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Though a persistent issue in U.S. roads, after a year of traffic decrease, incidents of road rage have gone back to normal. And while we tend to associate aggressive driving with tailgating or screaming at other drivers, the majority of traffic deaths associated with road rage are actually caused by a firearm and not an actual driving incident. And now, raging motorists are reportedly killing more people with guns than any point in recent history.
A new analysis from advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety showed that the average number of road rage incidents resulting in a motorist-involved shooting increased to an average of 42 dead or injured road users every month in 2020. This is nearly double the monthly average for the four years prior, which was 22 shootings.
In a nutshell, a U.S. driver shot another person with a gun roughly once every 18 hours in the last 12 months.
“Gun violence among motorists is happening against a backdrop of an overall deadly increase in gun violence during the pandemic,” Everytown for Gun Safety director of research Sarah Burd-Sharps told Streetsblog. “We started noticing that there was more media coverage of road rage incidents recently, and we wanted to dig in to see if the trend in increased shootings on the roadways is similar to what we see happening in cities — and it was worse than we thought.”
Data gathered by SafeMotorist.com determined that 66% of traffic fatalities were directly linked to instances of aggressive driving. However, like in the aforementioned case, 37% of those deaths were caused by a firearm and not an actual driving accident, which proves the point that instances of road rage often end in very tragic circumstances.
ABC7 did a deep dive into 2018 California Highway Patrol stats and found that nearly two-thirds of fatal crashes in Southern California were caused by factors associated with road rage. Quoted in the same article, California is the fourth worst state to drive in, coming in 42nd for traffic congestion and 48th for road quality.
Analysts at Everytown noted that they can’t say for sure why road rage-prompted shootings are on the rise, but Burd-Sharps pointed out that “the pandemic has brought all kinds of new stressors into people’s lives, as well as record increases in gun sales.”
Groups like the American Psychological Association have long placed the blame on environmental factors like “congestion and slow-downs” for setting off the angriest drivers. But with congestion falling by an average 21% nationwide and vehicle miles travelled plummeting as much as 83% in some major cities in the early days of the lockdown, this explanation doesn’t necessarily explain what occurred in 2020.
As we saw last year, open roads didn’t make for a more relaxed driving experience because many of the motorists who remained were driving more aggressively than ever. Law enforcement officers across the country reported 80% nationwide increases in speeding, for example.
A 2013 AAA survey found that some of the most common triggers for aggressive driving behaviors were, in fact, other drivers behaving aggressively themselves, like tailgating them or cutting them off. Add a gun into that mix, of which national sales increased and that shattered previous records, and many of those angry drivers were more likely to have a firearm in the glove box.
Of course, road rage incidents don’t always result in a murder, but they can still end up with death nonetheless. According to Carsurance, road rage is the leading cause of collisions and aggressive driving is responsible for over half of all recent traffic fatalities. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has determined that more than 11,000 people are killed yearly in car crashes caused by aggressive driving.
According to LAPD data quoted by Crosstown, there were 172 incidents of road rage in Los Angeles from Jan. 1 to Apr. 15. This represents a nearly 7% increase from the 161 in the same time last year. In Mar. 2021 alone, there were 53 road rage incidents reported to police, compared with 35 in the same month last year. The LAPD recorded 20 incidents in the first 15 days of Apr., up from just 12 during the same time period in 2020.