Road rage murder in Maryland: New Jersey police officer charged

Road rage murder is the most extreme version of what is seen as a widespread safety concern for American drivers over the past decade, aggressive driving.

By , Correspondent

The New Jersey police officer who allegedly shot a man to death in an act of road rage has been charged with second degree murder and manslaughter by Maryland authorities.

Joseph Walker, an officer in the Hudson County, N.J., prosecutor’s office is being held on a $1 million bond, according to Maryland State Police, for allegedly shooting Joseph Harvey, Jr. on an on-ramp to Route 3, twenty miles south of Baltimore on Saturday.

The motive for the altercation remains unknown. Walker, an off-duty officer, was in a minivan with his wife and three children, according to Maryland State Police spokeswoman Elena Russo. The two vehicles came to a stop on the on-ramp and Harvey allegedly exited his vehicle and walked toward Walker before being shot.

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Troopers say they were told that the two vehicles were involved in a road rage incident before they pulled over and the shooting took place.

“Certainly, this appears this is some sort of aggressive behavior gone bad,” Ms. Russo said in an interview with CBS New York.

Road rage has ranked as a top concern of American drivers over the past decade, according to several studies.

In a 2009 survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Security, nearly 9 in 10 respondents said they believed aggressive drivers were a “somewhat” or “very serious” threat to their personal safety.

In 2005, a telephone survey by ABC News and The Washington Post found that out of a list of threats that “most endanger your own safety on the road,” 32 percent of respondents said aggressive drivers. This was the same number of responses as for drunk drivers.

While road rage attracts more attention, the AAA and other organizations actually distinguish between road rage, which is a criminal offense, and aggressive driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, road rage must include the intent to cause physical harm. 

Analysts say aggressive driving, which includes speeding, tailgating, and running red lights, is the more common problem and can lead to road rage or other traffic related fatalities. 

“The murders are very sensational and it’s very important, but aggressive driving more broadly is a key safety issue,” says Bruce Hamilton of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Security.

Mr. Hamilton points out that even as Americans worry about road rage and aggressive drivers, most drivers engage in potentially aggressive behaviors. In 2009, a survey by his foundation found that nearly half of people admitted to speeding more than 15 mph over the limit on major highways in the previous 30 days.

The last time the AAA specifically measured road rage, in the mid-1990s, they found that more than 10,000 road rage incidents committed over seven years resulted in at least 218 murders and another 12,610 injury cases. When drivers explained why they became violent, the reasons were often trivial, according to the AAA: “She wouldn’t let me pass,” “They kept tailgating me.” One driver accused of attempted murder said, “He practically ran me off the road – what was I supposed to do?”

Hamilton says the New Jersey police officer arrest is a good reminder to be an alert driver: “I think it’s a good reminder that we’re all human. When we’re behind the wheel it doesn’t matter who we are or what our job is we all need to be responsible and respectful.”

New Jersey actually has some of the strictest road rage laws in the country. Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill last August that could land aggressive drivers in prison for up to five years if their behavior behind the wheel causes a serious injury.

“It does not permit you to act out every one of your childish tantrums while behind the wheel of a vehicle,” Governor Christie said at the time. 

According to CBS Philadelphia, Christie said then that road rage seems to be a bigger problem in New Jersey than elsewhere – "perhaps because it’s a densely populated state where roads are often crowded and residents are known for having a bit of an attitude," they posited.

CBS reports that Christie said he’s been in the path of road rage, too: He told reporters that one woman was so upset that she wasn’t allowed to drive between the two vehicles in the governor’s motorcade that she threw things at the governor’s vehicle.

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