Fighting Back Against Roadway Terrorists

This motorist did not intend to hit me, but he delibereately used his vehicle to demonstrate his displeasure over having to wait a second to change lanes. And experience cyclist recognizes that this is nothing more than immature posturing, but a new rider could easily be discouraged and bullied into choosing the sidewalk or an unsafe road position that could result in injury.

This motorist did not intend to hit me, but he deliberately used his vehicle to demonstrate his displeasure over having to wait a second to change lanes. An experienced cyclist recognizes that this is nothing more than immature posturing, but a new rider could easily be discouraged. Incidents like this decrease quality of life for transportation cyclists, thereby discouraging cycling and ultimately decreasing the livability of the community.

A road-rager goes to jail, but what does it mean for us?

I’m sure you already know, Christopher T. Thompson got 5 years in prison for assaulting 2 cyclists. I’d like to point you to this article by Bob Mionske in yesterday’s LA Times. Saith Mr. Mionske:

There is no question that cyclists are almost always treated unfairly in the halls of a seemingly indifferent justice system, and for once, cyclists feel that the violent abuse they are regularly subjected to has been taken seriously. For that, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office is to be commended.

But this was a stand-alone case that does not represent some sort of sea change in the way that vigilante violence against law-abiding cyclists is handled. We should remember that it took more than one assault with his weapon of choice before Thompson was sent to jail.

I have to agree with him. In all the celebration for this conviction, the reality nags at my gut. There was a truckload of evidence against this guy, he was easy to convict. Mionske goes on to say:

…drivers who enforce some imaginary version of the vehicle code by assaulting law-abiding cyclists tend to do so repeatedly; for this reason, I advise cyclists to report these incidents to police. A driver with a reported history of violent assaults will be less likely to get away with claiming, as Thompson did, that it was all just “an unfortunate accident.” Real change will happen when law enforcement begins to take each report seriously, rather than waiting until serious injuries (or worse) have been inflicted.

I suspect the repeated assault scenario is common for club cyclists on regular routes. For example, I would not be surprised if the same few drivers are buzzing and tossing objects at cyclists in the Clermont area every chance they get. My experiences out there suggest the behavior is driven by seething anger/hate rather than momentary frustration. A transportation cyclist who uses the same route at the same time every day might possibly encounter the same hostile driver repeatedly, as well. Steve A has. That could be driven by an ideological anti-cyclist bias, or simply an immature power trip. Its usually clear that the behavior is calculated, not a response to any actual or perceived impact the cyclist could have had on the perpetrator.

But then there are also drivers who make threatening maneuvers in the heat of frustration, because they perceive that the cyclist is interfering with their divinely-ordained priority on the road. We can’t pin a pattern of behavior to these individual drivers, but they are, collectively, a menace to the community.

A personal experience

This is probably the worst frustrated-driver incident I’ve experienced. LisaB and I encountered this one on Lakemont & Lake Howell a couple years ago. He got trapped behind us because a left-turning car blocked his ability to pass before the road split off to a 2-lane, then the lane was narrow, there’s a curve and the opposing lane was full of traffic. His response was to lay on the horn from the point where we passed the left-turning car until the oncoming lane cleared and he was able to pass. When he first started with the horn, I looked back and signaled for him to please be patient. After the horn continued for 30 seconds or so, I suffered an Irish Temper Containment Breech and the bad finger shot forth to display its defiance. When the oncoming traffic cleared, we moved to the right tire track and waved him around. He passed too close, then hit his brakes.  Fortunately, both of us were able to avoid hitting him. He then peeled out and sped another 1,500ft to the back of the traffic jam (of CARS, which back up from the traffic light at Howell Branch road every single day at that time). At that point we all sat in the traffic jam queue for a good 5 minutes (10 times the amount of time he was “delayed” in passing us).

As luck would have it, I had packed my cell phone in my trunk because I thought it was going to rain. I tried to memorize his plate number (specifically by saying it over and over again, loudly). What we should have done is stop and call the police right then, but the adrenaline made me stupid (and I was feeling ashamed for escalating it by flipping him off). At the Howell Branch traffic light, after he had turned right and gone on his way, another motorist asked us for directions. Giving her directions pretty much erased the license plate number from my mind.

Hurting the community

Repeat offenders driven by hate are the most dangerous to individual cyclists, because as they become emboldened they really do have the capacity and intent to hurt people. The random hotheads tend to make threatening gestures without the intent to physically harm a cyclist, but the social repercussions of their behavior impact civility, safety and quality of life for the whole community. The mere possibility of facing that kind of behavior keeps many cyclists from leaving the sidewalk, thus greatly increasing their danger of being hit unintentionally. And it keeps some people from attempting to use bikes for transportation at all, even though they may want to. It only takes a tiny number of terrorists to impact the livability of a community. Hello, community leaders — livability is inextricably linked to economic sustainability, attracting good employers and increasing real estate values.

