Bullying. How do we stop it?

When I was studying for my PA driver license 27 years ago, I learned to count two seconds between my car and the one in front of me to determine if I had enough time to react if it suddenly slowed or stopped. I still drive that way. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person on the highway that learned that.

Unconscious tailgating seems to have become an annoying norm. But what I’m more concerned about at the moment is deliberate tailgating and intimidation.

I’m certain a tractor trailer driver needs more than two seconds to react and slow that much mass at highway speeds. Yet, a distressing number of these drivers will speed up to within a car length of another vehicle at 75mph. I witnessed too much of this while driving on I-95 in the northeast in May and again on our way to and from North Carolina last week. In most cases, it is clearly deliberate bullying—the truck driver is using the center lane (because he’s not allowed in the far left lane) and driving up fast to the back of every little car in that lane. Once the intimidated car driver is able to move to the right lane, the truck driver passes and tailgates the next car.

I was on the receiving end of this several times on this trip, but the incident in the above photo really pissed me off. I was driving the speed limit (70) and using the center lane to pass several slower trucks when this trucker rushed up onto my bumper and tried to bully me into going faster. I am extremely averse to rewarding bullies with capitulation, not to mention that I don’t want to waste gas accelerating at that speed (70mph is already a fuel-inefficient speed). I gave Lisa my iPhone and asked her to take photos of how close the truck was to the back of my car. When he passed, she took photos of the side of his truck. When he moved back into the lane, I moved up behind him for a moment so we could get a photo and a license plate number.

She then called information and called the trucking company and spoke to the driver’s supervisor. The supervisor knew who the driver was by the truck number. He took our complaint seriously, saying that was one of their better drivers and he was at the end of a long haul. He said he would talk to the driver.

Lisa also called the South Carolina Highway Patrol (non-emergency number), but they told us the only way to report an incident is to make an emergency call and have a trooper sent. By this time the truck driver’s behavior had changed dramatically. Perhaps alerted by my clear movement toward his license plate, or by the other truckers who may have seen us taking photos, the driver slowed to between 65 and 69mph and stayed in the right lane. He modified his behavior even before we reached his supervisor, but I’m sure he got a message from base after our call, as well. By that point, it didn’t seem a good use of emergency resources to call out a trooper.

But I did continue to follow him (at a safe distance), hanging back and matching his speed. Several times he slowed even though there was no traffic in front of him. It seemed like he wanted me to pass. Maybe he wondered if I was following him waiting for the highway patrol to catch up. I hope so. I was content to quietly unnerve him all the way to North Carolina, but he pulled into a rest stop after about 20 miles.

We need a system and a guaranteed response

Our culture of speed has created a sense of entitlement to be furious and righteously nasty to someone who is driving slower than you want to go—even if that person is driving the speed limit, or a little above it. It’s maddening enough when private vehicle drivers are aggressive and dangerous, but we should have a zero tolerance policy for aggressive behavior by commercial drivers. There is no excuse for someone who has supposedly been educated to higher standards to deliberately threaten the lives of other citizens. The good news is, these drivers should be easy enough to identify by markings on their vehicles. We just need a well-known, simple system that makes it easy for citizens to report them.

I did a search and found several voluntary systems for risk-management. These are the source of the various “How’s My Driving” bumper stickers seen on some fleet vehicles. The truck in the above incident didn’t have one of those stickers.

Justice is even more difficult for cyclists

Last April, Rodney and I were bullied by a tractor trailer driver on Conway. It marred an otherwise-perfect ride from Michigan to Tradeport, where scores of other drivers shared the road safely and courteously. Since I was riding to work with Rodney for the purpose of recording his commute on video, I have the incident documented:

If you want to know how many statutes this driver violated, George listed them here.

In this case, we didn’t get a license plate or have any way to identify the truck as he sped past. I didn’t get any identifying information until I looked at the video on my computer. My experience with law enforcement in such matters made me believe it would be fruitless to make Rodney late for work by calling them out at the time. So, when I got the truck number from the video, Rodney called the trucking company. That’s gotten us nowhere. They claim they can’t figure out who the driver was based on the number we gave them. The video quality is too poor to get the license plate number.

