Sunday, March 1, 2009

Buzzed, Run Over, Then Ticketed

No it didn't happen to me, thankfully, but it is happening to a fellow cyclist. You can read the whole story here, but I wanted to give it a mention because I think cyclists everywhere need to know about it.

Briefly, a guy in Oregon, the state, not the city in WI, gets buzzed by an SUV and waves the guy back to talk to him. (I've done this many times, sometimes with great success and others with no success). The driver curses out the rider, the rider walks away smacking the drivers mirror on the way, the driver then intentionally drives toward the cyclist hitting and injuring him, then leaves the scene. Almost a week later, after pushing for the felony charges the driver deserves, the cyclist receives a ticket with a minimum fine of $5000.

I think we all need to know about this situation for 2 reasons. We can all learn some things from this cyclist's experience. He has said he learned this first lesson, potentially at a very high cost. The lesson is, always try to de-escalate the situation, never do things that are likely to further irritate the idiot driver who already came close to hitting you once. On the occasions that I've tried to talk to dangerous motorists and been very friendly and even introduced myself with a smile, I almost always get a calmer more receptive driver to listen as I explain about the rights of cyclists.
I know it's hard after a driver almost made roadkill out of you, but if you take the high road, you are more likely to get your point across to the driver. Even if they won't listen to reason, you are the calm, rational one, if or when the police need to become involved.

Maybe try to imagine that the person who just ran you off the road was your grandma and you have to try to make her understand why her actions were dangerous.

The second lesson is the same as the first it just deals with different people. Unfortunately, (and this is just based my experience, and maybe this guy's situation), when you call the police about any traffic incident involving a bike, their initial reaction will often be to blame the bike rider for the trouble.

The lesson to be learned here is the same as above. You have to take the high road.
You should realize going in that things might not go your way, but be very nice and polite to the responding officer. If things don't go your way with him/her, there's always his/her Superior officers. You'll almost never be able to make your case to an unfriendly cop on the street. You might be able to convince a superior officer you're right later, but not if you are a jerk to the first cop you talk to.

Anyone who knows me knows that I don't always follow my own advice, but I'm getting better each time I have a run in with motorist. Thankfully I haven't been run over yet, intentionally or otherwise, but anyone who rides as much as I do could find themselves in this kind of situation. Hopefully things improve for this cyclist and it works out for him in the end.


Anonymous said...

Great blog Jeff. I've often thought of the possibility of rigging my ride with a camera to catch negligent or violent drivers.

I'm sure you would agree that it is very important to keep your cool if you have a run-in with a crappy or violent driver. Cops seem to lose all sympathy, in my experience, once the cyclist has done something to escalate the situation.

Keep up the good work. Don't get discouraged. We need people like you out there.

M Thyer said...


Thanks for doing something that I’ve often considered doing myself. The cameras may need to become an integrated accessory on the bikes of the future just so there’s some sort of record of the crap cyclists are forced to put up with on a regular basis.

Between 2002 and 2007 I lived a mostly carfree lifestyle. Living in and around Seattle, WA made this change more manageable and the bicycle infrastructure that’s part of this city allowed me to go many places with little or no contact with cagers. But nearly every day I found I needed to spend at least some time on a public road surface. Like yourself, I did my very best to be visible, often lighting myself and my bike with enough LEDs to make the rear end of a semi-tractor trailer visible from miles away.

In that time I regularly encountered the full range of negligent to malignant cagers as well as my unfair share of tossed drinks and the like from moving vehicles. In 2005 I was T-boned by a driver who ran a red light while turning across my lane.

The simple truth is that there are cyclists that are killed and nothing is ever done about it because there is a misperception that we are our vehicles. It’s easy for an individual sitting in a car to look out over the dash and dehumanize all the other vehicles nearby. The vehicles become the target of the driver’s frustration and rage, but there’s often never any consequence to this because most drivers wouldn’t normally act upon this. The consequences of such an action would probably result in the property damage to the driver’s car after all, and really this is just an extension of the self.

Bicyclists are easy targets however because we’re slower and have considerably less mass than anything else on the road. A frustrated and belligerent driver irritated at whatever can easily view us as a target of opportunity simply by mentally choosing to make the man and the machine the object of their irritation.

I stopped riding for a while starting in the spring of 2007. Too many close calls, broken bikes, visits to the hospital and never any support from the police in that supposedly “bicycle friendly” city. I’m back in the saddle again this year and for the most part really enjoying myself. But all that will change the first time a slightly disturbed driver decides to “teach” me a lesson.

The camera idea is a happy medium between nothing at all and some sort of more active defense.