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In the UK, if you are driving and a road rage incident with the car in front commences, causing them to step out of their car and leave their door open while they raise either their fists or a weapon at you - if you feel your life is threatened and you accelerate past their car and knock their driver door off, assuming there was no other way to escape - can you be in trouble here with regard to the law?

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    This feels to fact dependent to meaningfully answer in a general.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 6, 2022 at 3:34
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    For example: You "feel" your life is threatened. Is that feeling reasonable? Is it a situation where a reasonable person would find their life threatened, or only someone unreasonably paranoid? And of course do you have evidence? If the person draws a gun but you cannot prove it, you can be in legal trouble. If they draw a gun in front of a CCTV camera, legal trouble is much less likely.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jan 6, 2022 at 13:02
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    @Oast FWIW, I didn't down vote it.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 6, 2022 at 20:15
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    IMO, there's nothing wrong with this question - it has all the relevant detail and information required to be answered.
    – user35069
    Commented Jan 6, 2022 at 23:49
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    @Rick FYI. I stripped the tag you added to my answer as it was not accurate because it did not describe U.S. law.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 7, 2022 at 21:36

2 Answers 2

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This Question Is Tricker Than It Seems

One of the things about being a non-expert in a field is that it is very difficult to know in advance what is a hard question and what is an easy question. Some questions that seem like they should have simple, straight forward answers are actually very hard to answer. Some questions that seem like they should be very difficult and have involved tricky answers are actually very easy. Without an in depth understanding of the field, you just can't know in advance.

It turns out that this particular question is a quite hard question to answer. So, rather than really providing a clear answer, I will explain what about this question makes it hard to answer in this answer. Even this incomplete and ultimately inconclusive answer will require far, far more words (2,078 to be exact), than were necessary to pose the question (94 words).

Essentially, the core difficulty is that there are several different principles of law that apply to this fact pattern, each of which, individually have specific things that have to be proved to establish that some legal consequence will follow (which in turn are often themselves intrinsically indefinite), and each of which has exceptions that could also be proved if specific things happen.

In part, this is because, while the fact pattern set forth is not freakishly unforeseeable, it is also not a fact pattern that was contemplated when any of the individual legal principles that are implicated were conceived.

Likewise, the interaction of these different legal principles in one fact pattern wasn't contemplated and there is probably no one clear controlling case precedent on point that involved this fact pattern.

What the law does in cases like these (which come up all the time in real life) is to break down each legal theory individually and analyze it, possibly spread over multiple distinct court cases in different courts in front of different judges.

I'll try to unpack the issues (dispensing with U.K. legal terminology in some cases, since I'm only trying to provide a sense of why this is complicated and not to provide a definitive answer to how it is resolved under U.K. law).

Possible Claims, Charges, and Defenses; Traffic, Civil, and Criminal

  1. It is a crime to threaten someone with weapon or in another way that puts someone at risk of imminent harm.

  2. Depending upon the weapon and other circumstances, mere possession of the weapon might be a crime in the U.K.

  3. Someone who has been threatened with weapon or in another way that puts them at risk of imminent harm can be a civil lawsuit for money damages against the person making the threat which was called "assault" in historical common law.

  4. Someone who has been threatened by another can seek a restraining order/protective order directing that person to stay away from them in the courts in a civil action.

  5. Hitting someone else's car is a traffic violation, unless a defense to the traffic violation is present and proven.

  6. Hitting someone else's car with a statutorily mandated level of intent is a crime, unless a justification for the crime is present and proven.

  7. The person whose car was hit could credibly argue that hitting the door was a mistake, not because the door was hit, but because the driver intended to kill them and missed, so an attempted homicide charge could raised in a criminal proceeding.

  8. The person whose car was hit could argue that there was an intend to put them in imminent risk of harm providing a basis for a civil lawsuit for money damages for common law assault.

  9. Someone whose car is hit by another car through negligence or recklessly or intentionally can bring one or more claims in a civil lawsuit against the person who car hit their car for money damages. The standard of care for negligence is established by how a reasonable person would act under the circumstances.