That driver deliberately endangered two cyclists, one of whom is the father of two small children. Because we have no good reporting system for this kind of behavior, he got away with it.

The system has left all road users, but most of all cyclists and pedestrians, feeling powerless against bullies. We can’t chase them down, but even when we do get a plate number, we’re usually told, “if an officer didn’t see it, there’s nothing we can do…” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people tell me about incidents which should have involved police intervention but didn’t because cyclists didn’t even bother to call them. That’s understandable. Most of us do feel abandoned by the system. Meanwhile motorists call 911 to report cyclists riding legally in the lane and the police respond to that.

Livability is a product of attitudes, beliefs and behaviors

Even though they are a minority, the impact of bullies on our quality of life and use of our transportation infrastructure is significant. For some people, it outweighs the benefits of using a bike. The way motorists treat each other has an impact on the average person’s desire to even try using a bike! Or they will choose to take on more risk and frustration to avoid the possibility of encountering aggression — riding on the sidewalk, in the door zone, etc.

Physical aggression toward cyclists is rare (probably even more rare than physical aggression toward other car drivers). Most harassment of cyclists is just territorial noise. Most of us who use bikes for transportation have learned to ignore it. But no one should have to have thick skin to use public roads. Roads are for people and good, civil people need to take them back. We need to make it clear that speed-entitlement and its destructive behaviors are not acceptable. We want livable communities. We want freedom to choose a mode of transportation without fear of being treated badly. Is that too much to ask?

If our political leaders, law enforcement and DOTs really want to create a safer and more equitable traffic environment (especially to promote alternative transportation), they are going to have to make enforcement and traffic justice a priority. We need a public stand against incivility, but we don’t need more lip service. We need reporting systems, action and real consequences.

Establishing new norms

People act like hotheads because they rely on their anonymity to get away with it. We need to make it so they can’t. More importantly, we need to make it so they feel such actions are frowned upon by their community. Ultimately, we have to change the beliefs to change the behaviors. If commercial drivers, who are not so anonymous, feel entitled to blatantly bully other drivers, we definitely have a belief problem. The system is corrupt to the core. One of the beliefs is that anger and impatience are normative. This makes acting on them “understandable” vs abhorrent.

I have heard police officials unwittingly act as apologists for road rage and abusive behavior by suggesting cyclists shouldn’t be encouraged to ride assertively because it might cause road rage. Really? Think about that. The state trooper who pulled over our law-abiding group on Rosalind last May actually suggested we should single up and ride on the edge of the lane so someone didn’t assault us (this was after we used his statute book to point out that we were riding legally). Is this how we deal with assault in this country? By asking the potential victims to give up their freedom to travel legally and safely?

Kathryn at the South Florida Bike Coalition is taking the lead in starting a conversation on this issue in Florida. Just my experience with driving a car in South Florida suggests the problem is bigger there than here. Today, she posted an intriguing idea on the SFBC facebook page.

South Florida Bike Coalition is sick of the road rage and sick of the police and the policymakers who do not defend the victims. We’re not going to accept this anymore. Seeking partners new and old from Homestead to Jupiter to join a walk/bike/motorcade for safer streets in South Florida. Date TBD.

Expect a post about this on the SFBC website. I’ll add a link when it’s up. [UPDATE: Here it is, go read it!]

What if we made it a statewide event… standing up for civility and asking our community leaders to stand up for us? Not just cyclists, but citizens. Regardless of mode, we all use the public space. We’re all affected by incivility.

23 replies
  1. 2whls3spds
    2whls3spds says:

    Good luck on the How’s my driving stickers…

    I drive way to many miles as part of my job. At one time my company utilized the 1 800 How’s my driving stickers. They were a required by our insurance carrier at the time. I was called on the carpet for aggressive driving, however my truck was parked in long term parking at an airport 4 states away and I could prove it.

    Nothing is going to stop aggressive driving other than people wanting to do it. I am required to take Defensive Driving courses every other year. Until we start making drivers’ licenses more difficult to get and keep the mayhem will probably continue. The number of drivers on the road increase exponentially in comparison to the number of officers available for enforcement. One item that would assist is cameras, however they are being fought at every chance, and even those are limited in their ability to identify individual drivers.


