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Street Sense: Road Rage and Cyclists

The rate of cyclists in the Bay Area is increasing rapidly for a bevy of reasons, but that doesn’t mean our streets are always the friendliest of places for people on bicycles. Road rage is still an unfortunate occurrence for many. 

This February, more than a dozen cyclists riding in the East Bay Bike Party experienced “dooring” attacks by drivers who swung their car doors into cyclists with the intention of hurting or intimidating them. In all, 14 people were targeted and two suffered serious injuries, according to local reporting

Other similar attacks happened days later in Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland and Rockridge.

For anybody who regularly takes to the street on their bicycle, this news might not have come as a big surprise, even though the attacks themselves were brazen. Studies across the world have found that many drivers look down on cyclists and some even act to intimidate them on the road.

One 2019 Australian study found that 17 percent of drivers had used their car to deliberately block a car, 11 percent had purposefully driven close to a cyclist and 9 percent say they had cut off a cyclist. An astonishing 55 percent of study participants who hadn’t ridden a bicycle in the last year rated cyclists as “not being completely human” and diminishing them to “cockroaches.” 

Even some of those participants that had been on a bicycle in the past year, around 30 percent, also saw cyclists as pests on the road. Those feelings can quickly lead to more hostile roads.

“When you don’t think someone is ‘fully’ human, it’s easier to justify hatred or aggression towards them. This can set up an escalating cycle of resentment,” lead researcher Alexa Delbosc said of the findings. “If cyclists feel dehumanized by other road users, they may be more likely to act out against motorists, feeding into a self-fulfilling prophecy that further fuels dehumanization against them. Ultimately we want to understand this process so we can do a better job at putting a human face to people who ride bikes, so that hopefully we can help put a stop to the abuse.”

Because Bay Area Bicycle Law is the only personal injury law firm based in Northern California that specializes exclusively in representing injured bicyclists, our attorneys regularly see cases where road rage or an intentional act played a role in a crash or accident that leads to an injury. Years of advocacy for injured cyclists have seasoned our attorneys with the necessary skills to handle bicycle accidents cases with the level of professional expertise. Reach out for a free consultation right away. 

Steer clear of hostile drivers

For some aggressive drivers, merely existing on the road is enough to send them into a fit — as it seems was the case with the East Bay Bike Party riders — but there are some ways you can avoid instances of confrontation. While they may seem obvious, having these tips in the back of your mind might help you evade a potentially dangerous situation. 

  1. Be visible: Remember to wear reflective gear, bright clothing and outfit your bike with the proper lights (subject to California law) to ensure that drivers can see you. This is especially important at night when drivers are less likely to see you. 
  2. Stay alert: Stay aware of the drivers around you. Many times drivers who aren’t paying attention, even when you’re acting in the right, can cause a dangerous scenario. Stay alert and avoid interactions altogether. 
  3. Be prepared: Wear protective gear, such as a helmet and proper clothing. In the event a driver does act out toward you, you’ll have some barrier between you and a potential broken bone, traumatic brain injury or road rash. Remember to also bring a cell phone so that you can call for help if it’s an emergency. If it’s possible, mount a camera to your helmet. This may help you build a case.

Know your rights

While you can report drivers for acts of road rage to police, there isn’t a criminal statute specifically against “road rage” in California. Instead, a driver can be charged with crimes like assault, battery or reckless driving. How the driver acts and threatens you may determine what they can be charged with and how severe their punishment is.

Depending on whether you’re injured and where, you may have additional legal protections.

In some municipalities there are vulnerable road user laws, which aim to protect people who travel by foot or bike. For the most part, these laws increase fines and civil liability for drivers who seriously injure cyclists or pedestrians, or who put others on the road at risk. 

In the last decade, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Sunnyvale, Sebastopol and Santa Rosa have all adopted anti-harassment ordinances, which protect bikers from “intentional threats, assaults, or harassment by motorists.” This is in addition to negligence, which is essentially unintentional but careless behavior, under which most personal injury claims are brought.

Report your case

If you are injured or it’s an emergency, you should call 911 right away. Get out of traffic as quickly as you can to avoid being hit. 

In cases where you aren’t injured, it may still be a good idea to contact authorities. Every year, bicycle accidents, especially those that involve a vehicle driver, go unreported, so it’s impossible to know how prevalent they are. Reporting these incidents may encourage law enforcement to ramp up patrol in a certain area or encourage local leaders to build new bicycle-friendly infrastructure, which help separate cyclists from traffic, creating a friendlier environment. 

When you are involved in an accident with a hostile driver, contact an attorney from Bay Area Bicycle Law who knows specifically how to navigate all bike-related case challenges. They’ll work with you and get you the help and compensation you need for your recovery.