ST. GEORGE — Ever found yourself gripping the steering wheel, heart pounding in the midst of road rage, or even worse, a victim of someone else’s vehicular fury?
A new bill aims to identify road rage as a criminal offense, impose fines, possible jail time and create funding for educational campaigns in hopes of preventing future crashes and deaths.
Utah Rep. Paul Cutler, who began his legislative service in Jan. of this year, is the sponsor of the bill HB30, “Road Rage Amendments.”
“Fundamentally, this bill is about keeping families safe on the road,” Cutler said. “And to help people think carefully about what could happen.”
The initial suggestion for the bill came from the Utah Highway Patrol, which has seen an increase in aggressive driving and road rage. And a Davis County prosecutor who approached Cutler about the increase he’s also seen.
A working group of prosecutors, along with local and state law enforcement, then came together to address the problem. The group met with the Interim Transportation Committee in the legislature three times during the summer and presented different versions of the bill.
Without the tools to go after egregious cases, Cutler said offenders are currently receiving a “slap on the wrist” and released immediately. One of the key challenges has been the lack of defined road rage statutes to impose charges.
The new bill first defines road rage along with requirements to obtain road rage “enhancements.” First, the driver must commit a traffic violation or a criminal offense, such as careless/reckless driving or assault. Second, there must be an intent to endanger or intimidate another driver or escalate an incident that can be proven by prosecutors.
“Let’s say you’re trying to swerve to intimidate someone, or you’re brake checking them,” he said. “Then that would add a $500 fine to that traffic ticket through the Road Rage Enhancement.”
Reckless driving, which consists of three or more traffic offenses in one episode, or driving more than 105 miles per hour with a willful disregard for safety, currently comes with a Class B misdemeanor charge and a fine of a few hundred dollars.
If the violator was committing the same offense in an attempt to escalate an incident or intimidate another individual, then it becomes a Class A Misdemeanor. Additional road rage charges then move the case from Justice Court to District Court with an additional $750 fine. Jail time or probation would be likely.
The bill also proposes to change many felony statutes. Currently, the felony of aggravated assault or discharging a firearm equates to a third-degree felony with significant fines and zero to five years in jail, allowing the judge to decide whether or not to incarcerate the individual.
The new bill would make a third-degree felony with road rage carry an additional $1,000 fine and a minimum of one year in jail or probation.
The money raised from additional fines and enhancements will be put directly back into a road rage prevention education fund that the Department of Public Safety will use for commercials and social media ads.
“The key thing we want to do is educate people,” he said. “Help people think about road rage before it happens to them. What would I do if someone tried to escalate or intimidate me, how am I going to react?”
The new road rage charges will also allow data to be collected, allowing the Department of Public Safety to track whether the issue is steadily improving or getting worse.
Currently, the only means of tracking offenses comes from road rage or aggressive driving reported to a 911 dispatch operator or in a police report. With those statistics alone, incidents have increased from 565 in 2022 to 747 last year. There were 20% higher road rage fatalities in 2023 than the previous five-year average.
“Try not to engage,” Cutler said about experiencing road rage from another driver. “Don’t escalate the situation, avoid eye contact, look straight ahead. Maintain a safe distance. Try to exit the road, if you can, and if they follow you, get to a public place or police station.”
The Department of Public Safety’s tagline for the new road rage campaigns is “Road rage can wreck you,” accompanied by a commercial paid for by a family who lost their uncle to a road rage incident in Eagle Mountain.
See the Zero Fatalities website for more information on preventing road rage, including resources on how to avoid road rage as a driver, how to help a loved one who struggles with road rage and what to do if you find yourself in a road rage incident.
The bill is currently receiving a review by the Standing Committee along with public input. Cutler said the bill’s delay resulted from the desire to allocate funds back to the prevention and education of road rage.
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