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What to Do When You’re Harassed by an Auto Driver

September 16, 2020
Bicycle/Motorcycle Accidents Safety

It’s no secret that Colorado’s roads are getting busier. With spring upon us, our neighborhood roads, thoroughfares, and highways are about to be populated with bicycles and motorcycles. While these bikers (of both kinds) can seem like a distraction or impediment when you’re driving your car from A to B, they have just as much right to be on the road as you do. Of course, just like you, they need to obey Colorado’s laws and, if everyone follows the rules (keeping bicycle and motorcycle accident prevention in mind), we should all get along just fine.

That said, I believe that auto drivers have a particular responsibility to be cautious around bicyclists and motorcyclists. Why? Because your car weighs a LOT more than their bike. In any car-versus-bike accident, the car always wins. You may be annoyed when a biker causes you to slow down, but the delay will likely be brief, and you will have a safe opportunity to pass if you calm down and wait, rather than finding yourself the cause of a motorcycle accident.

Road Rage Against Bicyclists or Motorcyclists

Back in 2018, when this post was originally published, a Boulder biker captured a video of an auto driver harassing him. As you watch this video, it’s hard to understand why the driver is so angry. The bikers are following the law and he has every opportunity to pass safely. Why, then, does he sit on the bikers’ tails and honk incessantly? The egregiousness of the incident becomes most clear at approximately :40 seconds.

Luckily, the driver was ultimately charged by the Colorado State Patrol, as reported by Westword.

Sadly, it’s all too easy to find videos of drivers harassing bikers and motorcyclists. Consider the following:

In the video below, a bicyclist is threatened by the driver while trying to participate in a fundraising ride. This video is particularly scary because the passenger in the truck appears extremely unstable.

This driver harasses a biker by driving in a circle around him, using his car as a weapon. This driver was also charged by police.

An Australian bicyclist was clipped by an SUV and then charged by a man wielding a knife!

These previous videos are all showing bicyclists as the targets of road rage. One of the striking differences you will see when it comes to video of motorcyclists when targeted on the road, is that motorcyclists can, and often do, catch up to the offending auto driver to confront them. We certainly don’t advise that! As you can see from this video below, and while we don’t know what just happened prior, we can see the biker trying to get the car to pull over. As the following Inside Edition story shows, the car driver swerves into the motorcyclist:

Lesson for aggravated drivers? First and foremost, don’t ever harass bikers and motorcyclists. Ever. But for goodness sake, don’t you realize everybody has a smart phone with a video camera today?

What to Do If You’re Threatened by A Motorist

It is notoriously hard to report road rage because, despite the videos above, riders don’t often have proof of the incident. I do recommend that regular bicyclists and motorcyclists install a GoPro (or similar) camera on their helmet or bike; it can be great for bicycle and motorcycle accident prevention because it acts as a deterrent to auto drivers. This could provide the proof you need to report the incident to authorities.

But of course, a camera won’t keep you safe in the heat of an incident. If you’re on a bike or motorcycle and you are threatened by a motorist, here are the steps you should take:

  • Stay calm: Did you see the bicyclist in the video of the fundraising ride? The passenger of the truck was hanging out the window, flailing and screaming. The biker remained calm and did not engage the driver. It can be extremely difficult to stay calm when you’re being threatened, but you need to be the rational one in the encounter. Engaging with a rage-filled driver will only escalate the situation and you do not want that to happen. Auto drivers have been known to use their cars as weapons and, remember, in any car-versus-biker encounter, the car wins.
  • Call for help: You need to call the police in your city and/or the Colorado State Patrol. Dial 911 first and then, if you are on an interstate or highway, I recommend that you also use the State Patrol’s designated line to report aggressive drivers. Dial *CSP (277) and you’ll be connected with a dispatcher. The State Patrol website states, “Some examples of aggressive driving behaviors are moving violations that put other motorists at risk, such as improper lane changes, following too closely, weaving, passing on the shoulder, and speeding.” (Motorcyclists take note: You could also be reported for these offenses. If you want auto drivers to play nice, you also need to obey the law.)
  • Provide your video to authorities: If you captured the incident on camera, share it with authorities.
  • Post your video: If you have a video of the incident, post it and share it with your biker friends. They may have also had a run-in with the offending driver. For example, that video captured by the Boulder bicyclists when viral and it turned out that many other bikers had been harassed by the same biker. There is strength in numbers.
  • Avoid a confrontation at all costs: While it’s understandable you’ll be frustrated and want to stand your ground, assuming you are doing nothing wrong, avoid an accident if you can. Slow down, take the next exit or right turn, whatever it may take to hopefully get the aggressor off your back before things escalate.

I have another idea for bikers, motorcyclists and car drivers alike, but it’s a bit “touchy feely.” Apologies in advance. Let me share my idea through a true story…

What you see might not make sense — be patient anyway

At my kids’ school, we have a big issue with the afternoon carpool. The school’s campus is tiny for its population of 400+ students. At pickup, it’s madness. The campus is in the middle of a quiet neighborhood and we parents descend upon the area like flies, and I see horrible behavior abound. Other drivers who hate the school speed limit of 20 mph blast through the area with no regard for children. Parents park illegally “just for a second” as they wait for their kids. People on every sort of vehicle (two and four wheels) roll through stop signs. The school’s cross-walk volunteers take their lives in their hands to protect all the pedestrians.

I am constantly amazed at the vitriol directed at parents by bikers.

Last fall, at the beginning of the school year, our principal invited the Denver Police to come out and assess the situation. Lots of parents received warnings about their illegal parking practices (which I think is appropriate). Additionally, though, the police told the principal that the parents lining up for carpool needed to stop blocking traffic on one of the one-way side streets. The only viable location for the cars to line up was right on a bike path. That is what the police told our community to do.

Our carpool lasts approximately 15 minutes, which is not a lot of time in the grand scheme of things. However, these parents, who are doing exactly what the city police told them to do, are often screamed at and harassed by bikers. Of course, the bikers don’t know that the police authorized this practice, but I am constantly amazed at the vitriol directed at parents by bikers.

Here comes the “touchy-feely” part: I’d like for all of us to give others the benefit of the doubt. Clearly, the videos above show angry people who do not deserve the benefit of the doubt. But if you’re driving and you see a motorcyclist hovering to the back right of your car, annoying you, give him the benefit of the doubt. (Here’s why!) If you are a driver and a bicyclist seems to be swerving in and out of the shoulder or a motorcyclist cannot find a safe opening to change lanes, give her the benefit of the doubt! She may be lost or struggling with a pedal or a blind spot. It’s not personal.

If we all obey the law and give each other the benefit of the doubt, we might find that our rides – on two wheels and four – could be much less stressful, and much safer.

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