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A No-Win Situation

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Nov 13, 2009

I have been thinking a lot about the trial of the Los Angeles doctor found guilty of road rage. When the doctor yelled at the cyclists to 'ride single file' one of the cyclists responded by flipping the doctor off. It appears that the action by the cyclist may have contributed to the doctor pulling in front of the cyclists and slamming on his brakes.


This all got me thinking of what is the proper response when a car interacts with cyclists in a negative way. The answer probably lies with just exactly does a cyclist want to accomplish with his/her response. Clearly, in the case of the LA doctor there was some sort of intent with his actions. But, what do you do if a car passes you really closely, putting the cyclist in danger, and it really is just ignorance of the car  driver?


In the incidents that really are an accident or ignorance I would hope that my actions could somehow educate the driver about their actions and that the driver would learn how to behave in a safer manner the next time they encounter a cyclists. If possible, I try to catch up to the driver and in a very calm manner tell them what my perception of what happened is and how they could behave better next time around.


The problem with this is that in every situation I can remember, excluding one in Dublin, Ireland, the car driver was simply not prepared to have any sort of discussion with a cyclist. I don't think it is a question of having a confrontation. It is more a case of the side of the road, in rush hour traffic, not being the most conducive place to have a discussion. So, in these types of incidents, I seem to fail badly in trying nicely to educate the motorist.


In those incidents where the car driver is clearly trying to make a statement, let's face it, there is simply nothing you can do to change the driver's viewpoint of how cyclists and car drivers should interact on the roadway. The car driver has entered the confrontation with an agenda and they are not in the mood for a constructive discussion. So, any reaction by a cyclist can only lead to an escalation of the incident.


But, there is a big dilemma here. If cyclists just shut up and take it when confronted by car drivers does this send a signal to car drivers that their actions are OK? Do cyclists need to display some sort of response just to let the car drivers know their actions were not appreciated and may be inappropriate?


Herein lies the rub. If cyclists respond, there is a great risk of escalating the incident. If cyclists don't respond, there is a risk of letting car drivers think it is OK to harass cyclists. This is a classic no-win situation and I, frankly, I don't know what the proper response should be.


My ultimate goal in any incident is first, to educate so the incident has a lower probability of happening again and secondly, don't do anything to increase the conflict between cyclists and car drivers. My ultimate goal is for all of us to get along. The problem is, I don't know how to accomplish that, especially in situations where car drivers enter into an incident with an agenda.


Argh! Help!



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