Two key law enforcement agencies in Orange County say they do not track with statistical data the number of road rage incidents on streets and freeways, because they say the data can be inexact and road rage is not a specific crime under California law.
The California Highway Patrol told the I-Team its database cannot flag individual events as being road rage related nor can investigators easily search its archive of crime reports for events associated with road rage.
"There is no data element...that would account for road rage," emailed CHP officer Jaime Coffee, who explained that because road rage is not defined in the state's vehicle or penal codes there was no way to search for the term in the CHP's records, except for manually reading individual documents.
NBC4 began asking local law enforcement agencies for data on the number of road rage incidents following the May 21, 2021 shooting death of 6-year-old Aiden Leos, who was killed while riding with his mother on the 55 Freeway.
The Orange County Sheriff's Department said it too was unable to produce a number of incidents because its database of crime reports cannot be searched for road rage.
"Because road rage is a motive and not a criminal violation, OCSD does not store statistical data other than the actual crime which occurred," said public affairs director Carrie Braun.
Other law enforcement agencies, such as the Los Angeles Police Department, do apply flags, or statistical selectors, of all kinds to crime reports, including road rage, so detectives investigating one case can more easily search for similar events, or so agencies can direct patrols to specific areas and times as a preventative measure.
"I can see why agencies would be hesitant to do it," said crime data analyst Jeff Asher, who advises police departments on data collection following work at the CIA and the U.S. Department of Defense. "I think that things like road rage, that have more of an anecdotal, more of a squishy definition, are very difficult for law enforcement agencies to capture."
The potential motive or intent behind an incident, relayed by a crime victim or witness, tend to be less certain than other "concrete" factors in crime reports, officials at both agencies said.
"If you gave me a spreadsheet of here are all the road rage incidents, my first thing, my response would be -- here are all of the problems with this data, but this is what the data shows," Asher said.
An inquiry to the LAPD's crime report database quickly revealed the last few years of road rage-related crime reports, including assaults, threats, vandalism, and shootings.
Following initial investigations by officers the LAPD flagged 671 crime reports in 2019 as having a road rage component. That number fell to 503 in 2020, likely due to far fewer miles being driven by motorists in the City as the result of the public health pandemic.
The LAPD data showed that the number of road rage-flagged incidents began to increase in the first five months of 2021. It also showed most road rage-related crimes occur in the afternoon, the majority happen in the north and west San Fernando Valley, and that since 2019, a total of 14 people have been shot during events associated with road rage.