If you live in Florida and you have a driver’s license, you probably already know that our state has a lot of angry people on the road. However, you likely aren’t completely aware of the magnitude of the problem.
Following an inside look at data from D.C.-based non-profit Gun Violence Archive, Tampa Bay’s ABC affiliate, WFTS, reports that Florida leads the nation in road rage cases, surpassing both California and Texas in the total number of incidents since 2014.
Think about that for a moment. In 2017, California was home to 39.5 million people, and Texas boasted more than 28 million. What’s our population here in Florida? Just under 21 million. Yet somehow drivers in our sunny peninsula out-raged both of those significantly larger states.
That’s both impressive and kind of scary. Just how angry are Florida drivers? How widespread are they? And – most importantly – what should you do if you run afoul of one of them?
In this post, we’ll take a look at why episodes of road rage can overtake an otherwise well-adjusted human being, some of the warning signs a fellow driver is raging, what to do if you become the target of another driver’s rage, and how a knowledgeable Florida auto accident attorney can help if the worst happens and their actions cause an accident.
The Psychology of Road Rage in Florida
The truth is, we have no clear idea what’s going on in the mind of someone suffering from an episode of road rage. However, psychologists have postulated on a few of the primary reasons that people may succumb to fits of road rage:
- Sometimes, they say, a car represents a person’s sense of self and affects their self-esteem.
- In other situations, it can seem like the one place a person feels more in control and more powerful.
- Being separated from other drivers (not being able to effectively communicate with them) can also make it easy to mistakenly perceive other drivers’ actions as personally insulting.
- Being insulated from actual personal contact also creates a situation where it is easier to react poorly or dangerously in retaliation.
- Finally, studies have shown that being within the confines of a car, drivers can naturally begin to view other people driving other cars more as obstacles rather than actual human beings.
Regardless, even if you think you know why someone might be raging, you should never assume that this theoretical understanding gives you insight on how an interaction with them might go. You don’t know what they’re capable of. Or how dangerous they may be.
You won’t really know until something happens, and by then it may be too late.
Common Signs a Florida Driver Is Raging
Many incidents resulting from road rage can be anticipated by paying attention to certain common driving behaviors:
- Following too closely or tailgating
- Slamming on the brakes
- Using the left lane as a travel lane rather than a passing lane
- Failing to use a turn signal and swerving over into a new lane to cut someone off
- Refusing to yield to someone who is trying to enter the roadway or change lanes
- Unnecessarily laying on the horn
You’ve likely witnessed one – or all – of these, and can maybe even admit to having acted out yourself from time to time. Sometimes these actions are in response to another angry driver. When this happens, it can quickly turn an aggressive situation into a truly dangerous one.
When you’ve been targeted by a raging driver, it can be hard to know what you should do and how you can de-escalate the situation. While there are no absolute right answers, there are certain things that tend to diffuse tense driving situations more often than not.
What to Do When You’re the Victim of Road Rage in Florida
The first thing you need to assess is just how aggressive the other driver is being.
Hand gestures and honking are easy to ignore, and typically that’s the best action you can take: ignore them. Focus on your driving. Don’t make eye contact. Not engaging at all will, more often than not, diffuse a potentially dangerous situation.
What about when the other driver has already moved past angry gestures to potentially dangerous behaviors, though? Tailgating, swerving, flashing their high beams at you, and so on are all highly aggressive and dangerous actions. There have even been cases of drivers exiting their vehicles at stop lights and approaching victim’s cars to yell profanity, threaten violence, and bang on the other driver’s car.
If the situation seems to have reached this point, do not pull over if at all possible. If you have to stop, try do so at a police or fire department, or another high-traffic, public area. If you have a phone with you (and who doesn’t in this day and age), call 911 and report the incident.
Most importantly, do not exit your vehicle until help arrives. Your job is to figure out how to escape or diffuse the situation as quickly as possible.
When you are in an accident with a raging driver, it is important to remain calm, and to keep as much distance between the two of you as possible until an official is on the scene.
Remember, Florida is a no-fault car insurance state, so you are most likely going to be filing a claim with your own insurance anyway. If their negligence caused you to be seriously injured and you believe you deserve compensation, remember that the issue won’t be resolved on the scene. You will likely need to work with an experienced personal injury attorney, who can help you navigate Florida’s complex car crash negligence laws to ensure the best outcome for you.
Again, the worst thing you can do is get out of the car and try to reason with the aggressor. They may view this as an aggressive response in itself, quickly escalating an already fraught situation.
If for any reason you do end up in a face-to-face confrontation – apologize. Even if it’s not your fault.
This goes against the typical advice, which says that this can be interpreted as a way of admitting guilt or fault. You can’t worry about that when dealing with a raging driver, though. Apologizing is for your safety. Do not correct them. Do not to tell them they are wrong. Keep yourself safe, say what you need to on the scene, and work out the rest in your lawyer’s offices later.
About the Author:
A partner at Lawlor, White & Murphey and a distinguished personal injury lawyer, Ben Murphey tries complex disputes that include civdentil appeals, maritime and admiralty claims, wrongful death, and labor disputes. Mr. Murphey has been recognized for his excellence in the area of personal injury litigation by being rewarded with a 10/10 Avvo Rating and named a Super Lawyers “Rising Star” for the last four consecutive years (2011-2014). Mr. Murphey regularly tries cases in state and federal courts around the country, being admitted to practice before all Florida courts and the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.