Monday, August 18, 2014

Car vs Bicycle: Reporting Aggressive and Dangerous Behaviors

Riding on the roads, I have grown used to a certain level of harassment by motorists. While I don't think it is acceptable behavior (and often illegal), it's easy to become complacent when minor incidents occur because these incidents become increasingly common the more time I spend on two-wheels. Incidents that typically take place are drivers intentionally blowing smoke on me (like diesel trucks), people yelling obscenities through windows/honking at me, and other seemingly small attempts to intimidate. For the record, intimidation doesn't work on me. In fact, it really just gets my blood boiling and generally causes me to be even more determined to stand my ground. I know very well I'm not doing anything illegal or for that matter that is even impeding the flow of traffic, so some motorists attempts to scare me do nothing but set me out on a mission.

The most recent incident that took place was while heading home from a training ride. Sam and I were riding on local city streets, working our way back to the house. On one of the roads we travel, there is no bike lane, however there are two lanes in each direction with a turning lane running down the center of the street. The lane a bicycle would use to travel is quite wide and could definitely have a bike lane, though it doesn't currently exist. We always ride far to the right, giving more than enough space for motorists to easily pass us while still leaving several feet between us and them.
*Image from Google maps
As I led the way down the street, Sam and I weren't really chatting as we were both tired and ready to be home. All of a sudden I heard Sam yelling, "Hey! Hey! Hey!" from behind me as I turned my head to see a car slowing and veering into my left side. At first, I was smiling because I thought perhaps it was someone we knew who was simply overly excited to see us and not really aware of how close they were getting to my bike, but then quickly changed my mind as I realized this person was attempting to run me off the road. I hit the brakes as the driver came far too close to striking my left side, and heard the passenger yelling, "Look out!" and laughing as they drove away.

I was shaken, but angry. I quickly made note of their license plate and started repeating it out loud. I repeated it to Sam so I'd have back up as well. I told him we were going by the police station before we went home to file a report. Thank goodness for 6-character license plates here in Colorado. At least I wouldn't have to remember many digits.

It was Sunday, and as we pulled up to the police station, things looked very quiet. I immediately recorded the license plate in a note on my phone so as not to confuse myself, and we walked in to the lobby. The only means of contacting a human appeared to be a phone with minimal instructions on how to contact a dispatcher. The woman who answered was extremely short-tempered and I felt the volume in my voice rising as I tried to explain that all I wanted was an officer to take a report of an incident that had just taken place in town between a car and a bicycle (for the record, I was apparently getting so elevated that Sam could hear me from inside the men's restroom that was several dozen yards away). Eventually, the dispatcher told me that no officers were in the building and to sit in the lobby and wait for one to arrive.

And wait we did. We waited, and waited some more. Mind you, we don't live in Los Angeles, or New York, or even Denver for that matter. To get completely across town in a car should take no more than about 10-15 minutes. The longer we sat waiting the more I went over everything in my mind. I realized that the likelihood of an officer doing anything about what had happened was slim to none. What proof did I have of intention of the motorist? No one was actually physically harmed from anything that had taken place. All I had was a license plate number and a brief verbal encounter. Still, he had broken the law by not giving 3-feet of space while passing. If nothing else, he should receive a warning for that alone.

Eventually, we gave up waiting for an officer to show up. We were both hungry and tired. Worst of all, I really felt as though the motorist had won... and man, it really pissed me off. I went home and kept thinking and talking. I asked local cyclists if they had any connections at the police department. I researched other means of reporting dangerous drivers. I vented to relatives -- who really didn't understand what I was so upset about. After all (as they argued), what had the driver really done to me?

Since I'd posted my inquiry about a contact with the PD on a Facebook cycling group, it was interesting to see one response from an individual who stated, "I've had luck e-mailing them [the PD] (didn't like the answer I got, but I did get an answer)." That wasn't really giving me hope, but eventually I did get an e-mail contact from a cyclist who stated his contact was in charge of the City's Traffic Division, and he is also a cyclist. Trying to remain undeterred by the initial comment, I sent off an e-mail with the details of what took place to the individual.

It's still early on in my communications, and I don't have resolution by any means, but I doubt I will get it. More than likely, at most, a report will be written and filed away somewhere, and that is about all I can expect.
This local story went viral after two cyclists were being harassed for miles by a motorist.
*Image found here
One of the things that seems to be so challenging to express to law enforcement is the fact that while I was unharmed, this is extremely dangerous behavior on the part of the motorist. Had this been a child or someone with less experience on the roads - or, had I just made one very slight move in the wrong direction - there could have been far more devastating results. No one wants to feel as though s/he is putting his/her life in jeopardy simply by riding a bicycle. Whether motorists like it or not, a bicycle being pedaled is part of traffic. We were riding well out of the way of faster vehicles, and even if we'd been in the lane completely, there was another lane that could easily be used if the motorist was wanting to travel at faster speeds.

I could theorize for hours about what the intention was of the motorist, if he was high or drunk, or if he was simply trying to use intimidation to scare us off the road. I will likely never have an answer. What I do hope will come of this is (at minimum) more awareness. I hope that other cyclists will find ways to report drivers engaging in similar behavior, and I definitely don't want to see or hear about someone being injured or dying on the roadways because a motorist finds it amusing to use his/her vehicle as a weapon.

What I have learned since the incident is that there is a way to report dangerous drivers on the road right away for those here in Colorado. Simply pull over, dial *277 from your cell, and have the vehicle plates and all the information from the incident that took place. If you follow the link, there is a list of what is considered dangerous behavior, but it includes road rage, tailgating, not giving you your space on the road, throwing objects, and so forth. I have no idea what will come of reporting a matter here, but I am programming the number into my phone so that if there is anything that happens on the road I have a means of reporting the incident right away.

