Motorist Confrontation: How could I have handled this situation better?

Yesterday afternoon was gorgeous-cool and sunny; the wind had even calmed somewhat. I finished work early and headed out for a spin on my road bike.  (So I wasn’t actually commuting at the time-but these type situations happen much more frequently to me when I am.) After riding around Tuskawilla, I headed back west to Maitland my typical route via Eagle Boulevard, which connects Tuscawilla Road to Eagle Circle.  The westbound lane of Eagle Boulevard, a relatively wide and winding two-lane road with intermittent center passing/turning lanes, was being repaved. The surface was mostly packed dirt. Near the shoulder, there was significant washboarding. The smoothest surface was in the car tire tracks, but as the whole road had been recently packed these were not depressed lower than the rest of the dirt.

Traffic was relatively light, especially considering 5 o’clock was approaching. I chose to ride in the right hand tire track. There was plenty of space for a car to safely pass me, usually without needing to cross the (double yellow) center line. About ten cars and trucks uneventfully passed without incident. Most had reduced their speed due to the dirt surface, but one raced past giving me a wide berth.

Approaching Eagle Circle a full size pickup passed very close-almost touching distance.  I looked over and there were several feet between the center line and the truck. He had obviously buzzed me. There was a big guy driving and a ten or so year old boy in the passenger seat.

I said “Hey!!!” They guy pointed over the truck cab to the right. As we approached the stop sign on Eagle Boulevard, I stopped behind the truck, wanting to avoid getting the right hook. As he pulled out, he waited for me to approach and bellowed: “GET on the sidewalk!” I then realized the sidewalk was what he had pointed at earlier.

We were both by then moving onto Eagle Circle to the right. I lost my cool and yelled back something inappropriate for the boy to hear. I thought for a moment the driver was going to pull over, but he kept going. (This may have been partially because a friendly cyclist waved as he passed going the other way around Eagle Circle. Thanks!!)

I felt embarrassed, agitated, and somewhat relieved to be safe and to have avoided a potentially physical confrontation.

I learned:

1) Though I’m normally a cool and calm guy, I still have anger management incidents on the bike.

2) The dirt road was harder to maneuver on. I felt, and probably was, more vulnerable. That’s despite my fatter than average road bike tires.

3) Given the above, I should have considered taking the whole lane, despite there being plenty of room for a courteous driver to pass my chosen position safely.

4) I will try to be more observant when there is a change (i.e., construction, detour) on a familiar road. I tend to take conditions for granted vs. a similar route that is new to me.

For advice and discussion:

1) How can I handle these confrontations better? Obviously, it’s best to just avoid them. This time, I know I should have just shut up, but the guy purposely put me in unnecessary danger. At the same time, I’m not looking for a fight, just some courtesy. What’s the best way to both assert my rights and avoid making the conflict worse?

2) Any safe sharing strategies for unpaved roads?

21 replies
  1. Keri
    Keri says:

    Brock,

    Great post! I think this is a good discussion topic.

    Here are my thoughts…

    Confrontation: Learning to control my anger on the bike has been a big challenge for me. I’ve decided the best revenge is absolute calm — no reaction. That way they get nothing back for their attempt to rattle me. Bubbas like that guy take power (your power) from provoking a reaction from you.

    It’s especially difficult to be calm when someone purposely comes close like that. One of the things that’s helped me is leaving a lot of room to my right. When they pass close, I move a little to the right and get my space back… there’s not a damned thing they can do about that because they’re already past. I found that once I felt in control of my environment, it was easier to control my anger… it’s also pretty satisfying to thwart a bubba’s attempt to victimize me. As a therapeutic exercise, you can always smile at him and mutter something under your breath, like “nice try [colorful metaphor of choice].”

    Unpaved Roads: You are correct, you need a lot more room to maneuver on an unpaved surface. It’s not uncommon to suddenly find a section that has settled unevenly or become loose. Controlling the lane is the best way to protect yourself and not get pinched into a hazard that could cause you to crash. Motorists really don’t need to be driving fast in a construction zone. You have a right to the whole lane. They can wait to pass safely.

    Eagle Blvd: I’m so happy they are repaving that! The pavement was awful!

  2. nickx
    nickx says:

    first off, your ok so thats most important.
    its easy to say or think about what you would but when your put in that situation its a different story haha.

    as for me…i’m another cyclist that has anger problems when i get on the bike.
    i would have gone right up to his window and asked why he chose to drive so close when there was enough room to go around and also remind him that it is the law for motorist to give 3 feet. if possible, get his license plate # and report it. he was braking the law and the time to start reporting such behavior is now(even though nothing will probably be done, even after 100 calls on him). thats the calm me.
    the other side would have flipped him off, hoped i caught up with him, spoke to him and then….

  3. Keri
    Keri says:

    I once got the plate and called in a guy who almost ran me off the road with a utility trailer in Winter Springs. WSPD just shrugged. “Nothing we can do about it.” I was so pissed I chased the guy up a hill to get the plate and then pulled over and called it in. For nothing. So… I give myself the extra space on my right… 3-5 feet, depending on the road… that’s as far right as practicable, AFAIC.

