Stress, pandemic could spur road rage increase, researchers say

Georgia had the 10th highest rate of people shot and injured or killed in the U.S. in 2021
Man shot in road rage incident on I-85 after angry driver followed him for miles, police say. Road rage shootings have increase throughout the country.

Man shot in road rage incident on I-85 after angry driver followed him for miles, police say. Road rage shootings have increase throughout the country.

Amari Franklin is still paralyzed but she is still determined to walk again, a year after she was shot during a road rage incident on I-85 in Coweta County.

“I was probably in the hospital about a month. The healing process was shaky at first, I was discouraged because I didn’t know if I’ll be able to walk again,” Franklin said. “Once I got out of the hospital and into the real world, I was able to come home and be able to be comfortable with myself and my injury. The healing journey is actually really beautiful.”

Amari Franklin was shot and paralyzed while on her way home from work in April 2021. Franklin is one of hundreds of people shot and injured in road rage shootings in 2021.

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Franklin, 23, of Newman, was shot while driving home from work. Deanthony Clark, 22, was arrested and charged with aggravated battery and aggravated assault.

“I was hit twice and one of the bullets hit me in my spine, which caused me to fall back into my (seat),” Franklin said. “I sometimes just think of it to see how far I’ve come from that situation. I try to forget about it but it’s always going to come up some way, form or fashion.”

Franklin was one of the hundreds of victims across the country shot and injured or killed in suspected road rage incidents in 2021. The nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety found road rage incidents involving guns have increased nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 2021 being the worst year on record.

Sarah Burd-Sharps, senior director of research at Everytown, said such incidents increased substantially in 2021 compared to the six previous years. She points to pandemic-induced stress and a record increase in gun sales.

Research conducted by Everytown using Gun Violence Archive’s national database found the number of road rage injuries and deaths have increased yearly since 2018 with 2021 being the worst year on record. According to Everytown, an average of 44 people per month were shot and killed or wounded in road rage shootings, which is double the pre-pandemic average. A total of 131 people were killed and 391 were injured in road rage shootings that year.

Georgia had the 10th highest rate nationally of people killed or injured in a road rage shooting incident. In Atlanta Police Lt. Paula Lyons of the aggravated assaults unit said there have been at least 50 road rage incidents in 2022, including five shootings.

In the past two weeks, road rage violence in metro Atlanta sent a 17-year-old girl and an adult man to the hospital with gunshot wounds.

“We, as citizens, need to be more deliberate on how we handle ourselves and follow the rules of the road, not reacting or creating a situation,” Lyons said. “You can only control what you do.”

The Biden administration has announced $5 billion in federal aid to municipalities in response. The money will be available over five years under the Department of Transportation’s Safe Streets & Roads for All program.

Roadway deaths represented about 95% of all U.S. transportation deaths with more than 38,000 in 2020. According to preliminary numbers released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration this week, traffic fatalities increased by 10.5% in 2021 with close to 43,000 total fatalities compared to 2020.

Dr. Liza Zwiebach, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, said stressed people are more likely to snap, even at the smallest thing such as being cut off in traffic, honking or a rude gesture.

“Some kind of irritant, like being cut off on the road, in our healthier times, we might be able to brush off, we are not as able to do that right now,” she said.

Georgia AAA Spokesman Garrett Townsend said the pandemic has brought an increase in aggressive driving, primarily speeding, and an increase in traffic fatalities to numbers not seen since 2007.

“Certainly, one of the trends that we are seeing is speeding. Last year, was the second year in a row that fatality numbers in Georgia increased even though vehicles amount traveled was down, fatalities were up,” Townsend said.

Burd-Sharps said every country has aggressive drivers, traffic and construction but the U.S. is the only country where someone is shot and injured or killed every 17 hours in a road rage incident. The easy access to guns can be a contributing factor, with studies showing that people who carry guns in their car are more likely to act rudely or aggressively than others.

Franklin said she plans to drive again once she gets a new car. She forgives the person who shot her.

“I just want that person to know and any other person to know that he doesn’t scare me, he is not going to stop my life from continuing just because of this one act he committed,” she said. “I forgave him for my sake so I can move on. I’m still angry down inside, so is my family but I forgave him so I can move on personally.”

2021 Road Rage incidents by rate

StateShot & injuredShot & killedRate of injured or killed in road rage incident per 100,000 population
New Mexico9100.9
District of Columbia110.29
Source: Everytown for Gun Safety analysis using Gun Violence Archive 2021

- The Associated Press contributed to this article.