  2. rodney
    rodney says:

    @ 2 whls3spds, funny, but its a small world.

    Someone placed a PSA from the Orlando Sentinel of a cyclist and the heading Share the Road. Another ill attempt to persuade me to ride the white line, or at best get off the road. My response to that was “I DO share the road, but not the substandard width travel lane.”

    A co-worker, who has a commercial operator license, was present and chimed in that he MUST take a driver/knowledge test EACH renewal. I think that would be the ticket to decrease the nonsense we see and do out on our roads.

    Being an assertive and defensive operator on my bicycle has made me a better motorist because of honing these skills my bicycle.

  3. JohnB
    JohnB says:

    “Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person on the highway that learned that.”

    Likewise, I remember learning “separate your obstacles”. Some motorists in tight overtaking situations seem to operate more by “thread the needle”.

  4. Paul Schimek
    Paul Schimek says:

    In reference to the truck passing too close: he was in the motor vehicle lane, you were in the bike lane. All he has to do is stay in his lane and you stay in your lane where you belong, right? Isn’t it now mandatory in Florida? Isn’t it for your own good (which is why it has to be required!).

    Sarcasm aside, the serious point is that getting motorists to tolerate bicyclists not using bike lanes when provided is an uphill battle. Thanks to Boston’s new bike program, I now get harassed frequently because a 100% door zone bike lane was installed a year ago on my route to work.

    • rodney
      rodney says:


      At the time of the incident, BL’s were preferential. Come talk to me September 1, 2010 about mandatory usage.

      Bicycle lanes do nothing to convey rider safety or entice more riders. It is simply a ways and means of getting a legal vehicle operator out of the way of inconsiderate motorists.

      Per F.S. 316.083 (1) “The driver of a vehicle overtaking a bicycle or other nonmotorized vehicle must pass the bicycle or other nonmotorized vehicle at a safe distance of not less than 3 feet between the vehicle and the bicycle or other nonmotorized vehicle” A bicycle lane does not negate this requirement, hence the operators violation(s).

      The three foot is recommended for an average passenger auto traveling at 30 mph. One foot additional for each 10 mph over 30mph. Larger delivery vehicles and SUV’s need to give much wider buffer due to draft of vehicle as it passes.

      I have not researched your states statutes as they pertain to you, but I would NEVER ride so close to a parked auto as to endanger myself for a selfish motorist or even the perceived threat or penalty of monetary fine. We are still afforded the liberty of exceptions previously on record. [F.S. 316.2065 (5)(a)(3)].

      Early and frequent education is the way I’d like to see things change. Parents today have no clue to such things as using a bicycle especially on the recreational trails.
      The “stay out of the way of cars” mantra instills more unnecessary fear-mongering. The bicycle is still a long way off from acceptance as a viable, safe, and for many, an appropriate means of transport.

      In the printed FL drivers manual, bicycling laws get about (3) three 1.5 inch paragraphs, pedestrian law gets a page and a half. We ARE making progress, just one rider at a time. Ride Big and Ride On!

  5. Paul Schimek
    Paul Schimek says:

    Rodney: sorry — to clarify my first paragraph was not meant to be taken literally, just summarizing how most folks seem to see the situation. Bike lanes make things worse, and make it impossible for poor cyclists to be in the right when it is obvious to all that the bike lane is the right place to be (even when it’s not). Check out my website and you will see that I agree with you (http://bicycledriving.com)

    • rodney
      rodney says:

      Paul, I’ve seen your website and much like it. It’s good to be on the same side.

      My comment was to enhance the fact of the same…..yes, the bike lane isn’t always the best place to be.

      I’ve had the opportunity to exhibit the “why” I’m not in the BL to motorists and naysaying coworkers a few times. Amazingly they replied, I wouldn’t ride in it either (The section was vegetation, sand, debris filled). Unless you have involvement in something, you really don’t know jack!

      So many confused cycle newbies, so-called bicycle advocates, and engineers/designers just can’t/won’t see the light about BL’s.

      Education is the key to solving it all. Human nature is highly resistant to change. Even if it’s for the better!

