Road Rage Shootings Are Continuing to Surge
By: Sarah Burd-Sharps, Paige Tetens, Jay Szkola 3.20.2023
The spike in gun violence during the height of the COVID pandemic in the United States is subsiding, with 2022 being the first year since the pandemic began that we saw fewer gun homicides than during the prior year. Yet one measure of gun violence continues to climb: road rage shooting deaths and injuries continue to pile up.
Experiencing aggressive driving on the road is not uncommon—roughly eight in 10 drivers surveyed by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported having at least one incident in the month before the survey. However, the presence of a gun can turn such an encounter from an unpleasant few moments to a dangerous incident for drivers, their passengers, and pedestrians. What’s more, the presence of a gun in a car may increase the likelihood of road rage. A survey conducted initially in Arizona1Matthew Miller, Deborah Azrael, David Hemenway, and Frederic I. Solop, “‘Road Rage’ in Arizona: Armed and Dangerous,” Accident Analysis & Prevention 34, no. 6 (November 2022): 807–14, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0001-4575(01)00080-X. and then nationally found that motorists in a vehicle with a gun were more likely to behave rudely or aggressively and to exhibit road rage—making obscene gestures, cutting off other cars, or engaging in other dangerous driving behavior.2David Hemenway, Mary Vriniotis, and Matthew Miller, “Is an Armed Society a Polite Society? Guns and Road Rage,” Accident Analysis & Prevention 38, no. 4 (July 2006): 687–95, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aap.2005.12.014 Epub January 24, 2006. Another 2017 study found that motorists behaved more aggressively with a firearm in the vehicle, where just the presence of a gun was associated with dangerous driving.3Bushman, Brad J., Thomas Kerwin, Tyler Whitlock, and Janet M. Weisenberger. “The Weapons Effect on Wheels: Motorists Drive More Aggressively When There Is a Gun in the Vehicle.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 73 (November 1, 2017): 82–85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2017.06.007.
Using Gun Violence Archive’s database to analyze road rage incidents, Everytown Research & Policy found that the number of road rage injuries and deaths involving guns has increased every year since 2018. In that year, at least 70 road rage shooting deaths occurred in the United States; in 2022, the number doubled to 141. The same trend occurred with gun injuries: at least 176 people were injured in a road rage incident in 2018, with a staggering increase to 413 people in 2022. These incidents translate to a person being shot and either injured or killed in a road rage incident in 2022 every 16 hours, on average.
Road Rage Shooting Deaths and Injuries, 2018 to 2022
No region of the country was immune to road rage. But some states fared better than others.
While nearly every state in the country saw at least one victim from a road rage shooting in 2022, a significant disparity exists between states. The five states with the highest rate of people shot in road rage incidents are New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. These states make up only 8 percent of the US population but saw 20 percent of road rage shooting victims.
This disparity occurs across geographic regions as well. The southern United States, which has weaker gun laws on average than the nation overall, sees the highest rates of victimization from road rage shootings, double those in the Northeast. The nine northeastern states4Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont have both the lowest rates of victimization from road rage shootings and overall far stronger gun laws than much of the nation.
Rate of People Shot in Road Rage Incidents per Million Residents, 2022
Last updated: 3.14.2023
The strength of carry permit laws impacts road rage
Looking in particular at one important gun policy—rules for carrying a concealed gun in public—the association between loosening those rules and road rage is clear. Concealed carry firearms permit requirements—which may involve passing a background check, completing safety training and live-fire instruction, and other criteria—fall along a spectrum of protection: in 2022, eight states required would-be gun carriers to provide a specific reason for needing a gun in public, 18 states required a carry permit but did not require this type of “good cause” justification, and 24 states did not require a permit at all.5The set of “good cause” states often gave permit issuers additional broad discretionary authority to deny applicants. In Everytown’s analysis of road rage incident rates by state, categorized by their concealed carry firearms law framework as of 2022, the states were assigned to the following groups:
Strongest protections: CA, CT, DE, HI, MA, MD, NJ, NY.
