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Jeanette Miller

Road rage and the law

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When could road rage land motorists in trouble with the law? Lawyer Jeanette Miller takes a look.

Road rage

I rarely get het up behind the wheel.

However, today on my journey into work, it was as though every traffic light went against me and every lane I chose to use was the slowest to move.

When drivers see red

I made a conscious decision not to let it get to me but then once I had passed the worst of a bottleneck of traffic I got stuck behind a very hesitant motorist.

I found myself getting inexplicably annoyed and cursing the unsuspecting motorist - although no-one could hear me.

I am not alone in experiencing a "moment of madness", and lawmakers have devised numerous ways to guard against drivers' irrational behaviour towards other road users.

Many traits of road rage are not offences in themselves but would be a clear breach of the Highway Code.

The law, the Highway Code and road rage

The Road Traffic Act 1988 says that while a breach of the Highway Code is not in itself an offence, prosecutors can hold any failure to observe the code against you in court.

Typically, a breach of the Highway Code is often pursued as a prosecution for careless driving or driving without due care and attention. 

These are punishable by between three and nine penalty points and a maximum fine of £5,000.

Common road rage offences

  • Tailgating (Highway Code Rule 126)

This rule says you should leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front so that you can pull up safely if it suddenly slows down or stops. The safe rule is never to get closer than the overall stopping distance.  

  • Flashing headlights (Highway Code Rule 110)

Only flash your headlights to let other road users know that you are there. Do not flash your headlights to convey any other message or intimidate other road users.

  • Using the horn (Highway Code Rule 112)

Sound your horn only while your vehicle is moving and you need to warn other road users of your presence. Never sound your horn aggressively. 

You MUST NOT use your horn while stationary on the road or when driving in a built-up area between the hours of 11.30pm and 7am, except when another road user poses a danger.

  • Arguments at the roadside causing another distress/alarm

If a person uses threatening behaviour towards another road user they could face a Section 4 or 5 Public Order offence.

Typically, these offences would involve an allegation of threatening or abusive words or behaviour in a public place with intention to cause another person to believe violence will be used.

  • Assault and battery

Where there is no injury, or injuries which aren't serious, the offence charged should generally be Common Assault.

Where there is serious injury and the likely sentence is clearly more than six months' imprisonment, the offence charged should generally be Aggravated Bodily Harm (ABH).

And where there is really serious injury the offence charged should generally be Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH).

Four ways to reduce road rage

If like me you find yourself getting irritable and impatient behind the wheel, here are my top tips to reduce your frustration.

  • Put on some calming classical music

  • Take a break from your journey

  • Phone a friend (on your hands-free kit of course!), and 

  • Try to distract yourself by thinking of something funny.

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