  10. Self-defense is a possible defense to traffic offenses, criminal charges and civil liability related to harming another's property if the conditions for self-defense apply, which include a risk of imminent harm to oneself, another, or one's property, and if the action taken in self-defense is reasonably proportional under the circumstances as evaluated by a reasonable person in response to the threat. But, if the response of the person making the threat with the weapon was as a result of actions in which the person threatened with the weapon was the true aggressor, then the privilege of self-defense would be forfeited.

In real life, good attorneys for the parties could almost certainly solicit and call attention to additional facts not mentioned in the question that would further muddy the waters and raise additional claims, charges, and defenses to claims beyond the ten listed above.

I could analyze each of these issues on the facts in depth as best I could with references to statutes and case law (under a body of law other than U.K. law anyway), which would take a few lengthy and heavily researched paragraphs each that would take a fair amount of time each to prepare, but I won't. A full analysis would help you weigh the odds a little better, and if I was a lawyer of a party in this situation, I would do that since every little edge counts in litigation and negotiations of settlements. But even if I did that, it would still leave a lot of uncertainty regarding the final resolution of these questions on the merits.

Decision-Making Regarding Bringing Claims

The traffic and criminal charges would be brought or not brought largely in the discretion of the Crown attorney or some other government official.

It is most likely that a government official making that decision is doing so because the offense was referred to them by the police officer who responded to the scene, or a police officer who received an informal complaint (as opposed to a civil court filing) from one of the parties, or through a complaint delivered directly to the prosecuting authority by an alleged victim.

A prosecutor doesn't have to bring claims just because someone asks them to, and doesn't have to bring all possible claims even if some are pursued.

The parties themselves would decide whether or not to bring civil claims against each other. Whoever is sued first would make the decision in the context of knowing that they will be a party to a civil lawsuit whether or not they bring civil claims of their own.

Possible Forums

The traffic offense would probably be resolved in one court.

The criminal charges against the person making the threats would be resolved in another court. The criminal charges against the person who hit the car door would be resolved probably in the same court but in a different case, possibly with a different judge.

The civil claims would be resolved in yet another court, probably with a different judge, although probably in a single case with the first person to make it to court as the Plaintiff and the other party as a Defendant bringing counterclaims against the Plaintiff. The civil claims might also involve other parties (e.g. the owner of the vehicles in question if not identical to the persons driving the cars at the time of the incidents).

Issue Preclusion

Some final decisions on the merits in some cases would resolve the outcome of other cases as a matter of law, other final determinations in some cases would not be binding on the other cases as a matter of law because burdens of proof are different, or the legal issue evaluated is not identical, or because other rules (like a rule against a traffic court decision resulting in a binding determination on civil liability for negligence) would apply.

The exact rules are rather arcane and there are quite a few permutations of how it come up, but it is important to be aware that these kinds of rules are out there, exist, and would have to be analyzed by the parties as a matter of litigation tactics.

Even The "Legal Issues" Are Fact Intensive Inquiries

Almost all of the legal theories implicated above involve broad legal standards in which a lot of the substantive question of what is or is not legal is delegated to the finder of fact in a manner that cannot be reviewed on appeal.

For example, in a negligence case related to damage to an automobile, even if there is a videotape and there is 100% agreement on precisely what happened, whether that conduct constitutes "negligence" that breaches the duty of care owed by a reasonable person to the general public to protect them from harm, is legally considered a "question of fact" to be determined by a judge on a case by case basis, rather than a "question of law" which will always have the same outcome and is subject to review by an appellate court if the judge gets it wrong.

A similar "reasonable person" standard which must be resolved with a highly fact intensive inquiry that could be resolved more than one way by two different judges or juries hearing precisely the same facts and finding the same witnesses and evidence to be credible in exactly the same way, with both upheld on appeal, applies to the self-defense legal theory. This self-defense issue could also conceivably, based upon the order in which cases were tried and their resolution, be resolved one way in a criminal case and a different way in a civil case between the parties.