Middle protections: AL, CO, FL, IL, LA, MI, MN, NC, NE, NM, NV, OR, PA, RI, SC, VA, WA, WI.
Permitless in 2022: AK, AR, AZ, GA, IA, ID, IN, KS, KY, ME, MO, MS, MT, NH, ND, OH, OK, SD, TN, TX, UT, WV, WY.
Vermont is excluded from the analysis because Vermont has never required a permit for carrying a concealed handgun in public. As is clear in the chart below, states that were permitless in 2022 have by far the highest rate of road rage shootings with injuries or deaths.
Rates of Injuries and Deaths in Road Rage Shootings by Concealed Carry Framework
States that did not require a permit had nearly triple the rate of road rage shooting victimization than those states with the most protective standards. Moreover, states that were permitless in 2022 had 27 percent more deaths and injuries in road rage incidents involving a gun than states that required a permit but did not give law enforcement broad authority to deny an application.6This rate was calculated by comparing the rate in 2022 of road rage deaths and injuries in permitless states to that of middle protection states: (2.23 / 1.76) – 1 * 100.
In June 2022 the US Supreme Court issued a ruling that barred states from requiring any type of “good cause” justification for concealed carry permits, significantly limiting their ability to protect their residents. One consequence of this new ruling is that many of the states with the lowest rates of road rage (the light blue line) have been forced to weaken their laws. We fear that another consequence will be more road rage.7Even following the Supreme Court case, the eight states with “good cause” requirements, along with eight additional states, do continue to give permit issuers some power to deny applicants who pose a danger to the public, which may mitigate these adverse impacts. See https://bit.ly/3Jk1Et5. Note that the Supreme Court opinion did not affect Connecticut and Rhode Island.
In terms of overall crime rates, states that have weakened their permitting systems have seen a 13 to 15 percent increase in crime.8John J. Donohue, Abhay Aneja, and Kyle D. Weber, “Right-to-Carry Laws and Violent Crime: A Comprehensive Assessment Using Panel Data and a State-Level Synthetic Control Analysis,” NBER Working Papers (National Bureau of Economic Research, November 2018), https://www.nber.org/papers/w23510.pdf. But what the analysis about road rage and gun-carrying regulations shows is that the states with weaker standards have also made it easier and more likely for people to take their guns out of their homes and into their cars. The results on our streets and highways have been tragic.
We do not definitively know what is driving this persistent increase in road rage shootings. The pandemic and its continuing effects have brought all kinds of new stressors into people’s lives. In addition, the record increases in gun sales that started in 2020 could be a factor. This analysis suggests that gun safety policies—particularly those that require a permit to carry a concealed handgun in public—protect our communities from road rage shootings.
More research on road rage shootings is needed, but one thing is clear: these trends are not slowing down. That’s why action from policymakers to prevent gun violence is now more urgent than ever.
Sarah combines her background of work on poverty, gender equity, and economic empowerment at the UN and the Social Science Research Council to lead Everytown’s research department. Sarah is co-author of two volumes of The Measure of America (Columbia University Press, 2008 and NYU Press, 2010) and pioneering work on youth disconnection. At Everytown, she has co-authored four peer-reviewed journal articles and countless reports and appears regularly in the media to help shape the conversation about our gun violence epidemic.
Paige is a Senior Research Associate at Everytown for Gun Safety. She is a graduate of Rutgers University, where she was granted a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy, political science, and women’s and gender studies. Her research focuses on hate-motivated violence, mass shootings, and maintaining databases on gun violence around the country.
Jay Szkola is currently the Data Scientist at Everytown for Gun Safety. Jay is a PhD candidate at John Jay College of Criminal Justice / the Graduate Center, City University of New York in Criminal Justice and Criminology. His research interests involve spatial-temporal patterns of crime, gun violence interventions, credible messengers, and concealed carry permitting.