How To Deal With An Angry Driver When You’re On Your Bike
“Spend enough time bike commuting and eventually it’ll happen to you: a passing motorist, irked by your riding style or mere existence on the road, will attempt to engage,” writes Caitlin Giddings at Bicycling.com.
No matter how well behaved you are on your bike, if you are cycling through town often, you are most likely at some point going to encounter a driver who isn’t too happy to be sharing the road with you.
And unfortunately, even if you aren’t the one to start the altercation, it is up to you to choose to react in a way that will keep you safe, both physically and legally. “As cyclists,” Giddings notes, “We’re in the far more vulnerable position in these conflicts, so staying safe—and not escalating with a response—should be your top priority.”
So what should you do if you’re faced with an aggressive driver while on your bike?
“Recognize that you’re not going to change the motorist’s mind by engaging in a street-side yelling match…no matter how many witty retorts you’ve got locked and loaded,” Giddings advises.
Even though being yelled at through the window of a car is startling and frustrating, choosing to retaliate and yell back will rarely get you anywhere. In fact, choosing to engage an already angry driver could cause the situation to escalate from a few mean words out a car window to a full-on fight that ends with hospital stays and police charges.
If you can, try your best to ignore it. If you know that you were obeying all traffic laws and not doing anything wrong to this driver, try to let their comments roll of your back knowing that they are just making themselves angry and ruining their own day. Meanwhile, you’re enjoying fresh air on your face, a great workout, and you’re doing a great service to the environment.
Take the high road
If you can’t help but respond to an angry driver, keep it positive.
When faced with a driver who is yelling or honking at you for something meaningless like the sheer frustration at being stuck in traffic, offering them a friendly smile and wave allows you to respond in a way that doesn’t retaliate with the same negativity. Some cyclists even do a thumbs up, but be careful not to appear snarky or insincere — you might just make a frustrated driver even more annoyed, which isn’t a safe situation for you.
If you were doing something that you know caused their reaction — if you weren’t fully obeying traffic laws or startled the driver by pulling into traffic without looking or signalling — don’t underestimate the power of acknowledging their feelings. If you scared them or surprised them, a quick “sorry!” and a friendly wave can de-escalate their feelings and show them that cyclists are actually respectful neighbors on the road who are just doing their best, just like the drivers.
If it escalates, try to get evidence and then get away
“So what should you do if a driver gets out of his or her car?” Giddings asks. “…remember it’s not cowardly to flee a confrontation you didn’t invite. And while yelling at people on the street is generally legal, if you feel physically threatened, get to someplace safe and call the police. Make sure to have a description of the vehicle ready, including the license plate number, if you can get it.”
The more evidence that you can document before you have the flee, the strong your potential future case against this driver will be.
Key information to get, if you can, would be a description of the driver, the license plate, and any reports from witnesses who saw the altercation. Calling the police is also a good idea, so you have an official police report filed, which strengthens your case far more than simply describing the fight to a lawyer or insurance company later.
Keep recording equipment on your bike
Many cyclists who commute every day, or who ride in particularly bike-unfriendly cities, choose to keep recording equipment (like GoPro cameras) on their bikes or helmets. That way, if an altercation does escalate, you will have legal documentation of the incident which you can use in court later.
With any legal case, the more evidence and documentation that you have, the more likely you are to have a strong case that you can win. Of course, having physical injuries from an altercation with an angry driver is a worst case scenario that you should first try to avoid if you can; however, if it escalates beyond your control, you will want records of the incident to bring a legal case later on.
Cycle friendly and be prepared
Most of the time, cyclists and drivers can share the road without any frustration, and that should be your goal every time you get on your bike. By having a positive attitude and obeying all traffic laws, you can keep yourself safe and also help the drivers around you to stop seeing bicycles as nuisances, and instead, to see them as fellow vehicles on the road.
You should never get on your bike looking for a fight, but if you do encounter an angry driver, being prepared to respond effectively and keep yourself safe will help improve your life and the lives of every other cyclist on the road with you.