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In the article Road rage and reasoning about responsibility SACJ (2001) 14, Shannon Hoctor of the University of Port Elizabeth, describes road rage in the following manner at 195:

"Whilst the exact ambit of the term is rendered somewhat vague by misuse, it is clear that road rage is a product of the confluence of a number of factors – aggression, increasing frustration, the feeling of power associated with driving – which converge to create a cauldron of stressful conditions…"

Road rage can manifest in the following forms:

  • Verbal swearing;
  • Tailgating;
  • Cutting someone off;
  • Making obscene gestures;
  • Flashing headlights;
  • Damaging someone's motor vehicle;
  • Physical violence.

The last two examples are severe cases that might have unforeseen legal consequences.

In the case where a motor vehicle is a damaged the legal consequences might be the following:

  • Institute a civil claim to recover the damages caused to the motor vehicle;
  • Lay a charge at the SAPS for malicious injury to property.

When a civil claim is instituted a person will be required to pay the damage once a court adjudicated on the matter. The impact is thus financial in nature.

READ MORE: What are the legal consequences of threats and violence?

Malicious injury to property on the other hand has a more severe impact. When a person is charged with malicious injury to property he/she will be arrested. Only a prosecutor or a Magistrate may give bail in such an instance. Unfortunately, to convince a prosecutor to attend to a bail application after hours is not an easy task. The probability that a person will remain in custody until the first Court appearance is a grim reality. Therefore if you’re arrested on a Friday night you might spend the whole weekend in the police cells until Monday when a magistrate can hear your bail application.

In the event that a person is found guilty of malicious injury to property, he can be ordered to pay a fine or receive direct imprisonment, depending on the severity of the damage caused.

Physical violence might lead to the following:

  • A civil claim to recover monies spend on medical care or even loss of income in severe cases;
  • The of the following criminal charges:
    • Common assault;
    • Assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm;
    • Attempted murder;
    • Murder.

The civil route will have in principle the same possible outcome as discussed above.

Common assault is the act of intentionally applying force to a person, directly or indirectly, or attempting or threatening, by any act or gesture to apply such force to a person, if the person making the threat has or cause the other to believe on reasonable grounds that he has the present ability to effect the assault.

The effect of the above is that the mere threat to assault a person is sufficient grounds to lay a charge of common assault. Common assault is less severe and usually, a person charged with same will receive a minor fine.

Assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm is an assault where there is an intention to do more than inflict the casual and comparatively insignificant and superficial injuries which ordinary follow upon an assault. There must be proof of an intention to injure in a serious respect.

Depending on the severity of the injuries a person may be sentenced to direct imprisonment if found guilty.

Attempted murder is the attempt to commit a crime but for some reason, the crime is not completed. A good example can be found in the case of Grigor v S (607/11) [2012] ZASCA 95, the accused and the complainant had an altercation after the complainant made a u-turn without paying attention to the accused.  The accused overtook him and exchange gestures, consistent with both their perceptions that each had driven unacceptably took place between them.  Both of them stopped and exited their motor vehicles and during the altercation, the accused stabbed the complainant in the face, chest, abdomen, and right thigh.  At the trial, the doctor testified that the complainant could have died from bleeding if he had not received medical intervention. The accused was sentenced to six years imprisonment.

Murder is the unlawful and intentional killing of another person.  The most known matter is the case of S v Eadie (196/2001) [2002] ZASCA 24, where the accused during a road rage incident proceeded to assault the driver of the other motor vehicle with a hockey stick and after the stick broke proceeded to punch him. The accused then dragged the driver from the vehicle and repeatedly stamped on the driver’s head with the heel of his shoe.  The driver of the motor vehicle succumbed due to his injuries. The accused was sentenced to fifteen years' imprisonment, five years of which were conditionally suspended due to the murder.

In the case of Ntshasa v S (A249/10) [2011] ZAFSHC 59; 2011 (2) SACR 269 the accused where involved in a motor vehicle accident whereafter he proceeded to draw his firearm and fired several shots at the driver of the vehicle, whilst she was sitting in her motor vehicle, killing her instantly. The accused was sentenced to 23 years imprisonment. 

The above are merely a few examples of the legal consequences that a road rage incident can have. What should be taken to heart is that in a moment of road rage your whole life can be changed.  This begs the question of whether it is worth your while to lose your temper due to the inconsiderate driving of another person. 

Written by Chris Liebenberg

December 2020

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