries. No-fault refers to an insurance system where no party refers to who or what caused the accident.

Instead, in our state, you must get several forms of insurance before you can register a vehicle. One of the mandated forms of insurance is personal injury protection (PIP) for yourself in case of an accident. Your own PIP is to be accessed to pay medical bills from an accident, regardless of cause or fault.

PIP will also pay up to 75 percent of all wages lost from work due to an accident.

But at times, injury victims are legally allowed to step outside of no-fault. If your reasonable medical bills exceed $2,000 or you have suffered broken bone(s), substantial loss of hearing or sight, or permanent and serious disfigurement, you can approach the at-fault party’s insurance carrier with a claim for damages. You can also bring a car accident lawsuit in civil court for damages.

In addition, property damage from a vehicle accident isn’t covered until no-fault. If your vehicle or other personal property is damaged from a road rage accident, you can bring a claim against the at-fault party or obtain compensation through a car accident lawsuit.

Stepping outside of no-fault and obtaining compensation for property damage, it should be noted, both depend on knowing who the at-fault party for injuries and damage is. In more standard traffic accidents, it’s common for all drivers to exchange contact information and insurance information.

But in road rage incidents, by their nature, you may not know who the perpetrator is—and it’s certainly highly unlikely that you’ll exchange insurance and contact information.

That’s one reason that it’s so important to either take a picture of the vehicle (especially the license plate number) and to report the incident to law enforcement. Law enforcement takes road rage incidents very seriously. Given enough information, and prompt information, they will do their utmost to track down a perpetrator.

It’s also highly advisable to stay in touch with law enforcement over time. Once they find out who the perpetrator is, you (or an attorney) can take steps to discover insurance coverage or bring a lawsuit.

Allowable Damages If You Step Outside of No-Fault

Victims can seek damages in the following categories.

  • Medical costs for doctor’s visits, hospitalization, diagnostic tests, emergency treatment and transport, surgery, prescription medication, and more
  • Wages lost from work for the time you had to take off work due to the incident and injury treatment.
  • Pain and suffering for physical, mental, and emotional duress and pain.

PIP doesn’t cover pain and suffering, but if you can step outside of no-fault, you can make it part of your damage demand. Pain and suffering is determined largely based on the negative long-term effects of your injuries and their effect on your life.

The Relationship of Road Rage to Criminal Law

In many cases, perpetrators of road rage can be charged with a crime, such as the reckless operation of a motor vehicle, negligent operation of a motor vehicle. In cases where their vehicle was used to strike a person, the charge of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon could be used. If victims die, they may be charged with manslaughter or homicide.

It’s important for injury victims, however, to understand the difference between criminal court and civil court. If the driver is charged, the case will go through the criminal court system. Police make the charge, and prosecutors, judges, and juries handle any court case in criminal court.

Victims who seek compensation for their injuries, on the other hand, must bring car accident lawsuits in a separate court system, civil court.

The two court systems are entirely separate. You can bring a car accident lawsuit regardless of what happens in any criminal proceedings—or even if there are none.

What if Road Rage Kills a Loved One?

Tragically, some road rage incidents prove fatal, either through a vehicle accident or some kind of use of force, such as striking or even shooting a gun.

Like road rage incidents that cause injuries, crimes can be brought and prosecuted in criminal courts. But what forms of compensation are available if you’re loved one has been killed because of road rage?

While no amount of money can compensate you for the loss of a loved one, Boston courts do recognize that injuries and death do have financial consequences for families—consequences that deserve financial compensation.

Briefly, if the deceased could have brought a suit in civil court had they lived, the executor or representative of their estate can bring a type of suit known as wrongful death for damage compensation. Damages are paid to the estate.

Wrongful death suits may seek compensation for negligence (failing to exercise reasonable care) or a wanton or reckless act.

Allowable damage compensation includes:

  • Reasonable funeral and burial expenses.
  • The value of any income the deceased could reasonably be expected to have earned over a lifetime
  • The care, companionship, comfort, guidance, counsel, and advice the deceased would have provided to family members had they lived

In some cases, if the court finds that a death was caused by malicious, willful, wanton, or reckless conduct, or gross negligence, they can hand down punitive damages. As the term suggests, punitive damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer for harm, often a pattern of harm.

Statute of Limitations for Road Rage Cases

Most vehicle accident cases have a statute of limitations—a deadline after which you can no longer bring a case in civil court.

For both injuries and deaths related to road rage, the statute of limitations is three years in Massachusetts.