    BTW: I do have all the non-emergency numbers for the local PDs programmed my cell phone. And I think that’s a good idea. Most of the PDs do take assault and road rage seriously.

    This PDF contains all the metro area non-emergency phone numbers:

    Police Department Non-Emergency Numbers

  4. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    Having heard (or seen the gesture for) “get on the sidewalk” more times than I can imagine, I’ve played around with various responses over the years.

    What I’ve found works best is some variation on: “Thanks for your concern, but I’ve been cycling these roads for over 25 years and I know what I’m doing.” (If you don’t have so many years to tout, you might say you’ve been through professional training.)

    Many motorists don’t respond positively to quoted statutes or “I have a right to use the road,” etc. You have to sow doubt in the driver’s mind that he or she knows better than you. Calm confidence works better than argument.

    I’ve greatly improved my anger response over the years, but nobody’s perfect. There are some circumstances when I’ll blow my stack, but they usually involve particularly dangerous motorist behavior.

  5. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    “If you think I’m wrong, will you go talk to the police with me?”

    The BEST response is one that increases the “risk to reward” quotient in the motorist’s mind. That might help someone else in the future. While no motorist will want to go talk to the police with you, the idea of talking to the police after harassing a cyclist might make that event less likely in the future.

    Anger response endangers you, even if it doesn’t affect the motorist, since it takes away from your concentration. You need to practice your response ahead of time. Take down the license number and report it, with a follow-up letter. Even if nothing happens, it helps establish a pattern of harassment against the motorist. Such a pattern may help obtain justice if the harassment later hurts a cyclist, as it did in a recent California case.

    Practice, practice, practice – don’t endanger yourself because of an ignoramus…

  6. ChipSeal
    ChipSeal says:

    A reasoned response in the heat of the moment can only come from preparation. That is why police and firemen get lots of training- so they can keep their heads in a crisis.

    I practice saying this phrase: You have a legal and moral duty to pass slower vehicles with due care and in a safe manner, whether or not that vehicle is in the proper place!

    I never say anything about where cyclists should ride. They “know what’s right”, and I won’t talk them out of it. I instead focus on their reaction to my “error” and I call them on it.

    Prevention is, of course, best. If a motorist must encroach into the next lane to pass me safely, I will ride in the left tire track. Some see that as being rude and uncourteous, but it is no worse than expecting all cross traffic to stop to allow a motorist to proceed in front of them by tripping a light signal.

    Merry Christmas to all! ChipSeal

  7. Eric
    Eric says:

    I know I shouldn’t say this, but I too take offense when someone purposefully tries to “teach me a lesson” by threatening my life, by buzzing me or by tossing a bottle that passes within 6″ of my ear at 60 MPH.

    My past experiences with police departments has not been good, so I don’t waste my time there.

    May I point out that bicycles are quiet? That they can move around in the dark without even a hound dog noticing? That many people park their cars on or near the street?

  8. nickx
    nickx says:

    alot of times people dont know where bicycles belong especially since alot of people are still riding on sidewalks even when there is a bike lane 2 feet away from them. i will always inform someone that is where we are supposed to be riding and how we are legally supposed to have 3 feet. if they want to argue, then bring it on!
    my main thing is that i wont budge. its my lane and i will not move. im a vehicle just like you. if i had to pull over or ride in that dreadful drainage ditch aka trash can for every car then i would never get anywhere!
    if they are behind me and start beeping, i will wave back and ride slower.
    if someone throws something, yells, swerves at me, rides to close, etc. i try to catch up with them and/or do the same thing back to them.
    just getting over and giving into them is not going to help IMO.

  9. Keri
    Keri says:

    …just getting over and giving into them is not going to help IMO.

    Bullies love capitulation. I never move over for a honker. I only move over into my buffer zone to protect myself if someone gets too close in the act of passing. That’s a pretty rare experience and pretty much always deliberate. The point is, I always leave myself someplace to go (prime roadway pavement) so I can’t get shoved into the gutter or hit.

    When someone honks, I hold my line and make a wide wave to indicate that they can pass me in the other lane (almost all the honking I experience is on 4-lane roads and most often there is nothing preventing them from using the other lane, they’re just being jerks). It’s extremely rare when I’m honked at by someone who’s actually unable to pass.

    I’ve had a few productive “conversations” with motorists who came too close. All of those were mindless mistakes and not deliberate… they all happened before I learned to control my space.

    I’ve never found it productive to argue with someone who didn’t believe I should be on the road. Ineducable a-holes aren’t worth my energy. It’s like arguing with Dittoheads. Makes me tired thinking about it. 😉

  10. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    As Keri notes, the multi-lane roads have more uninformed geese (honkers) than two-lane roads, even though there’s plenty of real estate for passing. I’ve found that my answer to these fowl is to wave with my entire hand, all fingers, with as much enthusiasm as possible. It defuses the situation in my mind, because I feel it confuses the motorist. Often enough, it provides me protection, because I can rarely determine if the honker is someone I know or just a misguided goose.

