How to Protect Yourself and Prevent a Collision with an Angry Driver
An unfortunate truth about riding your bike, especially in urban environments like San Francisco, is that if you ride often enough, you’ll likely someday encounter an aggressive driver who takes a negative road interaction just a little bit too far — or who is aggressive to you simply for riding your bike at all.
And while a bad interaction with a driver can be scary and stressful, it’s important to realize that there are things you can do to keep yourself safe — both before an incident (to keep it from escalating), and during an incident to prevent a dangerous crash.
To protect yourself from an angry driver, keep these steps in mind every time you get on your bike in the city.
Obey all traffic laws and be aware of your surroundings
Traffic laws exist to keep everyone safe, by making traffic flow smoothly and helping people know what to expect from the vehicles around them. Whenever you on your bike, one of the most important things you can do is to be predictable — and obeying laws makes you predictable.
If you see a stop sign, stop. If you’re going to make a turn, use a hand signal.
As a cyclist, you can also protect yourself by being aware of the traffic flowing around you and keeping an eye on cars that could come into your path, or that you might end up interacting with at an upcoming intersection. If you can predict a problem, you have time to find ways to avoid it.
Clearly communicate with drivers
Many crashes happen because a driver or a cyclist does something the other person (or people) involved wasn’t expecting. If you find yourself approaching an intersection, turn, or merge where you’ll possibly be crossing paths with a car or fellow cyclist, do you best to visually communicate with them before you get there, so that everyone has warning.
Using hand signals for turns and stops is a good start, but even better is making eye contact with the driver. If you can’t catch a nearby driver’s eye, try waving. There’s no need to be aggressive; just a friendly wave to let them know you are there, and if appropriate, you can point or use hand signals to let them know what’s coming up.
Don’t engage with an angry driver
Despite your best efforts to be clear and proactive, you may still encounter a driver who’s having a bad day and is dead-set on having a negative interaction. Occasionally (though not very often), you might encounter a driver who is angry to be dealing with a cyclist at all, who is looking for trouble.
Either way, in a road rage situation, realize that you are not dealing with a rational person. No matter who was at fault for whatever incident kicked off their rage (or if they just perceived a fault on your part), this is not a situation where you can reason with them. The key, first and foremost, is your safety.
As frustrating and scary as it can be to have a driver yell or honk at you, do not return their sentiment. Instead, continue riding if you can safely; otherwise, pull over and stop.
If you absolutely cannot pull over or continue riding safely, communicate again with the driver by signalling with your hand or voice to help you both navigate the street safely.
If a confrontation is escalating, remember that it is not cowardly to keep yourself safe. If a driver looks like they are going to stop and get out of their car, ride away — don’t stop and engage in a pointless shouting match. You never know who you’re dealing with, and someone angry enough to pull over might be angry enough to do you harm.
During/after the incident, record as many details as you can
If at all possible, try to note (or even photograph) the driver’s license plate. In the event that you have suffered any injuries, or the incident does turn into an altercation or a crash, this will help you track down the driver even if they flee the scene.
If your bike or any other property has been damaged, take photos of that as well. If there were witnesses, try to get their version of the story and get their contact information.
If you live in an area where you encounter stressed out, angry drivers often, consider mounting a small camera (like a GoPro) on the handlebars of your bike. In the event you are in a crash, this will help you document evidence that you might otherwise not be able to capture in the moment, like the driver’s license plate or erratic behavior before the collision.
Keep yourself safe from angry drivers
As a cyclist, a bad interaction with a driver is far more dangerous for you than it is to the driver who is encased in literally tons of steel. The best way to keep yourself safe is to make sure you are being a proactive part of the traffic flow and making sure there are no surprises; while that can’t save you from the stressed, erratic driver having a bad day, it can make a world of difference in most cases.
And when you do encounter a bad, angry driver, remember to keep your own safety as your top priority, no matter how good it might feel to yell back at the driver.
If you’ve had a crash caused by an angry driver, get in touch with us and tell us about it; you could be owed compensation for their recklessness. Get in touch with our team and speak with a bicycle law specialist attorney today: (415) 466-8717.