Legally Speaking - Readers thoughts on road rage
This week, I’ll be sharing some reader responses to my recent columns on road rage (See Bikes vs. cars, Summer of rage and More rage). But first, as noted last week, I would like to invite those of you who can attend to visit with me at my next speaking appearance: Saturday, September 20, 2008
The Tennessee Bicycle Racing Association’s annual awards ceremony, the 2008 TBRA Celebration of Champions. Now, while a lot of you find lengthy discussions about esoteric legal issues as exciting as I do, some of you don’t. Rest assured, I will be there to talk about more than just the law. I’m really looking forward to the evening and I hope to meet as many of you as possible. For those of you who can’t attend, if you would like me to appear to speak at your event or shop, or to your club or group, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org (and if you would like to contact me with a question or comment not related to my speaking tour, please drop me a line at email@example.com). I’m looking forward to meeting as many of my readers as possible this year.
I’m concerned that the media is telling people that road rage is now a problem due to cyclists being on the roads. Road rage has been a problem for a lot longer than that, its just that now that there are more cyclists, we are getting our share of the grief. Seems that the main road rage problem is that it has been ignored or smoothed over for so long, and now its good for a few cheap headlines. Meanwhile, the bad behavior, as Leon implies, has become endemic.
Here in the Twin Cities, a local channel ran a anti-bike clip. We all noticed an uptick in aggressive behavior towards cyclists. (Interestingly, I saw it from women, not who I would have expected it from.).
After 30 years of Cat.2 racing and tons of training miles I have to say that the amount of trouble I have had with cars is increasing. And I live in the country where the amount of cars is much smaller than in the city. Almost every week I have a run in with a motor vehicle. Are the number of problems all around on the rise or is it just me. A woman pulled up next to me in an SUV today put her signal on and cut me off. She said that she expected me to stop and let her go. And a cop nearby agreed with her.
Spencertown, New York
My take on the "buzzers" is the anger issue, perceived eliteness of the bike rider and the "5 minutes of power" mentality. Anger, though is the primary driver. Weak economy, higher living expenses, gas prices through the roof and who do you take it out on? The lycra clad bicylist flaunting the freedom to ride in their face. Then you can add in the alcohol factor and let the fun begin.
Taos, New Mexico
I see that road rage thing a little differently. Much of the apparent rage is the result of the impatience of drivers to be somewhere. We’re relatively slow and they’re in a hurry so bicycles need to get the hell out of the way. Try going the speed limit (or less) on many roads in an automobile and you will get much the same result. Impatient drivers cannot tolerate open space ahead of them. I also rode a motorcycle and saw this occur even when I was going (at least) at legal speeds. They can see around bikes and any open space must be filled in. They have to get around you no matter what the cost. Bicycles are viewed as "toys", too slow, and do not belong on the roads. "You’re holding me up, get the hell off the road"! Failure of cyclists to recognize that they do not belong on the roads results in aggressive passing. I have had motorists cut in just inches away from me.
The reason cyclist are targets on the road is because we are easy targets. They can buzz us, throw something at us, punch us and even hit us and then they can drive away knowing they won’t see us again, we won’t catch them and they will probably never be charged or prosecuted. People are brave when they can act out and then run away with no repercussions. When they can hit and run (sort of speak) they do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. Kind of like "BEER MUSCLES."
I enjoy your contribution. so I offer an observation on Road Rage: The Bully effect.
A schmoe in a car or truck perceives a biker as an easy target. This is also true with motorcyclists.The bully will attack if he is sure his victim is unable to counter-attack.
Proven time and again.
It’s my opinion that your article missed the biggest reason of rage; people feel omnipotent behind the wheel of their cars. Basically, it’s the bully syndrome; I had a bad day, that car just cut me off, etc. Then they see someone on a bike and that’s the person to blame. As a current commuter, former catII racer from the 80’s-early 90’s, and I still do the racer group rides on the weekend, I’ve shared the road with cars for many miles. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been yelled at and threatened by someone in their car while I wasn’t even on the road! I just happen to be the person there that they could take their aggression out on without recourse.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Dear Legally Speaking,
I have noticed more bikes than ever on the roads. Riders continue to run stop signs, red lights and ignore other traffic rules. We have a great beach side bike lane for one bike, but many people ride two abreast. This action forces drivers to cross a double yellow line to move around or come to a stop. Most drivers are patient, but there is always the chance for that one wacko. Riders know they are blocking traffic and creating a hazard, but some seem to enjoy the power trip.
The sport and industry needs to take responsibility for continued rider education.
While I think you normally cover all the bases, there is one important point that very seldom gets mentioned as a cause of road rage. That is the issue that many (perhaps most) believe that the rules of the road do not apply to them. Running red lights, stop signs, riding up between cars, etc. cause drivers to see red.
Then the cyclists come off as self righteous.
I am one of the very few cyclists that will stop at a stop sign or at a red light on the straight ahead direction of a three way intersection. I believe that the fact that cyclists, in large part, do a poor job following the traffic regulations must account for a significant portion of the “rage” that your article discusses but I was puzzled as to why you did not mention it. The rest of the “in-group” and “out-group” discussion makes sense. But I think that motorist, at least where I am riding, have some resentment to the fact that so many cyclist don’t follow the rules. A cyclist not stopping at stop sign when the intersection is clear is bad not because it is dangerous; it is bad because it builds motorists’ animosities toward cyclists.
I think a lot of driver anger toward cyclists results from incidents that the driver has had with a cyclist where the cyclist did something the driver did not like. The driver’s anger will fester until an innocent cyclist appears in his path. The driver then takes his frustration out on the cyclist. Every person I know, who only rides bikes to cruise around their neighborhood with their kids, has a story about a "cyclist" who ran a stop sign or red light, cut across traffic, was seen riding late at night without lights, etc, etc, etc. They never fail to tell me about this event, even knowing that I stop at stop signs and red lights, am well lighted at night, etc.
