How Cyclists Should Deal With Road Rage Drivers

How Cyclists Should Deal With Road Rage Drivers. Photo Credit: Shutterstock Photo by Shutterstock

All it takes is 20 minutes of bike commuting in rush hour traffic to witness how cars bring out the very worst of human nature. Speeding, honking, tailgating, red-light running, and aggressive lane changes are more prevalent than ever. Road rage has risen right alongside our anxiety about the pandemic, political turmoil, and our other existential fears such as war, climate catastrophe, the loss of civil rights, and artificial intelligence. These fully legitimate fears are heightened by our addiction to phones and social media designed to show us only the most click-bate-worthy posts and terrifying news articles. Many people don't have a healthy outlet for their anxiety, and end up taking it out on others—spouses, children, family members, friends, co-workers, and complete strangers, particularly those they do not have to encounter face-to-face. As such, the roads are becoming increasingly dangerous, and as cyclists—road users who can't enact retribution on a driver going by at 50 miles an hour—we bear the brunt of the worst road rage violence.

Examples of Road Rage Directed at Cyclists

Cyclists and pedestrians are the easiest victims for road rage drivers to inflict fear upon because slower-moving vulnerable road users can't retaliate or catch up in most cases. As a cyclist, you may have likely experienced one of, or just about all of, the following types of road rage:

  • Unnecessary or excessive honking
  • Buzzing (intentionally passing a cyclist too closely)
  • Unnecessarily speeding up or revving the engine to pass a cyclist
  • Swerving toward a cyclist or otherwise using the vehicle as a weapon
  • Yelling out the window at a cyclist while passing
  • Throwing objects at a cyclist or squirting them with window wiper fluid
  • Intentionally pulling out from a side street or making a turn in front of a cyclist when it is unsafe to do so
  • Rolling coal (intentionally spitting exhaust into the face of a cyclist, often with the use of a specially modified diesel engine)

What NOT to Do as a Cyclist When Confronted With a Road Rage Driver

When your safety is threatened, the automatic human responses are fight, flight, or freeze. As adrenaline courses through your body and blood is further redirected from your brain to your muscles, thinking clearly and rationally can be incredibly difficult. Many cyclists' first response to being buzzed is to give the middle finger—the equivalent of honking at the driver. This, of course, only increases the chance of something going terribly wrong, such as the driver stomping on the brakes or swerving into you. Even if you, like the road rage driver, were encased in two tons of steel instead of being completely vulnerable, retaliation, no matter how minimal, is not a logical response. When confronted by a person who, in a split second decision, might decide to make an attempt on your life, it is best to bottle your outrage. The best advice for cyclists is the same for those behind a wheel—don't make the situation any worse by retaliating or provoking the road rage driver into further acts of aggression or violence.

Tips for Calming Yourself Down

Deep down, we all know that we shouldn't "overreact" by showing outrage at an aggressive driver's behavior, but actually remaining overtly calm as it happens is much harder than it sounds. Your very life was just threatened, after all. A few tips that work for some of us include:

  1. Counting slowly to five before deciding to respond in any way
  2. Visualizing what might happen if you reacted harshly and the driver decided to double down by coming back at you, or pulling out a firearm
  3. Imagining how bad the driver's life must be compared to your own for them to act that way to a complete stranger
  4. Remembering why you chose to ride a bike today—for fun, for exercise, for relaxation, to reduce your carbon footprint, to be outdoors, and to be an example for others. Screaming back at the driver or giving the finger diminishes everything you set out the door to accomplish.
With practice, it becomes easier and easier to let these aggressive acts roll off your shoulders, at least in the moment, which is the key to maximizing your own safety and getting home in one piece.

Tips for Handling a Road Rage Driver Who Refuses to Leave You Alone

The first thing you need to keep in mind is to refrain from yelling back, giving the finger, or doing anything that can be seen as retaliation, such as blowing kisses or even waving back at the driver, which we all know is actually a taunt, not a true attempt at disarmament. But aggressive driving doesn't always end with a honk or a close pass. Some road rage drivers continue harassing, refusing to leave the cyclist alone. A road rage driver may follow behind a cyclist or a group of cyclists while laying on the horn, even if they have time and room to make a pass. Drivers have been known to get in front of cyclists to block the road, either by stopping in the center of it or by driving slowly, swerving from the yellow center line to the shoulder and back again. Drivers may actually get out of their vehicle at a stop sign and confront the cyclist face to face. In all of these scenarios, simply riding on as if nothing out of the ordinary was going on may not only be impossible, but unwise. Here are some things to do that might be helpful:

  1. If a driver refuses to pass while they lay on the horn, look for a safe place to pull off the road. Being just a few car lengths in front of a road rage driver is not where you want to be.
  2. If a driver passes you and applies the brakes, attempting to block you, keep a safe distance because their next act may be to slam on the brakes to make you collide with them. Pulling off the road and coming to a full stop is your best option in this scenario.
  3. If a driver gets out of their vehicle, you are now in a position where assault is a likely outcome. If you have a phone on you with reception, call 911 immediately. Do whatever you can to deescalate the situation. Wave down other drivers or other people in the area for help. Back away from the road rage driver if possible, but do not turn your back to them. If the driver attacks you, try to keep your bike between you and the driver, and do whatever is necessary to protect yourself.
It should also be noted that if a road rage driver pulls off the side of the road ahead of you and gets out of their vehicle, it may not be in your best interest to ride around them and continue on, because now they will once again be behind you when they get back in their vehicle (you don't want to put your life in the hands of this type of person). It completely depends on the situation, but you may be better off turning around and riding the other direction, down a side street, up onto the sidewalk, or into a parking lot, all the while keeping an eye out behind you—the driver will at least have to make a U-turn, at which point you should get off your bike and move well off the road, and get your phone out to call 911.

Call Colorado Bike Crash Attorney Brad Tucker

Whether the driver who hit you was late to work, had just been in an argument with their significant other, or had simply been in a state of anxiety after reading the news that morning, they had no excuse for driving aggressively and putting your life at risk. To seek full damages from the at-fault party, call Brad Tucker at Colorado Bike Law today at 303.694.9300 to schedule a free consultation.