    I’ve noted that on multi-lane roads that inconsiderate drivers will not allow other vehicles to change lanes, which is really where the animosity should be directed. Ideally, all drivers should be required to take yoga or some other mind-calming exercises in order to get a license.

    We are one with the road, aren’t we?

  11. Chris
    Chris says:

    “Use the bus!”
    or
    “Remember, no matter what you do or say, Jesus loves and forgives you”

    The latter will always draw a blank stare and no response.

  12. Brian
    Brian says:

    I’ve done “read the Vehicle Code” and “we can call the cops and ask them”. I’m not sure how effective they are in telling motorists of our right to the road, but the few times I’ve had to use them, these comments seemed to have diffused the situation.

  13. acline
    acline says:

    I think anger rises with adrenaline. Just an hour ago a middle-aged guy in a red Mustang (can you say “mid-life crisis”?) pulled a maneuver at high speed that forced me to take evasive action. This guy saw me. I was right in front of him. He just didn’t care.

    I yelled “Slow down!” (Wow… that GOT him.)

    He drove off.

    And all the rest of the way to my office I imagined what it would be like to drag his sorry ass out of that adolescentmobile and beat him silly.

    Now I’m a skinny, 51-year-old college professor. Whooping ass is not something I do (or can do even if wanted to). That was the adrenaline talking — the stuff that allowed me to take fast, evasive action to save myself. But the stuff lingers in the blood. And our mental well-being pays a price for that I think.

  14. Mike
    Mike says:

    Take down the vehicle description and license plate number. Pull out your cell phone and call the police. Insist dispatch send an officer to investigate. Follow up with a request for the criminal complaint. Use of a motor vehicle threaten is assault, period.

  15. Keri
    Keri says:

    And all the rest of the way to my office I imagined what it would be like to drag his sorry ass out of that adolescentmobile and beat him silly.

    LOL! Boy have I had that fantasy before!

    You’re right. The adrenaline and anger takes a toll on our mental well-being. Our brains are physiologically wired for that. Fear and anger have a strong and lasting impact as a survival mechanism… one that is far less necessary in polite society than it was in the jungle, but rules us to this day.

    At one point in my cycling life, I found the cumulative affect of anger at motorists was making me not want to ride.

  16. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    Driving a velomobile in the middle of the always substandard lanes in my travels often attracts the attention of unaware law enforcement. I’ve been lucky in that none have given me a citation, even though they will argue F.S. 316.2065 “’til the cows come home” or threaten to ticket me for arguing.

    I’ve come up with a new approach, but have not yet been stopped by any law enforcement officer.

    “You are supposed to stay to the right, you know?”

    “Yes, but there are exceptions. If I need to make a left turn, for example.”

    “That’s right, but otherwise, you have to stay as far as right as possible.”

    “Another exception is to avoid other vehicles, debris and damaged pavement, right?”

    “Yes, that’s correct, but the road here is in good shape.”

    “And the last exception is for lanes under fourteen feet wide, and this road’s lanes are less than fourteen feet in width.”

    I figure that should throw them for a loop, because they’ve acknowledged the exceptions written into the statutes, and can’t exclude a specific portion, simply because they don’t agree with them.

    I’m hoping that this approach does not disrupt the officer’s ego, as sometimes seems to be the case.

  17. Eric
    Eric says:

    “Take down the vehicle description and license plate number. Pull out your cell phone and call the police.”

    In my neck of the woods, if I know the dispatcher and cop that responds, that might work.

    But 40+ years of dealing with Central Florida law enforcement tells me that attitude is like P’ing up a rope. You wonder why minorities don’t trust the police? They have good reason.

  18. rodney
    rodney says:

    Lots of good advice here. I think I’ll start using the line “I’m a trained vehicular cyclist, thank you for your concern.”

    That phrase should have them scratching their heads for sure.

  19. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    What an anticlimax. I’ve been rehearsing my “let’s go talk to the police together” line since last summer when I had my last unpleasant motorist encounter. Tonight, I was riding home about an hour later than usual, on a four lane road with moderate traffic. Dirt simple for a texting motorist to see me and change lanes to pass without even noticing they did it. Car pulled up behind. No honking or anything, but one teenager yelled something I didn’t understand as they passed at a reasonable distance. For all I know, they might have been complimenting me on my new light array, but probably not since it was two teens in the car.

    Well, I caught up to them at the light and had my line ready to go after asking them what they’d said. Unfortunately, the dweebs wouldn’t roll the window down and zoomed off when the light changed. Clearly I didn’t slow them down by a single millisecond, though they slowed ME down – the light I caught up to them at was where I would have turned left so I instead had to wait for the traffic to clear so I could make an unapproved LH turn from the right lane.

    In good conscience, it didn’t rise to the level of a “mean” encounter but when they’re rare, ya gots to take your opportunity.

    This brings up a point not clearly made in the first 20 comments – it’s a good idea to know the locations of the police and fire stations along your regular commute route. The info may never be used, but you’re a leg up if an encounter occurs where the info is useful.

    In this case, my future rehearsal routine will include reminding myself to GET THAT LICENSE NUMBER if at all possible. Again, probably not any use, but it MIGHT be essential.

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