Liberty Lake, Washington
I find this is a two way street, as a cyclist and automobile operator I can see both sides. Unfortunately, many motorists are of the opinion that cyclists don’t pay road taxes and therefore should not use the roads. Unfortunately, many cyclists view that they have a right to use the roads regardless of how it impacts the other road users. Both sides in my estimation have lost any courtesy of others, respect for the others and basically want the situation resolved in their favor each time. This is representative of the "me" focus and "my rights" focus in our society as a whole as I see it rather than how we can be a better citizen and neighbor.
To Bob and the Velo crew,
It all in the end comes back to selfishness on everyone’s part - we all (the drivers, cyclist) care more about our own selves than just say slowing down our car and going around the cyclist or getting in single file so the driver can go around safely.
Conflict is embedded in our culture that chooses to never concede personal liberties at the expense of public and community responsibility. So we assume our own way things should be. Assumptions lead to close-calls that everyone hates, and it makes nearly anyone, no matter their character, mad as hell, even malicious and out of control.
Over the last few years I’ve only had 2 events I consider out of the ordinary rode rage events and one other that could potentially be in that category. I have seen groups of cyclist targeted and situations escalated quickly. What I notice about nearly all cases and even the ones you have written about this summer. The situation is started by a threat by a driver (in words, or actions) and for the most part the problem could have stopped there. When cyclist responds to the behavior then the situation is escalated because the aggressor doesn’t feel like their point is getting across. It’s my thought that most road rage incidents causing harm or arrest to cyclist could be avoided by neglecting to respond with a finger or hand gesture or responsive yelling at the road rage aggressor.
I just read your column, and I agree that a cyclist just cannot win in a confrontation with a motorist, and that it’s best to just not respond. As in your case, I say this through experience, having found that responding in almost any form, however righteous, never helps, and often substantially worsens the situation, leading to (at least) increased anxiety over what might happen and (sometimes) to the possibility of violence. My viewpoint now is that every motor vehicle is like the silverback gorilla, and I am like one of the lesser gorillas, and I need to exhibit respect to the silverback when he is angry and engaging in aggressive behavior toward me in order to avoid physical conflict or an escalation. Car drivers, like the silverback, will withdraw from the situation (usually just driving on their way without further incident) when responded to in this fashion.
I agree that in any conflict, the best thing a cyclist can do is to deescalate any potential road rage situation by checking, controlling and moderating our own emotions.
I have to admit that I often find this lack of response inadequate. When someone beeps or yells at me for being on the road and I don’t respond to it, what’s keeping them from buzzing me tomorrow when they see that I’m still on the road or running me off the road the day after that? Escaping the road rage trap is obviously the most important task a cyclist faces when confronted with rage - simply for reasons of safety in the face of present danger. But transforming the culture of driving is a long-term project that doesn’t address the immediate problems that cyclists face every day. In the meantime, more cyclists will be harassed, injured and killed by motorists who have already shown less severe signs of aggression towards other cyclists.
New York, New York
Very good analysis, particularly the Aggressive Competitor – I have seen this often over the years when I was commuting – as you pass a line of cars stopped at a light, stop, or yield sign, you can actually feel the tension rise amongst some of the drivers, particularly if it’s a long street with multiple lights – you pass them, they gun the accelerator by you, only to be trapped at the next light – truly a tension building experience, and one for which I do not believe is a cure --- and I would add another type of aggressive driver:
The Multi-Tasking Aggressive Errand Runner (MTAER) – replaced the Passive Engagement Volvo Station Wagon (PEVSW) and the Octogenarian Can’t See Over the Dash (OCSOD) , as the most dangerous – they run you off the road, or make you jam on the brakes and destroy the morning peloton, as they come to a stop 10 feet past the stop-sign 3 feet into the road.
The best part? You think they are out to get you - to quote Mr Miyagi, “Not at all grasshopper” – you think its personal – but you’re are just the next bump in the road – “you just don’t matter” (Bill Murray, Camp Counselor, Meatballs)
It’s the cell phone talking and texting, got the twin DVD on loud in back for the kids – where’s my pack of cigarettes, while putting on make-up – but still driving at 20 over the limit, sign and stoplight running psycho. Vehicles of choice: SUV (Large or Euro), Mini-Van, or Luxury Sedan.
You know, it’s been my observation that within the cycling community mentality as a whole, specifically, amongst the more competitively tending cyclists, Fred plus-ers or categorized, there is a lack of understanding of a greater universal principle at play here... The Law of Attraction. Only when each person looks at why they WANT or are attracting this/these situation(s) and is open to their culpability can anything hope to shift. The situation exists. There is NO WAY to shift public (car driver’s) awareness to such an extent as to heal all this challenge w/o an INNER shift.
Thanks once again to everybody who sent in their thoughts on the road rage columns-- I received many more thoughtful responses than I could print. As a final reminder, I’m looking forward to meeting as many of my readers in the Nashville area as can attend the 2008 TBRA Celebration of Champions this Saturday, September 20.
Bob (Research and drafting provided by Rick Bernardi, J.D.)
I’d like to thank everybody who has contacted me to request my appearance at their event. I will be speaking as extensively on "Bicycling & the Law" this year as my practice will allow, and will make plans to appear before any club, bike shop, or other engagement that is interested in hosting me. If you would like me to appear to speak at your event or shop, or to your club or group, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org (and if you would like to contact me with a question or comment not related to my speaking tour, please drop me a line at email@example.com). I’m looking forward to meeting as many of my readers as possible this year.
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