Is there a solution?

I think this is an area where culture change must be aided by community leadership and law enforcement engagement. But how we engage them is the big question. As many of us have experienced, most PDs respond with indifference when cyclists report incidents of intimidation. If they didn’t see it, they can’t do anything about it, so they don’t want to waste time taking a report.

In an email discussion among FBA advisory board members, an idea emerged…

toolkitCurrently, the Florida Bicycle Association is building an education toolkit for law enforcement. This project is a partnership between educators/advocates and law enforcement leadership who understand the issues we face and the benefits to safe, civil roads for all users.

Through this program, there could be an opportunity to collect data and evidence on harassment by encouraging cyclists to run video (especially in hotspot areas) and record incidents and locations. If FBA were able to collect this data, it would give us some compelling evidence to show law enforcement and community leaders the reality of the problem. Perhaps that could lead to stiffer penalties for hostile behavior as well as to a greater commitment by law enforcement for follow up on reports.

So here’s my question for you

If there was a place to report these incidents and it could help make a difference, would you be willing to strap an inexpensive camera to your bike to help document abuse? There is a small time commitment involved in writing down details and uploading video clips. And it’s a hassle sometimes, when all you want to do is go for a ride or get from point A to point B.

And one more question. If you are already running video on the bike, would you leave a comment about the type of camera you’re using and what you like/don’t like about it? I plan to prepare a list of camera options for an article George is writing for the FBA messenger.

I promise a happier topic next time. This harassment stuff is stuck in my craw because I’ve had more a-hole encounters in the last 2 months than the entire last 2 years.

28 replies
  1. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    I don’t think Keri will be surprised to have me chime in, but I’d certainly contribute as best as I can to report drivers of this type. My camera setup is a bit more extravagant than I might recommend to others and even my second choice is still pretty pricey, but quite convenient, easy to use and good quality.

    The ContourHD is being replaced with the more expensive ContourHD1080 so the 720p version is dropping in price. I paid under US$300 for the last purchase. The ContourHD does not have much in the way of bells and whistles. An on-off switch, a record on/off switch and a pair of laser alignment beams to let you know that you’re getting the aiming correct. It uses micro SDHC and to get the best quality video, you’ll want class four or better rated cards, which mean expensive or harder to find.

    Currently, the only representative video I have was shot from my helmet mount, while riding my self-balancing unicycle. Search for “Look where you drive”


    on YouTube for a good/bad example of video quality and poor driving skills. It was shot in the SD Standard Definition mode, not the 720p mode and came out reasonably clear, nonetheless. Low lighting conditions do not play well with this camera.

    Even with the high quality video, fine details are usually missed, so I shout the license plate number in phonetics (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Etc.) so I can record it later if needed.

    Fortunately, my last month or two of riding has been without incident, and I hope we all could report in a similar manner.

  2. Richard
    Richard says:

    I would definitely be interested in the camera. I’ve already been thinking about setting up one or two anyway.

  3. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    It’s not always easy to get info on these types, as Keri notes. I’ll certainly report my OU “friend” if I ever get his plate number. Except for the first encounter, it’s been dark, so cameras are of limited use. A cyclist might find it wise to practice being ready to get a plate as cars pass. In my honking project, I find sometimes I’m not even able to recollect the vehicle color or type. Surprise imparts many advantages to a perp in the dark.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      That’s been a frustration for me, too. I think Fred has the right idea of calling out the letters of the license plate so he can play it back when he gets home.

      I’ve been fortunate that I’ve not had an incivility incident in the dark.

      I’m hoping the collection of videos will reinforce our stories with law enforcement. Even written stories made an impact in mobilizing the Sheriff’s office in Lake County last year. Video has that added power of being interesting to the media. I think the vast majority of citizens would find this behavior despicable when seeing it from the perspective of a cyclist, whether they ride bikes or not.

  4. Laura M
    Laura M says:

    I don’t ride regularly enough (yet) but I’m hoping to start in the near term. But I think this is a fantastic idea Keri.

    Funny you mentioned this today as NPR reported that 104 year old former Coney Island Strong Man Joe Rollino from NYC was struck by a mini van and killed this week while crossing a street in his neighborhood. After reporting his death and the nature of it, the reporter noted that ‘no charges were pending’. He was on his regular 5 mile morning walk. Upon further googling I found that it was 6:48 am and that police reported that there was no alcohol or speeding involved.

