AS TRAGEDIES GO, it was an all-American story. On November 20th Sara Nicole Morales, a 35-year-old librarian who lived in Orange City, Florida, drove her car into a 40-year-old motorcyclist, Andrew Derr. According to a statement issued by the police, Mr Derr was not injured or knocked off his bike, and followed her to an intersection to try to persuade her to stop and exchange details. Instead of stopping, she drove away to her home, with Mr Derr and two witnesses to the crash in pursuit. When they arrived Ms Morales came out of her house with a gun and pointed it at the group. Mr Derr drew his own concealed handgun and shot her dead.
She was pregnant, engaged to be married and had an 11-year-old daughter. “That girl tried to kill me,” said Mr Derr, in body-cam footage released by the police. “She pointed a gun at me. I’m so sorry.” The investigation continues and nobody has been charged. What motivated Ms Morales to drive her car at Mr Derr and then point a gun at him remains unclear. But a remarkable number of shootings begin with road rage.
According to research by Everytown for Gun Safety, an anti-gun lobby group, 2021 is likely to see some 500 people injured or killed in road-rage shootings, more than double the number in 2016 (see chart). The researchers, Sarah Burd-Sharps and Kathryn Bistline, analysed data gathered from news and police reports to determine the number of road-rage shootings.
Why should the red mist be descending ever more frequently? It could be that driving has become more stressful. Before the pandemic stopped much of it, the number of miles driven during a year by Americans had been soaring, and congestion with it. But even when far fewer people were driving during lockdowns last year, the number of people killed in car crashes increased sharply, suggesting that people have been driving more recklessly.
In 2020 almost 38,700 Americans died in crashes, a 7% increase on the previous year. Now most cars are back on the road—the amount of driving over the Thanksgiving holiday was expected to be just 3% lower this year than it was in 2019—and the rise in recklessness seems to have continued. Changing commuting patterns mean that traffic may be worse than it was before.
However, says Ms Burd-Sharps, a more likely explanation is the availability of guns. Sales soared last year and have remained high this year. Almost 22m Americans now have concealed-carry permits, a 48% increase on 2016. Road-rage shootings are most common in southern states such as Texas and Alabama, where a lot of drivers go armed. In California, New York and Hawaii, where concealed-carry permits are hard to get, they are much rarer. Between them, guns and cars kill around 80,000 Americans a year, most of them young. Combined, they make for a particularly lethal combination.
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This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the headline “Beep beep, bang bang”