They’re in the way. They’re too slow. They’re taking over the road.
That’s what some drivers say about cyclists, and sometimes their impatience leads to hostility.
Some time ago Ken Adams and his buddy were cycling Glendora Mountain Road/Glendora Ridge Road, a popular cycling path in southern California, when a CHP officer buzzed by them. The SUV was about two feet away when it passed them, and later the same CHP SUV did it again, coming even closer to the cycling pair. Shortly after the second pass, the patrol vehicle turned and came at the cyclists from the front.
You can hear for yourself just what the officer had to say about his performance in this video posted in Facebook taken after the officer U-turned to have a chat.
More recent was the case in Marin County when 4 cyclists were run off the road while on a charity ride. Fortunately, a motorcycle rider heading the other way on the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road near Hicks Valley Road was wearing a video camera that captured images of the truck within seconds of the crash. Thanks to the video and social media, the police were able to capture the guy.
But this is not the end of the story. Take this striking video from a few years ago:
A 75 year old Coloradoan spent two whole minutes tailing these cyclists and blowing his horn. He could have passed them when they made space for him. If he wanted more space to pass, he could have waited for a break in the double yellow lines. Instead he slowed himself down even further, disrupting traffic as he did, in order to tail the cyclist duo. If someone had gotten hurt he could have been held responsible for any damages. As it is, he wound up fined and on probation.
And then there’s this Florida driver passed a group cyclists, then braked right in front of them. Rather than offer to help the person who fell, the driver took off. He’s incredibly fortunate the person he hit only received minor injuries; as it is the driver got a slap on the wrist.
Search in Youtube and you’ll probably find many more examples of cyclist harassment.
What to do if you’re harassed on a bike
People are hurt and killed every day because of incidents just like these. The perpetrators are not malicious so much as careless or frustrated, but it doesn’t change the damage they do. Thankfully, the persons in the examples here were caught in the act. We can take a few lessons about how to deal with similar situations from these videos.
- Don’t panic, don’t get angry, don’t engage. Instead, ask yourself what you have to do to stay safe. Put distance between yourself and the harasser. Make sure you keep your attention on the road.
- Follow the law: Traffic laws are designed to keep everyone safe, pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. Following the law is safer than not, even (or maybe especially) when the other party is not. Make sure that you know your rights and responsibilities.
- Use social media: Videos are proof of wrongdoing and can be used to either lead to an arrest or deter someone – and others – from doing it again if they are shared in social media. So use your phone to videotape the ordeal if you’re able. Some wear a GoPro on their helmets and film at all times. If you don’t have a GoPro, at least have your phone easily accessible in case you need it. Sharing it in social media can help bring awareness to the problem and hopefully put an end to it.
Punishment is secondary. Here’s what’s more important.
Finally, I want to make something very clear. This is about much more than punishment. We all have a responsibility to do what we can to keep each other safe, so how we deal with harassment on our roads is first and foremost about making it safer for cyclists.
So rather than retaliate or harass back and put yourself in further danger if you find yourself in any of these situations, use the law, perhaps social media if you have it recorded, and your own controlled response to educate these harassers that cyclists have as much right to the roads as they do.
As they say, when they go low, we go high. We can’t expect to make everyone happy, but perhaps we can quiet harassers down and make our roads a little safer.
For more information about road safety and what you can do to improve it for cyclists, visit the California Bicycle Coalition website.
Also, see the article we wrote on how the community worked to make the ride to Mt. Diablo safer for cyclists.
And if you or someone you know is involved in a cycling accident in the East Bay, please contact me for a free consultation.