    What sticks in my craw is that these incidents seem to be shrugged off as ‘one of those things’…our overall cavalier attitude toward driving is a contributory problem. I think the majority of drivers don’t mean to harm anyone, but they are incredibly careless. A few months back I saw a pedestrian rolled up on the hood of a sedan because the sedan was turning right and looking for a gap in traffic to turn on red and didn’t see the ped in the cross walk until it was too late. The pedestrian was rather nimble and not injured and I think the driver was just as startled as the ped, and apologetic, but still.

    If you hit and seriously injure/kill a pedestrian or cyclist, there should be some sort of penalty – regardless of intent or impairment.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      “cavalier attitude” is exactly right! Inattentiveness is not an accident. It’s a choice.

      Interesting you should bring this up. I enjoyed this thoughtful article on vulnerable user laws. (I left a comment there.)

      Isn’t our language interesting? It’s embedded. We’d never say “so-and-so was killed by a gun”… or a knife. We’d identify the killer, or at least that the killer was a person (if the identity was unknown). But we naturally say so-and-so was killed by a car. It’s told that way in every news source. Well, the car didn’t just up and drive itself.

      The root of all of these problems (lack of justice, cavalier driving, hostility toward cyclists) is that driving is no longer regarded as a privilege, it has become an entitlement in the mind of our culture.

      • Laura
        Laura says:

        great article and excellent comments. I totally agree that it’s an attitudinal change that’s needed. All roadway users are vulnerable to those that are careless or just plain criminal.

        Here in Central Florida the attitude about driving is not so much an entitlement – but it’s considered a necessity by many. We know that’s not the case, but we’re a distinct minority. It doesn’t help that the land use decisions made around here seem to conclude that the only mode of transportation worthy of consideration (and design) is the automobile.

  5. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Laura wrote:
    “If you hit and seriously injure/kill a pedestrian or cyclist, there should be some sort of penalty – regardless of intent or impairment.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    How about throwing criminal drivers in jail and taking away their driver’s license BEFORE they injure/kill someone?

    There is a lot of evidence that criminal drivers commit several dangerous, criminal acts on the roads before they injure or kill someone. If we can stop these violent criminals at that stage then we’ve just saved the lives of the people they would otherwise have killed.

    I posted a link here a while back (I’ll see if I can find it) to a newspaper article about a driver here in Ontario who was speeding at a ridiculous speed. He was caught, arrested, thrown in jail and charged with Dangerous Driving. This is a Canadian Criminal Code indictable offense, good for up to five years in jail.

    He eventually made bail, but one of the bail conditions imposed by the judge was that his drivers license was suspended.

    This person didn’t cause a crash. He did not kill or injure anyone. He did engage in Dangerous Driving, got his first taste of jail before making bail, and will get up to five years jail time and a permanent drivers license suspension upon conviction.

    Result: Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation brags that Ontario’s roads are the safest in North America. I believe that a key part of that is getting dangerous, violent criminals off the roads and into jail before they kill or injure anyone.

  6. bencott
    bencott says:

    i’m all for holding people accountable for their actions BEFORE anyone gets injured or killed, but there’s a question that i’ve been grappling with. at what point does bad behavior behind the wheel go from an instance to an incident? in other words, do i catalog and report every infraction i see? that’s a lot. i’ve adapted my riding to stay safe in this hostile environment. the way i see it, i’m already doing my part by riding safely and obeying applicable laws. i want to help, but i make no pretense to be able to enforce said laws, nor do i have any desire to become a bike cop. i guess i’m not much of an activist in that regard. i try to educate when i can, but otherwise i just want to ride.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      Bencott… I totally agree with the “I just want to ride” sentiment. This isn’t about reporting every little thing, so much as capturing and recording (on video) the flagrant power-trip behavior. People who pass too close on purpose, or cut back into your path to show their irritation… or worse. It seems like there are certain hotspot areas where stuff like that is more likely to occur. Most of us figure them out and avoid them. But we shouldn’t have to.

  7. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Keri wrote:
    see this post:

    Kevin’s comment:
    Completely insane! What’s going on in Florida?

    In Ontario, this person would have been eligible for six months in jail for the first conviction for driving with a suspended license. I suspect that the license was suspended for DUI in the first place, which brings the following penalty here:

    “…every person who drives a motor vehicle or street car on a highway while his or her driver’s licence is suspended under section 41 or 42 (Kevin’s comment: this includes DUI), even if it is under suspension at the same time for any other reason, is guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable,

    (a) for a first offence, to a fine of not less than $5,000 and not more than $25,000; and

    (b) for each subsequent offence, to a fine of not less than $10,000 and not more than $50,000,

    or to imprisonment for a term of not more than six months, or to both. 1997, c. 12, s. 7 (2).


