In the United States in 2021, an average of 44 people were killed in road rage shootings every single month. That’s the highest death rate from road rage shootings in six years.
Unfortunately, Tennessee is ranked No. 5 in the number of people shot in road rage incidents. Only New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and Wisconsin had more than Tennessee did. Last year, there were 20 people injured or killed after being shot in road rage incidents in Tennessee.
We’ve talked about road rage on this blog before. In 2020, the national rate of people killed in road rage killings was 42 per month. Experts noted that, while road rage incidents can involve any kind of violence, many of them have been involving guns. As people were increasingly stressed by the pandemic and lockdowns during 2020, gun sales surged.
The number of gun-related road rage incidents again grew in 2021, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, and it may still be related to the pandemic. Everytown says that the monthly average of road rage incidents involving guns has doubled since the pandemic began. Between 2016 and 2019, the number of deaths was 300 per year. Last year, 500 people were gunned down in road rage incidents.
Why are more people using guns in traffic altercations?
It’s not clear, but the answer may be simply that more drivers are armed. Last year, over the objections of law enforcement, Tennessee passed a law allowing permit-less carry with no background checks or safety training courses. That may have created new interest in or access to firearms. There has also been a nationwide increase in shootings overall.
Whatever the reason, the fact is that we are seeing many more incidents of road rage that involve guns. In fact, almost two-thirds of road rage incidents now result in injury or death. That’s up from only one third of incidents before the pandemic.
Besides obvious stressors of the pandemic, many people have lost their jobs, housing and other basic things due to supply chain disruptions, lack of available childcare and inflation. Losing these basic structures in one’s life and causing increased stress have long been known to drive gun violence, according to Everytown for Gun Safety’s report.
The pandemic has not only caused this disruption, but it has made it harder for people to recover from it. Social services have been overwhelmed or underfunded, or both. The need to prevent the virus from being transmitted has made it harder for many agencies to do the one-on-one work they often need to do to help people get back on their feet.
Everytown also notes that gun violence intervention programs were among those who faced unprecedented challenges during the pandemic.
What can drivers do to stay safe?
It may be safest to assume that other drivers are armed. It’s best not to engage with an angry driver. Don’t honk or gesture at them, and absolutely do not pull over for an argument.
Try to drive defensively and follow the law so you won’t be seen as an aggressor. Be aware that some people have trouble controlling their impulses and don’t think things through. They could be prone to make terrible decisions in the heat of the moment.
Road rage often begins with a seemingly minor incident. Someone may have cut someone else off, or perhaps they were weaving through traffic. A minor annoyance can easily escalate into a major incident if you let it.
If you can’t avoid the angry driver, stay in your car and call the police.