In the same vein, when a threat is imminent is a highly subjective determination that could be resolved in a "legally correct" way that is not subject to being overturned on appeal on precisely the same facts, with precisely the same determinations as to credibility and weight of the evidence, by two different judges or juries. Again, the substantive question of whether particular conduct is or is not illegal is a "question of fact" that can't be resolved in the absence of a trial on the merits in a particular case before a particular finder of fact.

Bottom Line

The facts provided in the question aren't sufficiently detailed to provide a definitely correct answer to this question.

Indeed, the nature of the facts is such that even an perfectly detailed factual statement regarding what happened might not be enough to definitively determine who has civil liability to whom, and to determine what charges each defendant is guilty of.

Different judges and jurors could reasonably come to different legally correct conclusions in a case like this one when faced with precisely the same facts and resolving all issues of credibility and the weight of the evidence in precisely the same way.

This difficulty is compounded by the fact that the same facts would be analyzed with respect to different legal theory analysis in different forums by different people, when there is not, as a general rule (although there is in some cases) any mechanism for compelling those decisions to be made consistently on outcome determinative evaluations of the same facts regarding what was reasonable for the parties to do under the circumstances.

The notion that a judge is just an umpire, and that every competent judge acting in good faith will always resolve a case presenting the same facts in the same way is a myth. This simply isn't true, even in the U.K. where the judiciary is (as a consequence of how the system for appointment and retention of judges is designed) not nearly as partisan and politicized as it is in the United States. The outcomes of even fairly simple cases in many cases, like the one in this question, are intrinsically and irreducibly uncertain in common law legal systems.

The range of possible outcomes from a best case scenario to a worst case scenario, for each party in this fact pattern, is very wide.

A desire to tame the myriad uncertainties involved for all parties, and the desire to avoid multiple time consuming and uncertain court proceedings arising out of the same incident, is one of the reasons that it is very common for civil lawsuits to settle out of court without a trial, and for criminal cases to be resolved by an agreement of the prosecution and the defense (sometimes reached even before charges are filed).

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This question is fairly straightforward from a criminal law perspective and and can be answered with reference to Court of Appeal precedent.

Ultimately it would be a matter for the jury to decide according to the evidence, but the defence of necessity would seem appropriate for any charges brought for dangerous driving or similar offences1 based on the specific details provided in the OP, especially:

...if you feel your life is threatened and you accelerate past their car and knock their driver door off, assuming there was no other way to escape...

The relevant caselaw is R v Conway [1989] Q.B. 290 in which the Court of Appeal concluded that:

necessity can only be a defence to a charge of reckless driving2 where the facts establish "duress of circumstances", [...], i.e., where the defendant was constrained by circumstances to drive as he did to avoid death or serious bodily harm to himself or some other person. [...] Whether "duress of circumstances" is called "duress" or "necessity" does not matter. What is important is that, whatever it is called, it is subject to the same limitations as to "do this or else" species of duress.

Conway was applied in R v Martin, 88 Cr.App.R. 343, CA where Simon Brown J stated:

Firstly, English law does, in extreme circumstances, recognise a defence of necessity. Most commonly this defence arises as duress, that is, pressure on the accuseds will from the wrongful threats or violence of another. Equally however it can arise from other objective dangers threatening the accused or others. Arising thus it is conveniently called duress of circumstances.

Second, the defence is available only if, from an objective standpoint, the accused can be said to be acting reasonably and proportionately in order to avoid a threat of death or serious injury.

Third, assuming the defence to be open to the accused on his account of the facts, the issue should be left to the jury, who should be directed to determine these two questions: first, was the accused, or may he have been, impelled to act as he did because as a result of what he reasonably believed to be the situation he had good cause to fear that otherwise death or serious physical injury would result second, if so, would a sober person of reasonable firmness, sharing the characteristics of the accused, have responded to that situation by acting as the accused acted? If the answer to both those questions was then the defence of necessity would have been established."


1 There's also the possibility of causing criminal damage which has its own necessity-related statutory defence to protect one's property (e.g. their car).

2 An offence under the Road Traffic Act 1972.

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