California is, unfortunately, known as the road rage capitol of the world. In fact, it’s widely believed that the term originated on the crowded freeways of Los Angeles back in the 1980s. Because road rage is simply the act of being angry at one or more drivers, there is no actual criminal statute against road rage. However, the California Vehicle Code does allow the DMV to suspend the license of a driver who commits an assault on another driver, bicyclist, or pedestrian.
Simply yelling or making angry hand gestures are considered road rage, and these are, obviously, not against the law. But when that anger turns into aggressive and downright dangerous driving behaviors, that’s when the behavior crosses the line and violates the law. The actual criminal charges faced by someone who commits road rage will be based on the driver’s individual actions and circumstances. If you were involved with a road rage incident and have not yet been informed of the full scope of charges, a defense attorney can help explain which charges are likely in your specific situation.
Common Road Rage Charges in San Diego
The most commonly filed road-rage-related offense in San Diego County is that of reckless driving, charged under Vehicle Code section 23103 (VC). Reckless driving is a fairly vague charge that can be used whenever police determine that someone was driving with a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. Closely tailgating someone, intentionally swerving or performing a dangerous lane change are all examples of crimes that could be filed as reckless driving.
Reckless driving is punishable by up to 3 months in county jail and $1,000, but the penalties will increase with subsequent convictions.
Other common charges include:
- assault, which can occur if a driver throws a punch at someone else on the road or angrily spits at someone else in a vehicle -no physical contact need occur
- battery, which could be filed if a driver gets out of the car and punches someone
- brandishing a firearm, in other words taking out a firearm in a threatening manner
- criminal threats, meaning making threats of violence or harm to another person
Vehicular Assault Charges in San Diego
For more serious road rage offenses where a driver attempted to harm someone else with his or her vehicle, prosecutors may vehicular assault, covered by California Vehicle Code section 13210, which also falls under the state Penal Code section 245(a) related to assault with a deadly weapon, a form of aggravated assault. This charge can be filed as a misdemeanor or felony and as a felony, it can result in a sentence of up to four years in state prison, while the maximum penalty for a misdemeanor is one year in county jail. Penalties will be increased if the victim suffered great bodily injury. All forms of assault with a deadly weapon will add a strike to your criminal record.
On top of that, there are vehicle-specific penalties for this crime, which includes a minimum six-month suspension for a first-time offense or a one year suspension for a second or subsequent offense, in some cases, a road rage course will be offered in place of or in addition to the suspension. If charged with felony assault with a vehicle, the potential penalties include loss of a driver’s license for life with no chance of renewal. This requires admission that you used a vehicle in a felony assault.
In many road rage cases where the driver intentionally hits another vehicle, the person responsible will often flee the scene in order to avoid criminal charges. It is worth mentioning that hit and run accident charges (Vehicle Code 20001 (VC)) can be filed as either a felony or misdemeanor based on whether or not someone was injured even a little. When filed as a misdemeanor in cases where only property damage occurred, the penalty is no more than 6 months in county jail. As a felony, it is punishable by up to 4 years in state prison, fines of up to $10,000, and the addition of up to two points on your DMV record. This charge will also frequently result in your car being impounded.
In some cases, attempted murder charges may be filed rather than aggravated assault if there is any evidence the driver responsible was attempting to kill the other party. This crime carries a prison sentence of up to 9 years, as well as a fine of up to $10,000, a loss of 2nd Amendment rights and a strike on your record.
If Someone Died as a Result.
When someone dies as a result of a road rage incident in San Diego, vehicular homicide charges may be filed, but prosecutors may also choose to file the crime as second-degree murder. The specific charges will vary based on the details of the crime, but as a misdemeanor, vehicular homicide is punishable by a year in jail, whereas a felony charge could carry a sentence of as much as 10 years in prison. Second-degree murder is punishable by anywhere from 15 years to life in prison.
Defenses Against Road Rage Charges
Defense strategies for road rage vary based on the individual circumstances involved in the case. Sometimes the witnesses are all friends and family members of the alleged victim and the case comes down to the old “he said/she said” argument, making it easy for the defendant’s criminal defense lawyer to argue that there is insufficient proof that the defendant was to blame.
Another common defense tactic used in California criminal court to defend against road rage charges relies on proving self defense. The same way you can protect yourself from attacks while on foot, you are entitled to self defense on the roadway. If another motorist is trying to run you off the road, you have the legal right to use defensive measures to protect yourself from imminent harm.
In other cases, the defense may show that the defendant has an issue with anger management and has entered an anger management treatment program since the incident in order to treat his or her problem.
If you have been accused of any kind of crime related to road rage -or believe you might be, please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free consultation with top San Diego road rage defense attorney Peter M. Liss.