  6. trikebum
    trikebum says:

    You were doing fine till you hit the BL. I would have kept in the traffic lane.
    From what I see the overtaking truck had traffic beside him on the left which limited his lateral movement, and after he passed the BL ended as quickly as it began.
    Plus, wherever there are painted lines, drivers don’t see beyond them. People in BLs are not seen or acknowledged as fellow road users.
    Bad BL. Bad choice to use it.
    Don’t blame the driver. You would have controlled his actions by your position in the traffic lane.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      “Don’t blame the driver.”

      Did you watch this with the volume off? Don’t blame the driver? He was laying on the horn and then he purposely accelerated and moved toward and even into the bike lane. That was deliberate.

      “You were doing fine till you hit the BL. I would have kept in the traffic lane.”

      It’s very easy for you to sit there in your chair and tell us what we should have done. You were not there making decisions in that moment with an 18 wheeler bearing down on you blasting his horn.

      I would have preferred the BL was not there, for sure. I would definitely have preferred to stay controlling the right lane. But the driver was being aggressive and hostile, we had no way of knowing what he might do.

      Think about another scenario. We don’t move over when the bike lane begins and the driver hits us. Knowing the state of traffic justice as it pertains to bicyclists, I am certain we would have been found at fault for not being in the bike lane… we would have been legally in violation of the FTR law.

      “…the BL ended as quickly as it began.”

      The video clip ended. The BL did not. It starts there and continues for another ~1.5 miles.

  7. trikebum
    trikebum says:

    “Did you watch this with the volume off? Don’t blame the driver? He was laying on the horn and then he purposely accelerated and moved toward and even into the bike lane. That was deliberate.”

    Sorry, no sound came thru with my volume on, and I just don’t sit in my chair- I’m a long-time VC.
    I’ve had a similar situation with gravel truck on 90+ kph 2-lane with nothing but loose gravel to ditch in even if I wanted. There was no other traffic but he leaned on his air horn from a long distance away. I waved to acknowledge and held my lane. After he passed he dragged his trailer wheels on the shoulder and threw stones in my face. Over-correction or bullying? I don’t know, but at least he saw me.
    If this vid was to show how BLs don’t work for cyclists, it has succeeded.
    I can’t replay the vid as you took it down, but if the honking bullied you into a too-narrow unsafe BL, it also shows that honking works to get bikes off roads,
    and I don’t think that was your intention.
    How do we stop bullying? By standing up to bullies.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      The video is still up. It always has been.

      If you’ve spent any time reading the content on this site you know I don’t think bike lanes work for cyclists.

      If the bike lane had not started there, we would have held our ground. The problem is the law required us to use it when it began. The moment the bike lane begins, we lose our legal right and any social standing to stand our ground in the right lane. I could just as easily have used that video as a rant against bike lanes. But it wasn’t about that. No matter what we did or where we were, that driver deliberately threatened us with the size and mass of his vehicle. That is assault. He broke the law. Period. Frankly, blaming us for it only makes VCers look like assholes.

      While I would love to have held my ground and made him change lanes, I could not be sure of what we were dealing with. Clearly that guy was dangerous. If he had hit us in the lane with the bike lane there, the general public and the police would have blamed us. If he hit us while in the bike lane only the VC community would blame us.

      • trikebum
        trikebum says:

        You have a good site. Your work is appreciated.
        Now that I have sound I can see why your reaction. If one just relies on visual in this vid, it doesn’t seem as bad. I wonder if a deaf cyclist would have felt the same. Most experienced cyclists insist that relying on their ears to know what’s happening is best, but as a driver for 53 yrs including large trucks and motorcycles, I believe the rear-view mirror is better. When I first started driving a rule-of-thumb was to check the RV every 10 seconds. I find when cycling it’s more like every 2 seconds. The RV changes that quick.
        Rodney needn’t have made that ‘yak-yak’ gesture either.
        If a motorist is already road-ragey something like that could only inflame him more.

        • rodney
          rodney says:

          “Rodney needn’t have made that ‘yak-yak’ gesture either.”

          That was a ALL finger wave, not a gesture. I’ve had way too many misinterpretations of a wave, so I make sure their is no doubt ALL five digits are in view.

