If you are a road bicyclist and you live in an urban area with lots of cars, it’s inevitable you will have an encounter with a motorist. But how you react to that situation can mean the difference between the driver being prosecuted or getting off with not so much as a ticket.
Positives of On-Bike Cameras
This post is in response to a brief article on the U.K. cycling website Road.cc it calls “Near Miss of the Day.” In this news item, Road.cc reports that a bicyclist who was abruptly cut off by a driver merging into traffic did not receive the response he wanted when he reported it to the police.
The bicyclist in question apparently was equipped with an on-bike camera, which is becoming standard for cyclists who often cycle on the road. Garmin, for instance, just recently released one. They can be rear or front facing, and in the case of the Varia, it also indicates the flow of traffic by sending notifications to a rider’s bike computer.
For this bicyclist, the camera was a plus because he caught the whole incident of the motorist pulling out in front of him in a video. This allowed him to send the video to his local police department to report the driver. Unfortunately, the cyclist didn’t get the response he desired.
Making a Bad Situation Worse
The police state that, even though the motorist clearly committed an infraction, the bicyclist made his complaint invalid because of how he reacted. For one, in the video, he swears at the driver. Secondly, the cyclist quickly rides toward the driver who is now stopped at the next intersection, then launches into verbal threats.
The bicyclist states he was angry and scared, and so he reacted without understanding the consequences. In the end, he inadvertently made a bad situation worse. Hey, we’ve all been there. I know I’ve cursed drivers under my breath more than a few times for getting too close to me. I’ve also flipped them the bird a few times as well.
Just Wave and Smile
I’ve learned to accept close calls with motorists as part of being a road cyclist. I know, that sounds really bad. Maybe I should say I’ve learned to accept “buzzing” because if I allow myself to be intimidated by motorists, I don’t get to do the kind of bike riding I like. Plus, motorists know there is a law about giving bicyclists space, and that if they hit a cyclist, they could lose their license, face court time, or even go to jail.
That doesn’t mean that these situations don’t make me angry. They most definitely do. I’ve even had people yell obscenities at me, and I once got pelted with a water bottle. But saying something to a driver or, even worse, being aggressive toward them will not lead to a positive outcome. Instead, I just wave and smile, although I admit there have been times when I didn’t do that and I regretted it.
As Selena Yeager points out in a January 2019 post about drivers at Bicycling.com, most of them believe bicyclists don’t belong on the road. And that is why many drivers ignore the rule about giving bicyclists 3 to 5 feet of space.
Believe it or not, some drivers even claim they cannot judge that kind of distance while trailing behind a bicyclist. Maybe that’s why they hang back behind a cyclist because they’re afraid to pass.
Don’t Say Anything, Don’t Do Anything
In situations where motorists are being aggressive, the best action is not to say or do anything. And I say this primarily for my and your own safety. The main reason is you never know if a driver will respond violently. A motorist might try to run you off the road, stop his vehicle and get out to physically assault you, or even pull a gun. I have heard of bicyclists being shot or shot at by motorists.
In other words, if you find yourself in a situation where you’ve been buzzed or cut off in traffic, your best defense again is not to say or do anything. And this is especially true if you have a video of what occurred. Let the video do its job and support your case with the police or a legal team if that becomes necessary.
As bicyclists, we all should know our rights if we are out on the road. We can try to do our part to avoid high-traffic roads and ride at less congested points during the day.
We can also ride more defensively and try to work with motorists instead of against them, if possible, so the phrase “share the road” takes on a more positive meaning.
If I sound like I’m being altruistic, that’s because maybe I am. I just want to be able to enjoy the sport I love without stress, worry, and fear.