How to Handle Drivers with Road Rage

3 Smart Ways Cyclists Can Handle Drivers With Road Rage

Angry drivers are always scary but far more so when you’re on a bike. Here’s how to safely get out of a bad situation.

It’s a sad commentary that almost any cyclist can tell a story of a time when a driver was verbally or physically aggressive toward them. In fact, most of us can tell that story from a time when we were in a car, too. A 2016 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found some 80 percent of drivers expressed “significant anger, aggression, or road rage behind the wheel at least once in the past year.” What’s worse is that according to the study, an estimated eight million US drivers engaged in “extreme” road rage, such as purposely hitting another vehicle.

The difference for cyclists is that we don’t have the protection of that 3,000-pound steel and glass cage. So how should you handle things if you’re the target of an angry driver while on your bike?

Defuse the Road Rage Situation

Obviously, start by following the law, says Fort Worth Police officer Jason Young, who is also training coordinator for the Law Enforcement Bicycle Association. “Some motorists want to see cyclists do something wrong so they can gripe about it,” he says.

But often, cyclists are doing nothing wrong and are still prime targets for driver anger. A survey of 1,000 drivers in Britain by an e-bike retailer found 39 percent of respondents admitted to getting angry with a cyclist (often because of incorrect beliefs about cyclists’ rights to the road).

It might feel good to flip the bird or yell at a driver who cut you off or did something aggressive with his car. But it might legally make you the instigator and can certainly escalate an already-volatile situation. You have no idea what’s going on in that driver’s head. And you have no idea whether they’re armed, for instance. A study of Gun Violence Archive data by thetrace.org showed that incidences of gun violence in road rage altercations more than doubled from 2014 to 2016. In 2016, the data showed 620 incidents where a road rager brandished a gun or fired it.

Whether a driver is packing or just pissed, it doesn’t really matter. “You’re at a disadvantage in so many ways,” says Young. “Discretion is always the better part of valor.” If you’re verbally confronted (even if the accusation is wrong), don’t argue, says Young.

Megan Hottman, a longtime cyclist and attorney in Golden, Colorado who focuses exclusively on cycling cases, goes further and says not to even engage.

“I have never heard of a situation where a cyclist’s tone helped reverse things,” she says. “I’ve never seen it go from bad to good.”

Disengage From a Road Rage Conflict

For Hottman, the best tactic is just to get out. “Get to a place of safety,” she says. “If the person is exiting the vehicle (to confront you), ride away. There’s never a circumstance where it benefits you to stay present.”

Hottman says she’s jumped up on the sidewalk and done U-turns to get away from aggressive drivers. She also looks for potential witnesses. Their presence might help deter the driver from getting violent, but they’re also valuable if law enforcement gets involved. “If it’s just your word against the driver, the police likely won’t take action, but even one independent witness will be enough for them to make contact (with the driver),” she says. If you ride with a POV camera, that footage can be helpful, but police and courts won’t always consider it as evidence.

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