    Section 53 at:

    • Eric
      Eric says:

      “Completely insane! What’s going on in Florida?”

      The same as whats been going on here as long as I can remember. My experiences with Central Florida law enforcement has not been happy.

      In fact, I think if I were to report an assault with an automobile these days it might be taken down, but “back in the day” I would have been laughed at. The result is pretty much the same.

      “It’s your own fault for being there” would pretty much be the police opinion, said or unsaid.

      So? What do you do when ignored? I know what I did.

  8. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    Why do we need to address this? Read “cycler’s” comment today in response to my “Don’t Look Back” post. (Website link might take you there)

  9. Eliot
    Eliot says:

    Keri, do you feel there is any danger in expanding the FUD about cycling on roadways with this project? I definitely see the good possible, but I’m concerned about giving more material to anyone already scared of cycling. Many of the current cycle-cam videos that you and Cycle*Dallas and others have put together are almost boring in how nothing happens and everything is smooth (I say that in the most positive way!). Sharing video clips of Drivers Behaving Badly might be sensational in comparison.

    I’m sure you’ve weighed this out and thought about it more than I have… Just curious.

    Jason Kottke posted several months ago about a “a jingle urging everyone to stop paying attention to the monsters”: Just Don’t Look.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      That’s an excellent point, Eliot!

      That’s one reason we wouldn’t make the archive available for public viewing. It would be for the purpose of presenting to a select audience of decision-makers. We really do have to control the message with which it is presented.

      I’ve long been a proponent of ignoring the monsters. I’m also a proponent of bringing a good attitude onto the road. And I think that helps a lot. But we do have an incivility problem here, there’s no denying it or wishing it away.

      I always feel like it’s a razor’s edge between dealing with problems caused by a minority of motorists and creating the perception that cycling is dangerous or unpleasant. Or worse, sending the message to the perpetrators that their behavior is normative!

      But the problem has to be dealt with. That minority of motorists wield a tremendous amount of power here. I listen to my fellow cyclists, many of whom do ride assertively, and I experience this stuff myself. It used to be rare and occasional stuff, lately it’s much more frequent. Maybe the added stress of the economy, I don’t know.

      I had lunch with a friend today who said motorists are more abusive to her on her new grocery-getter bike than they are when she rides her road bike. She said, “I just want to go to the store! Why can’t I just go to the store?”

      There are many people who won’t ride on the street simply because they don’t want to deal with the BS. They just want to be able to ride a bike in peace, so they inconvenience themselves to avoid being abused. It’s really not too much to ask to be able to use a public utility without being abused by other people who have no more right to it that you do.

      That’s kinda my thought process.

      • Kevin Love
        Kevin Love says:

        Keri wrote:
        “It’s really not too much to ask to be able to use a public utility without being abused by other people who have no more right to it that you do.”

        Kevin’s comment:
        Don’t know about Florida, but in Ontario, driving is a privilege whereas cycling is a right. The law makes it quite clear that drivers have zero right to the road.

        From Section 31 of Ontario’s “Highway Traffic Act.”

        Driving a privilege

        31. The purpose of this Part is to protect the public by ensuring that,

        (a) the privilege of driving on a highway is granted to, and retained by, only those persons who demonstrate that they are likely to drive safely


        • Keri
          Keri says:

          Driving a motor vehicle is a revocable privilege in actual law in the US, too. But in common law and the cultural mind it is a divinely-ordained right.

          “That may be the rule, but…[insert justification for selfishness here]” is a common refrain among motorists when it is pointed out to them that bicycle drivers have every bit as much (and actually more) right to the road.

          It’s going to take a multi-faceted approach with strong leadership from law enforcement and public officials to change that mindset. It’s unhelpful that our national advocacy organization gives awards for stuff like this and this while paying lip service to legal and social equity.

  10. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    I think you bring up a good point, Eliot. Perhaps it could be a section of the bicycle law enforcement site — oriented just to cops — instead of to the general public. After all, cops are the primary audience for such clips.

  11. Bryan
    Bryan says:

    Keri asked: “Is there a solution?”

    The simple solution is to stop taking the whole lane in heavy and/or fast moving traffic.

    Cycling is not dangerous as long as you take the proactive steps to avoid incidents with cars instead of arrogantly insisting that the law is on your side, completely ignoring the fact that the laws of physics are not.

  12. danc
    danc says:

    Ah yes the “arrogant” troll, notice the red hair and jeweled belly button, showing or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.

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  1. […] There is also an article on the CommuteOrlando website that addresses the issue of how to report and seek justice in cases of harassment and intimidation: Fighting Back Against Roadway Terrorists. […]

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