          “If a motorist is already road-ragey something like that could only inflame him more.” I may be wrong, but wouldn’t “road-ragey” disqualify an operator as fit for service? One must be in physical, mental, and emotional shape in order to be fit for service.

          Bottom line…the incivility remains to exist. How do we, as communities, go about obtaining resolve for this bad behavior?

  8. Scott
    Scott says:

    As far as tailgaters go, I find windshield washer fluid to be pretty effective at getting them to back off. At speeds above 40mph or so, significant overspray from the jets on the hood will drift back a couple car lengths.

    I just keep on washing my windshield every 30 seconds or so until they get the message — it actually works most of the time.

  9. Lenee
    Lenee says:

    I am very frustrated with the cyclist that are on The West Oange bike trail. The trail is for everyone in the community, but the cyclist on this tail thinks Orange County designed it just for their traing grounds!
    I can’t stand to go there because of them. They go on there and get their bikes up to top speed and will come up from behind you and wait until they are right on your heels before they yell at you right or left. First of all , do they really think we know what they mean let alone have any time but a split second to figure out what’s going on. They startle you and then scream at you.
    There are children, seniors, and dogs on the trail and it’s completly safer for them and everyone to walk on a side walk then the trail! The cyclist go at top speeds and have no respect for everyone else.
    Yesterday I got hit from behind by a cyclist going at top speed. All I remember is waking up on the ground trying to get air in my lungs, when I stood up my arms were completly numb, and road burn all over my arms. What kills me about this whole horriffic accident was the cyclist kept going and the only reason he turned around and finally came to the accident sceen was because there was bikers trying to catch up to him to go back! When he finally did show up he said he knew what he did was totally wrong but he would give me any info on who he was and refused to take further responsiblity on his end. He told me that there was no way I was getting any info on him and jumped on his bike and ran away!!
    I have serious injuries to my c5 and c6 on my neck ! My hands are still numb and I have been to the doctors.. Xrays.. I have no insurance and he has caused a lot of problems for me physically and now I am spending money on doctors!!
    I am in complete shock that a person with that much passion for his sport could be so irresponsible and careless !! If he would of hit a child ,senior or a dog that day instead of me he would of killed them!! The doctor said with the injury he inflicted to my neck that he was going atleast 30mph!!!
    If there is anything I could change .. I think there should be a speed limit on community trails!!

  10. Eric
    Eric says:

    “I have serious injuries to my c5 and c6 on my neck ! My hands are still numb and I have been to the doctors.. Xrays.. I have no insurance and he has caused a lot of problems for me physically and now I am spending money on doctors!!”

    I am very sorry to hear about this crash. You should report it to the police. I think you can file your own report if they don’t want to take your information. It is important that dangerous people are removed from Society or “taught” that they can’t do damage to people without suffering repercussions.

    If you are insured by an auto policy in Florida, you might have some limited health insurance — $10,000 — even if the crash didn’t involve your car.

    It’s called Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage and it covers you while you are a pedestrian or a cyclist as well as driving or riding as a passenger in someone else’s car. I know that it covers cyclists or pedestrians if struck by a motor vehicle, but it is a good question and I that George might have an opinion about this which may disagree with your insurance company’s opinion.

    So call the insurance company and see what they say.

    You can Ask George here:

  11. Roger
    Roger says:

    Yes there are so called professional drivers who should not be driving a truck,however I cannot count the many times ,other vehicles will travel UNDER the posted speeds in a center lane where trucks are restricted to the two right lanes and instead of them moving to the third lane as most of them to do not want to speed up they remain in the center lane and these drivers should be ticketed for obstructing the flow of traffic.However they are not ticketed so when you see a truck tailgating a car in the center lane going under the posted speed it is because the police do not do what they are supposed to do which is ticket the driver who is holding up trucks and other traffic !HOWEVER if a truck is tailgating in the center lane and the vehicle ahead of him or her is driving the posted speed or above he or she should be ticketed as well!There is a website under Bullying drivers where a Minnestoa State Trooper gives a very good summary of what desribes bullying drivers Scroll down to Duluth Tribune and Sgt Curt Moyer writes a article about bullyng drivers and they are not only truckers!

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