IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Road-rage shootings see ‘worst year on record’ in 2021

More than 500 people in the U.S. were killed or wounded while driving last year.
Allen J. Schaben
Police at the scene of the fatal shooting of a 6-year-old boy in an apparent road-rage incident last May in Orange, Calif. Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images file

More than 500 people in the U.S. were killed or wounded in road-rage shootings in 2021, the "worst year on record" for gun violence on streets and highways, according to analysis released Monday by Everytown for Gun Safety.

It’s unclear what’s causing the rise in violence on the road, but gun-safety advocates suggest pandemic-related stressors and record increases in gun purchases may be factors. 

Last year, nearly 400 people were wounded and 130 more were fatally shot during encounters with aggressive drivers, compared to 225 injured and 68 killed in 2019. In an average month in 2021, 44 people were shot in road-rage incidents, which was double the pre-pandemic average, according to Everytown, a nonprofit that advocates gun control. 

“Given the recent spike in gun sales in the United States, combined with the gun lobby’s ‘guns everywhere’ agenda, it’s no surprise we’re seeing crisis levels of road rage involving guns,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said in a statement. “We will not accept a new normal in which the retaliation for a honked horn is gunfire.”

In 2020, the FBI conducted nearly 40 million firearm background checks, more than any year on record, according to the agency’s data. There were nearly 39 million firearm background checks in 2021. That year, Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting, a consulting and research firm, estimated that 14.8 million guns were bought from January to September. 

While there were fewer drivers on the road in 2020 because of the pandemic, AAA said it’s unclear whether traffic increased the following year. 

Meanwhile, traffic fatalities appeared to have increased at a record pace in the first nine months of 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In a projection this February, the agency said that an estimated 31,720 people died in motor vehicle crashes from January through September 2021, the most in the first nine months of any year since 2006.

Road-rage shootings don’t appear to show signs of slowing down, according to Everytown, which used the Gun Violence Archive’s database to analyze road-rage incidents involving a gun. So far in 2022, there have already been at least 114 incidents of road-rage shootings. Arizona, New Mexico, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin had the highest rates of road-rage shootings, according to Everytown’s analysis.

In a statement, Sarah Burd-Sharps, director of research for Everytown for Gun Safety, blamed America's easy access to guns.

“Driving gets heated in plenty of other countries, but only in the U.S. is someone shot and injured or killed every 17 hours in a road-rage incident,” Burd-Sharps said. “We’ve seen a national increase in shootings during the pandemic, and this increase has played out on our streets and highways, too.”