If you don't know your local contact, I would highly suggest finding it before an incident takes place. Take a few minutes now to do the research and have it handy should the need ever arise on the road. Have you experienced or witnessed incidents of aggression, harassment or intimidation on the road? Were you (or the cyclist) able to find any sort of resolution? If you reported the incident, who did you talk to? Were they responsive?

10 comments:

  1. Thanks for the post. It is a good reminder that our old fashioned notion that we can call the police, or drop into the station to report a crime has gone by the way side. I ran into a similar problem reporting a "crime" when a neighbor started up a full tilt boogying rock band over my back fence. Call the police station - there is no one that answers the phone anymore. Jeessh!

    But to your main point, the aggressive driving - or be it terrorist driving in your case. That sounds terrible and all of the "what if" scenarios you described (children, etc.) are right on!

    I have been sideswiped, I have been car-doored, and one time years ago I did have a similar incident as you describe. Except in my case, the passenger leaned out and physically struck my butt and yelled as the car raced by. I was slowly climbing a steep hill on a narrow, suburban arterial. He didn't realize with the closing velocity, the hit almost knocked me off the bike. I'm sure he thought it was great fun. Hopefully, the hit was harder than he anticipated and he got the same jolt in the arm that I felt. Only the last incident I experienced was intentional. I see drivers do all kinds of stupid things on a daily basis that threaten my well being, but thankfully, most are not intentional. In your case, it was obviously intentional. You had every right to have a strident tone to your voice!

    My advice is to report these kinds of incidents at road rage. In most areas, there is a strong political will to address road rage and by characterizing the incident in that manner, you will hopefully garner the attention it deserves.

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    1. Yes, road rage seems to be a trigger phrase these days, and it would likely get more attention than saying that there was an incident. In this case, I was trying not to be overly dramatic, but at the same time, I believe there was enough that took place that there should be some sort of record on file - even if the authorities choose not to do anything about this one.

      What is fascinating to me is that the cyclists themselves seem to have given up trying to report things that happen. I know it's difficult when the response received seems to indicate that people on bikes need to get over it if no one was hurt or property wasn't damaged, but I still think it's important to push through and do our best to get something on file.

      I hope that one day there will be an easier way to report such incidents. Even having a special line to leave a recorded message if it isn't an emergency situation would be so great. I think it would allow the police to realize just how often moments like these occur. Maybe one day.

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  2. This is such a good question. What can we do when a driver is aggressive toward us, but doesn't physically harm us? Just this morning my husband and I were riding a VERY quiet stretch of road with no traffic coming in the opposite direction when a car started honking angrily at us from behind and passed us closely and quickly. We were not hurt, but this is scary behavior. My example is not reportable, I don't think, but the behavior is unacceptable. And what if this driver continues to ride this way around cyclists. It seems like it's only a matter of time before he actually hits someone. We have also had instances of verbal harassment, passing too closely, as well as people throwing things out of their vehicles at us. I know more people who are riding with cameras now, but I would prefer not to resort to that. But I keep going back to this word scary. When people star bullying us with their cars like this, it is scary as well as dangerous for us cyclists, who are not riding around at the speed nor with the armor of cars.

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    1. Scary is the perfect word. I sometimes wonder what people are thinking when they behave in the ways you've described. I have to question if it was one of their relatives if they'd be doing the same thing? Maybe they would, but I think if people would just calm down - just take a breath - they'd realize that no one is bothering them and having to pause for a second or two isn't a big deal. Just today I had another person who came right into a bike lane while I was riding. I know it's an everyday occurrence, but I still think there should be some way to report things like this - not because I want motorists to be punished, but rather I just want them to be more aware and realize that my life is at risk if they make one wrong move.

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    2. I agree chasingmailboxes.com; "scary" is the right word. I've generally found the drivers in my area to be polite and even watchful for my safety. But there have been times when drivers pass with way too little room and few who pull in behind me in the lane and just lay on the horn for a long time for no apparent reason. There are always a few guys who yell at me out the window (do they really imagine that any woman in that situation ever thinks "gosh, I'd really like to get to know that guy better"?). In every instance, my first response is not anger or even defiance, but fear. The truth is, those giant glass and metal boxes could easily crush me. As G.E. puts it "I just want them to be more aware and realize that my life is at risk if they make one wrong move."

      So, G. E., I'm really sorry this happened to you. I would have been terrified and then furious!

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    3. What is up with the random guys honking or yelling? I don't get that either - at all. Of course, I myself think they're being smarta$$es because I am a larger cyclist, but that has grown really old lately for me. Apparently, today was the day for all sorts of happenings though because I had one of these today too. I want to think that they're trying to be encouraging, but I mean, really, I'm doing just fine and don't need your honks and thumbs up or random yells out the window guy. It just takes me back to my youth and having guys drive by making comments.

      Okay... that was a small tangent... my apologies.

      Anyway, as I was going to say, these moments are definitely something that can shake a person, but I hope that they never become more than that. I've had so many close calls, but hopefully that's all they ever are.

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    4. Ha Ha! you all have your "guys" honking and yelling. Me, I have the "soccer mom" clip with the mirror of her full size SUV - followed by a smile and a wave. "Don't worry, you did not hurt my SUV", she appears to be thinking.

      Equal opportunity numbskulls, I think. :-)

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  3. It seems that many cyclists travel with a camera these days. Turning it to face the traffic instead of the road or scenery might capture the culprits or might deter them.

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    1. It's a shame that it's come to that for some cyclists, but I completely understand why. It would be great if we could all just peacefully co-exist (and not fear for our lives).

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