How bad is Utah for road-rage fatalities? UDOT official disputes report

This October 2017 file photo shows the scene of a fatal crash in a suspected incident of road rage on Interstate 15 at milepost 93 in Nevada, Oct. 8, 2017 | Photo courtesy Nevada Department of Public Safety, St. George News

ST. GEORGE It is likely that the man driving north on Interstate 15 in a red Mini Cooper last October never knew what hit him when a Jeep crossed the median from the southbound lane, struck his vehicle head-on and killed him in a crash that authorities said involved “active road rage.”

Read more: Driver dies in suspected I-15 road rage incident in Nevada; northbound lanes closed at milepost 93

Reckless driving and speeding – driving behaviors commonly associated with road rage – are the top two causes of the more than 6 million crashes each year in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, despite a recent report putting Utah in the top 10 percent for road rage fatalities, a UDOT official says the state is actually much lower.

Infograph denotes fatal crashes caused by road rage behavior versus all fatal crashes, and broken down by generation in 2016 | Image courtesy of Auto Insurance Center, St. George News

Road rage is characterized as driving erratically with the intent to cause another driver mental or physical harm, and according to the American Automobile Association. The most common expressions of road rage are aggressive tailgating, headlight flashing and deliberately blocking other cars.

The term is often used interchangeably with aggressive driving, but road rage is subtly different and often involves more serious criminal actions that knowingly endanger other drivers and passengers.

“Running a red light to make a date is aggressive driving. Running that light to tailgate a car you think cut you off is road rage,” according to the NHTSA.

In a recent study by AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety, nearly 80 percent of drivers expressed significant anger, aggression or road rage at least once in the past year.

More than 8 million drivers engaged in some type of road rage, including purposefully ramming another vehicle or getting out of the car to confront another driver.

“Road rage often is an ineffective attempt to manage fear,” Ben Ashcraft, a marriage and family therapist told St. George News.

He said road rage often stems from a lack of perspective and empathy toward others, and assuming they should know better or drive better. Many times the driver perceives that an injustice has occurred.

Destructive anger focuses on retaliating or assigning blame, while constructive anger finds the most effective way of addressing it, Ashcraft said.

Infograph denotes the percentage of road rage and aggressive driving fatal crashes versus all fatal accidents in 2016 | Image courtesy of Auto Insurance Center, St. George News

A study released last month by the Auto Center said Utah ranks ninth in the nation for the highest number of traffic deaths caused by road rage, a claim that Robert Miles, director of traffic and safety for the Utah Department of Transportation, disputes.

The study was based on the NHTSA report, but the data only shows the percentage of traffic deaths caused by speeding, which is 26 percent in the Beehive state, slightly lower than the national average, without mentioning other factors associated with road rage.

Miles said Utah ranks in the “bottom 10 percent for road rage deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled,” adding that UDOT and the Department of Public Safety work together to improve traffic safety. They focus on aggressive driving, such as speeding, running red lights and so on, which can lead to road rage incidents.

“I just got the 2017 report from NHTSA, which says that nationwide the average is 1.6 fatalities per 100 million miles traveled, and Utah is at .87, which is quite a bit lower than the national average,” he said.

Utah’s primary focus is on the top five contributors to fatal crashes, which are speeding, distracted driving, drowsy driving, seat belt use and impaired driving. When there are more than one of these behaviors going on at the same time, such as a distracted driver who is also speeding, it significantly heightens the risk.

“I actually passed an individual who was changing their shirt while driving down the interstate. I don’t even know where to put that,” Miles said.

Legal ramifications

Under Utah law, incidents of road rage may fall under a number of violations, traffic or otherwise, such as reckless driving, aggravated assault, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct, all carrying stiff penalties with potential jail time and fines.

Road rage crashes in Utah are typically classified as “reckless or aggressive,” Sgt. Nick Street with the Utah Highway Patrol said.

Infograph denotes road rage fatal crashes versus all fatal crashes broken down by days, hours and months where aggressive driving is most prevalent in 2016 | Image courtesy of Auto Insurance Center, St. George News

The costs climb if those offenses result in a hike in insurance rates and can result in compromised coverage if the crash is caused by road rage, which is considered exempt by many auto insurance policies for the reason that damage or liability stemming from aggressive driving isn’t considered an accident but caused by risky behavior, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Car insurance rates are determined by multiple factors, including an individual’s driving history, and when a road rage incident shows up on the record as a criminal offense, insurers may charge more to cover the added risk posed by a driver with any kind of criminal driving history.

“Road ragers may also have difficulty getting full payouts for their car’s damages, as most insurers restrict coverage for deliberate or reckless acts like road rage,” the institute says.

Road rage and teens

Data suggest that road rage can be just as dangerous for teens, as 40 percent of them reported feeling anger while driving, and 1 in 5 teens report having an anger management issue, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Teens also have less experience behind the wheel and less experience managing emotions. A heightened emotional state can place young drivers in high-risk driving conditions that can lead to traffic crashes.

Fatigue can also amplify road rage, particularly in teens.

Generations and road rage

The report indicates that road rage is particularly common with millennial drivers, those born between 1981 and 1996, and account for more than half of fatal aggressive driving crashes. Generation X drivers, born between 1965 to 1980, account for more than one-fifth of deadly road rage crashes

iGen drivers, those born after 1996, are responsible for nearly 15 percent of aggressive-driving crashes.

Crowded highways and traffic backups can cause drivers to become extremely aggressive, and road rage can lead to serious accidents or even incidents of violence on the road.

In Utah, aggressive driving will continue to be a concern if there is “even one fatality, which is too many,” Miles said.

“I will not say we are doing great when 272 people lost their lives in Utah last year – it’s not happening.”

Even so, Miles said that Utah has made progress in many areas through the efforts of numerous agencies involved in motor vehicle safety, and “the public is doing a lot of good things here in Utah, and we still have a way to go, but we have a lot going for us.”

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  • tcrider October 5, 2018 at 8:11 am

    I really think its a matter of a growing population and limited resources for law enforcement.
    Still betting we will see automated enforcement with cameras at intersections and you will
    see people crying after they get a ticket in the mail for running a red light.

    • Law24 October 5, 2018 at 9:45 pm

      Until state legislators change the law, this will never happen.

  • justsaying October 5, 2018 at 11:46 am

    There’s very little respect left for motorists, or understanding of the rules of the road. If someone is going slower than you, don’t tailgate them, simply pass them. If someone cuts in front of you, back off, or go around, get on with your day and life.
    There’s too many “me first” people in the world and I don’t see it getting any better. I feel sad when an innocent motorist falls victim to a road rager, but when the rager meets the ditch or guardrail and doesn’t harm anyone else, I don’t feel so bad. Lesson learned, hopefully.

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