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Just back away

Life in the Bike Lane column
By: Tom Frady
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A 2016 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found about 80 percent of drivers expressed “significant anger, aggression or road rage” at least once in the past year. Eight million drivers participated in “extreme” road rage, such as hitting another vehicle on purpose.

Yikes.

Almost any cyclist can relate more than one story when a driver was verbally or physically aggressive toward them.  As bad as this can be driver to driver, a cyclist doesn’t have the protection that a driver has in his car. 

As a bike rider, what can you do to safely handle these situations?

First, and most important: follow the law. I am convinced some drivers hope for a violation so they can at least crab about people on bikes.  Running stop signs is the No. 1 anger producer, of course, but there are plenty of examples of both the casual bike rider and the experienced cyclist violating the law. 

If you are going to be yelled at, there is some satisfaction in knowing you were in the right.

Some of the anger comes from the drivers not knowing or understanding the vehicle code as it pertains to bicycles, so when they encounter a bike in the traffic lane (often legal) they yell, “Get on the sidewalk where you belong” (often illegal).  A cyclist doing nothing wrong can still be the object of wrath. 

There may be some of you cyclists out there (OK, there are some of you cyclists out there) whose go-to move is to flip off the driver and/or yell something clever. 

Don’t do it. It is possible that this could make you legally liable should the situation escalate and it could easily make an already volatile scene much worse. Plus some drivers are packing heat.

It is better to back off.  If verbally confronted, don’t argue, even if you are right. You are at a disadvantage in more ways than one. It is unlikely that anything you could say would make the situation go from bad to good. 

It is best to just leave the area. Ride to an area of safety if you can, especially if the driver is getting out of his/her vehicle. 

If it is safe and you have time, note the make, model or license number of the vehicle.  If the driver is a serial harasser, it is good to make a record of it, even if law enforcement does not respond to your event.

You will never outrun a car in a straight line but you are more nimble.  Use alleys, stairs and/or a business lobby to get away from an angry driver. 

I go through this fantasy in my head on occasion:  after being yelled at, we happen to meet the driver at our donut stop.  I approach him and politely say, “You yelled something at our group back there a ways.  As a ride leader, I want us all to be better and safer riders.  Could you tell me what we did wrong, so I can discuss it with my mates and make sure we don’t do it again?”

In my fantasy, he is so taken aback he apologizes profusely, promises to be a better person and buys us all a crumb donut. 

The best driver and the best cyclist will, at times, do something dumb.  Don’t make it worse. 

Tom Frady is a Lincoln resident and avid cyclist and driver.