Over the past year, the country has seen an explosion of shootings and killings attributed to rage on the road.
From the fatal shootings of David Castro after leaving an Astros game and Ashanti who was caught in the crossfire, the eruptions of sudden violence are not unique to any part of America, especially among a population that is increasingly on edge and carrying guns. But they have been perhaps most pronounced on the roads of Texas.
“In the past, people curse one another, throw up the finger and keep moving,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in an interview. “Now instead of throwing up the finger, they’re pulling out the gun and shooting.”
The prevalence of such violence, not just in Texas but around the country, suggests a cultural commonality, an extreme example of deteriorating behavior that has also flared on airplanes and in stores. It is as if the pandemic and the nation’s sour mood have left people forgetting how to act in public at the same time as they were buying millions more weapons.
Criminologists cautioned that any theory of motivation behind road rage shootings is hampered by a lack of data. Most police departments do not keep statistics on road rage episodes, in part because it is not itself a crime category. There is no federal database.
For its report on an increase in road rage shootings, the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety relied on the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that compiles data from government sources and media reports. The group found that more than 500 people had been injured or killed in reported road rage shootings last year, up from fewer than 300 in 2019.
“The story that it’s telling is a definite and really worrying increase in incidents of road rage involving a gun,” said Sarah Burd-Sharps, the senior director of research at Everytown for Gun Safety. “Only in this country is someone shot and injured or killed every 17 hours in a road rage incident.”
Texas accounted for a quarter of the fatal shootings last year that were documented in the study, with 33 people killed in road rage shootings in the state, up from 18 in 2019.
“It is unique to this moment,” Turner said. “I’m a native Houstonian. I’m in my seventh year as mayor. We have just not had it to the point where it has been a noticeable event, except in the last year.”
Turner said that a string of deadly cases had prompted the city to take steps to reconfigure its traffic cameras to preserve recordings, to eventually help catch roadway shooters.
In Texas, drivers have been allowed to carry firearms without a license in their cars since 2007, a law known as the Texas Motorist Protection Act. A new measure, enacted last year, allows most Texans to carry a handgun in public without a license.