Aggressive Driving in North Carolina
Aggressive driving incidents and road rage incidents have been on the rise in recent months, which coincides with the rise in traffic following the easing of COVID-19 travel restrictions.1 Here is what you need to know about North Carolina’s aggressive driving laws and how to stay safe on the road.
North Carolina Law on Aggressive Driving
North Carolina’s law differentiates between reckless driving and aggressive driving. Reckless driving is defined as driving:
- a vehicle carelessly or heedlessly in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others, or
- without due caution and circumspection and at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property.2
A person guilty of reckless driving is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of 60 days in jail (depending on prior charges) and a fine of up to $1,000.3
Aggressive driving is defined as:4
- driving at a speed greater than what is reasonable or excessive speeding as defined by N.C. Gen. Stat. 20-141;
- speeding in a school zone; or
- driving carelessly in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others, which consists of two or more of the following:
- Running through a red light or stop sign
- Illegal passing
- Failing to yield the right-of-way
- Following too closely or tailgating
A person guilty of aggressive driving is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor,5 which carries a maximum sentence of 120 days in jail (depending on prior charges) and a discretionary fine.6
If you are stopped by police for speeding, you could receive more than simply a speeding ticket. If you drive at a speed more than 15 miles per hour more than the speed limit or over 80 miles per hour, you could be charged with a Class 3 misdemeanor.7
What is Aggressive Driving?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines “aggressive driving” as “the operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger persons or property.”8 This definition encompasses a wide range of dangerous behavior, including, but not limited to:
- Weaving in and out of traffic
- Failing to yield right of way
- Running red lights or violating road safety laws9
The NHTSA lists some of the most frequently cited reasons for aggressive driving as:
- Traffic delays increasing drivers’ impatience and frustration
- Running late
- Anonymity provided by insulated cars
- Disregard for others’ safety
- Disregard for the law10
Reckless and aggressive driving is dangerous. In 2019, 9,478 deaths across America were attributed to speeding, and speeding was a contributing factor in 26% of all traffic fatalities.11 Speeding increases the risk of an automobile accident and a fatality because of:
- Greater likelihood of the driver losing control of their vehicle
- Increased stopping distance
- Increased crash severity
- Increased likelihood of more severe injuries if an accident occurs.
In 2019 there were over 185,000 car crashes on North Carolina roads, with 1,369 fatalities.12 Speeding accounted for 5.4% of crashes, but over 25% of fatalities that year. Lane departures accounted for 20% of crashes and 55% of fatalities.
Tips for Dealing with Aggressive Drivers
What if you are not speeding, but other drivers on the road around you are? The NHTSA advises these strategies that can help deal with speeding drivers and reduce your risk of a serious accident:
- If someone wants to pass and you are in the left lane, change lanes when it is safe to do so and let them pass.
- If someone is tailgating you, stay calm and do not suddenly alter your speed. Safely steer your vehicle out of the way.13
- Keep on the lookout for drivers who are speeding and give them plenty of space.
Weaving in and out of lanes is also dangerous. When changing lanes, use signals, and check your mirrors and over your shoulder for other cars in your blind spots.14 Weaving around traffic doesn’t save you much time either.15 If another car is weaving in and out of lanes near you it can be frightening. Stay calm and stay alert. Try to maintain a consistent speed and provide more room for them to pass safely if possible.
Another common behavior of aggressive drivers is tailgating. Tailgating is especially dangerous because it significantly reduces the stopping/braking distance between two cars. If a street is dry and conditions are good, an average driver can safely decelerate at approximately 15 feet per second.16 For a car traveling at 60 mph, stopping distances are approximately 120-140 feet. However, this does not include reaction time, which can make the functional stopping distance substantially longer.
A good rule of thumb is to leave 10 feet of distance for every increment of 10 mph you are driving.17 For example, if you are driving at 60 mph, you should leave at least 60 feet of stopping distance between you and the car in front of you. To measure this while you are driving, when the car in front of you passes a sign, count the number of seconds it takes you to reach the same sign. When conditions are dry, it should take you 2 seconds or more; when conditions are wet, it should take you 4 seconds or more; and when conditions are icy, it should take you 10 seconds or more.
Road Rage Incidents
Aggressive driving can also escalate into dangerous, violent road-rage incidents. Road rage incidents are a relatively rare subset of aggressive driving, only occurring in approximately 0.04%, or 1 case for every 2,300, of the total number of people injured or killed in traffic.24 Road rage describes the angry and violent behaviors at the extreme of the aggressive driving spectrum.
In one horrific case, Ryan Eberly and his wife Julie, mother of six children were driving on I-95 South, headed to South Carolina for an anniversary getaway. After Ryan accidentally cut off a driver and forced them onto the shoulder, that car came back around and to the right. The driver rolled down the window and fired multiple shots at the Eberlys, which resulted in Julie’s death. 25
If another driver confronts you in road rage, AAA recommends the following tips for dealing with confrontation:
- Avoid eye contact with angry drivers.
- Don’t respond to aggression with aggression.
- If you feel at risk, drive to a public place such as a police station, hospital or fire station.
- When you park, allow room so you can pull out safely if someone approaches you aggressively.
- Use your horn to attract attention but remain in your locked vehicle.
- Stay as calm and courteous as possible.
- Call 911 if you feel threatened. 26
Aggressive driving is a serious problem that leads to thousands of car accidents every year. If you were in a car crash in Iredell County and/or Mooresville and need legal assistance, Grimes Yeoman has decades of experience with personal injury and motor vehicle accidents. Call (704)-321-4878 or contact us through our website. We are here to help!