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Avoid a Bike Accident: How To Handle Roadside Conflict


Riding your bike in the city unfortunately sometimes means confrontation with pedestrians, fellow cyclists, and especially drivers who aren’t too happy to see you on “their” roads. These factors often put cyclists at risk for a bike accident in San Francisco.

In many cases, these altercations can be alleviated with a little bit of clear communication; more often than not, drivers who honk or yell at cyclists do it because they had a near-miss or other scary situation with you — maybe they almost hit you turning into the bike lane or felt like you merged in front of them with no warning — and their first reaction is to yell that it’s your fault. A simple wave or signal clarifying your path can often de-escalate the situation almost instantly.

But sometimes, confrontations on the street are a little bit more complicated.

Sometimes a driver is in a bad mood, or has a serious bias against cyclists, and they will actively seek out cyclists to honk at, tailgate, cut off — whatever they can think of.

Sometimes a police officer will pull you over because they believe you were breaking a rule of the road, and they intend to give you a ticket.

Needless to say, getting harassed by a driver or being given a ticket by the police is a pretty stressful situation, and can escalate into an all-out conflict if you aren’t careful. And for cyclists, a roadside conflict can end badly.

Why you should avoid conflict when you’re on your bike

As a cyclist, it is rarely in your best interest to engage in a roadside conflict, either with an angry driver or a police officer whose ticket you disagree with.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that, on your bike, you are incredibly vulnerable. This is particularly true if the person you are having conflict with is in a car.

No one really expects an angry driver to use their car as a weapon or to get out of their vehicle ready to throw a punch (or worse), but unfortunately, it does happen. And as a cyclist, you have very little protection or options to get out of their way on short notice.

The second reason to avoid conflict, especially when dealing with the police, is that you are affecting how that person will think about and deal with cyclists long after your personal conflict is over.

The sad fact is that every negative interaction an anti-cyclist person has with a cyclist just goes to confirm their existing feelings, which in turn, causes them to continue to have negative interactions with cyclists. However, being cooperative and conciliatory can influence someone’s opinion about cyclists for the better — or at least make them think twice about seeking out conflict with a cyclist in the future.

How to handle an angry driver and avoid a bike accident

An angry driver usually doesn’t strike without warning, so always keep your eyes on the cars around you as you ride to see if there are any where the driver seems aggressive or erratic.

If you encounter a driver who is targeting you, try your best to not engage them. Don’t yell back or give them the finger; just keep going. If they persist, try a friendly wave and smile while navigating yourself out of their way as much as possible.

If they continue to pursue you, do what you can to get away from them. On a bike, you have very little protection or opportunity to defend yourself, so getting away is your best bet for safety.

If you cannot get away from them, call the police and do everything you can do document evidence. Take a photo of their car and license plate, or take a video on your phone of the altercation. If you cannot get to your phone, ask a witness to call the police for you.

Make sure to give a statement to the police, if the situation is serious enough for them to be called. If you aren’t able to give your report on the scene, call the police station afterwards and ask to add your statement to the record. Not only will this ensure the police have the most accurate records possible, but you will want your side documented in the event you should pursue a lawsuit against the driver.

Likewise, if you discover after the fact that you sustained an injury from your conflict with the driver that you didn’t realize at the scene, you will also want that added to the report, even if you already gave your statement. The record should be as complete as possible in order to protect you in the future.

How to handle a police officer giving you a ticket

Nobody likes getting a ticket, especially if you don’t feel like you were doing anything wrong. But whether or not you actually did break the law, it’s almost always in your best interest to work with the officer and accept the ticket, rather than fighting it right there on the street.

Why? Because once a police officer has decided to give you a ticket, they aren’t likely to change their mind.

Think about it from their perspective for a minute. If you are writing someone a ticket for breaking a law, and they start yelling at you or saying you are wrong, does that make you want to listen to them? No — if anything, it makes you more determined that they are wrong.

Instead, if you feel you are being ticketed incorrectly, you can try to explain the situation to them briefly and without getting emotional. If they are already writing you a ticket, though, you are much better off following the rules and, instead, accepting the ticket and fighting it in court. If the officer was incorrect, you can prove it there — where your argument will have more of an impact than it would standing on the sidewalk.

And if you did break the law, and you and the police officer both know it, just accept the ticket. Remember, every time you do the right thing, you are serving as an ambassador for the cycling community and helping everyone have an easier time on the road.

Ride safely out there!

Hopefully every ride you go on will be safe and free of conflict. However, if you get into a situation where you feel unsafe due to an angry driver or you feel you have been unfairly targeted for a violation or if you get into a bike accident, Bay Area Bicycle Law can help. Call us today for a free, no obligation consultation to discuss your case: 415-466-8717.