We have all seen aggressive drivers on the road. Someone is running late for work or late for an important appointment, so they drive as fast as they can, zip in and out of lanes looking for the one that can allow them to break through traffic and fly through stoplights that were yellow a few seconds earlier. No doubt you have seen this behavior with other drivers, and maybe this has even been you on occasion.
With everyone in our society in such a hurry to win the rat race, aggressive driving (which can sometimes escalate into “road rage”) happens all too often and is a leading contributor to motor vehicle accidents. In fact, according to a 2016 report by the Insurance Information Institute, speeding and other forms of aggressive or reckless driving are contributing factors in approximately half of all fatal crashes in the United States.
What is Aggressive Driving?
In 1964, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, in trying to describe obscenity, famously said:
I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…
This is how many people view aggressive driving. They may not know how to clearly define it, but they definitely know it when they see it displayed on the roadways.
Aggressive driving is operating a vehicle in a way that is designed to intimidate, harass, or injure others on the road. The intimidation or harassment may not be just for the sake of it; more often, as we saw with the example used earlier of the aggressive driver running late for an important engagement, the intimidation and harassment occurs because the other drivers are “in their way” and preventing them from getting where they want to go. But whatever the underlying reason, the bottom line is that the aggressive driver cares more about themselves than they do about the safety of others on the road.
In addition to speeding or exceeding a safe speed based on the road conditions, there are several other examples of aggressive driving:
- Failing to stay within clearly marked traffic lanes (i.e., weaving);
- Failing to maintain a safe distance when driving behind another vehicle (i.e., tailgating);
- Failing to stop or yield the right of way;
- Failing to give way when another vehicle passes;
- Failing to obey traffic signs, signals, and other devices (e.g., running a stop sign or red light).
Virginia takes aggressive driving very seriously. The criminal charge for this offense is usually a Class 2 misdemeanor, which can incur fines of up to $1000 and up to 180 days in jail. But when the actions of an aggressive driver cause an accident with serious injuries or fatalities, they must also compensate injury victims for their losses; which could include medical bills, property damage, time missed from work, loss of earning capacity, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and diminished quality of life.
What to Do if you are Injured by an Aggressive Driver
If you are involved in an accident with someone who was driving aggressively and you suffered injuries, there are some important steps you should take immediately after the accident:
The first priority after a motor vehicle accident is to ensure that everyone receives the medical attention they need. Even if you do not feel like you are injured, it is still important to get checked out, because some injuries do not show up right away, or they may be more serious than they first appear.
Call the Police
Whenever there are injuries from an auto accident, the police need to be called to the scene, so there will be an official report on file. The other driver may try to convince you to settle directly with them without involving the police or their insurer, because they want to avoid criminal penalties and/or they do not want their insurance rates to skyrocket. This is not a good idea, because if you do not have an official report or a claim filed with their insurer, you will have far less documentation to prove what happened in case the driver does not pay as they promise and you have to file a lawsuit later on.
Exchange Insurance Information
After the accident, the other driver may come out of the car accusing you of all sorts of things and claiming that you caused the accident, when in fact it was caused by their aggressive driving. Do not be intimidated into apologizing or admitting any fault whatsoever for the accident. Virginia applies the “contributory negligence” legal standard, meaning if you are found to be in any way at fault for the accident (even 1%), you may be barred from recovering compensation. Calmly and politely exchange information, and do not admit to anything – leave that for the experts to determine.
Document the Accident
In addition to the police report, it is best to retain as much documentation as possible of what just happened. Take multiple photographs of the accident scene from various angles, write down your own detailed report (or if you are unable to write, use the voice recorder on your phone to record details of the accident), and obtain statements and contact information from individuals nearby who witnessed the event.
Contact an Experienced Virginia Personal Injury Attorney
Pursuing an accident injury claim can be complex and confusing, and there are numerous tactics the insurance company for the other party may use to discredit your claim and avoid paying compensation. If you have been injured by an aggressive driver, get in touch with a skilled auto accident lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your legal rights and options.