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Road rage: What to do if you’re faced with an aggressive driver

July 26, 2012 by Steven M. Gursten

Did you know Michigan has a road rage law?  How to stay safe (and calm) in the car

With all of the road construction in Michigan (never-ending), it’s easy for motorists to get worked up, make certain hand signals at each other, swear at each other, lay on the horn, and even play cat and mouse and tailgate when they’re frustrated behind the wheel.

Bad, bad idea.

Some people even tend to laugh off “road rage” or even brag about it as a strong personal characteristic.

Trust me, you don’t want to be this person in front of a jury.

Let me tell you, as an auto accident attorney for nearly 20 years, I’ve helped many families of people who were hurt – and one family that had a loved one who was killed in a car accident due to road rage. There’s nothing funny or cute about this behavior.

Just this summer, another man was killed in Monroe, Michigan, when he was ejected from his pickup truck after being rear-ended and run over by another pickup on I-75. Police said it looked  like a road rage car accident.

If this man did die from road rage, then what a tragic, senseless way to die.

Does Michigan have a law against road rage?

Succumbing to road rage is just plain dangerous. It seems as if this behavior should be illegal.

Michigan doesn’t currently have a law that defines “aggressive driving,” otherwise known as road rage, according to the Michigan State Police. Still, the concept of aggressive driving can apply to two statutes in the Michigan Vehicle Code:

Careless Driving (MCL 257.626b): “A person who operates a vehicle… in a careless or negligent manner likely to endanger any person or property, but without wantonness or recklessness, is responsible for a civil infraction.”

According to the Michigan State Police, careless driving usually consists of multiple hazardous violations that are unsafe, negligent and committed at the same time and location.  For this offense to apply, the driver doesn’t need to show intent to damage property or injure a person, or even a knowing disregard for safety.  Someone  speeding up to play cat and mouse or tailgate another driver could be considered a careless driver.

Reckless Driving (MCL 257.626): “(1) A person who drives a vehicle… in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving. (2) A person who violates subsection (1) is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 93 days or a fine of not more than $500, or both.”

According to the Michigan State Police, reckless driving is an intent crime. With reckless driving, the driver is aware of the unsafe acts but engages in them anyway. For instance, a motorist speeding, making many lane changes, cutting off traffic, tailgating and using the shoulder to pass could be considered reckless driving.

What you can do to combat aggressive driving

Being faced with road rage at the hands of an aggressive driver can be very scary. Many people don’t know what do to, or may start off feeling calm and then get as wound up as the instigating driver becomes more antagonistic. Here are a few frequently asked questions from the Michigan State Police on how to handle road rage:

Q. What can I do to combat aggressive driving?
A. Don’t play.  Seriously.  Avoid the hand signals and other types of non-verbal communication that incite road rage.

Q. What should I do if I encounter an aggressive driver?
A. Remain calm and either pull over or if that is possibly unsafe then you should call 911, or drive to a nearby venue that is safe to call the police.
Give the police as much information as possible.

Q. How can I report aggressive driving and road rage?
A. If you wish to make a specific complaint against another driver, you must contact the local State Police post or appropriate local law enforcement agency with detailed information about the offending vehicle and driver. You must also be willing to testify in court should an arrest be made.

Our attorneys send our sincere condolences to the family of the victim of the road rage car accident in Monroe.

– Steven Gursten is head of Michigan Auto Law. He president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association. Steve frequently writes and speaks on safe driving and Michigan auto laws, and is available for comment.

Michigan Auto Law exclusively handles car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state of Michigan. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Sterling Heights, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Detroit. Call (800) 777-0028 to speak with one of our attorneys.

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