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Active Expert: Bruce Hildenbrand

4 Posts tagged with the road_rage tag

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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Last week I wrote about the road rage trial of a Los Angeles doctor who is accused knocking down two bike riders. I think this is a really important read for all cyclists. I don't want to widen the rift between cyclists and cars, I am hoping that maybe we can all gain some understanding by following what's going on in the trial. You can read what I wrote last week here:


Patrick Brady writing for Velo News continues his coverage as the trial heads to closing arguments. You can read the latest news here:


Rather than read what I have to say, check out the links above and get some enlightenment.




ps - I think it is very enlightening that the defense is trying to paint a picture that bicycles are inherently unstable and because of this can just crash at anytime for no apparent reason.

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The long-awaited trial of the former ER doctor who crashed two cyclists in Los Angeles is underway and it makes for good reading/viewing. From a process point of view, it is very interesting to see how the doctor's defense attorney paints a picture of the cyclists to the jury. Clearly, he is trying to win the case for his client, but we can learn much about what the attorney perceives as the correct way to portray a cyclist to a jury.

Just to refresh your memory, in 2008, two cyclists were descending Mandeville Canyon Road in Los Angeles when a car pulled up alongside the riders and a heated discussion ensued. Following the discussion, the car passed the riders, pulled in front of them and the driver slammed on the brakes. One cyclist impacted the back of the car and hit the pavement suffering a separated shoulder. The other cyclist went through the rear window of the car almost severing his nose and requiring 90 stitches to re-attach it.

After this incident, it came out that there had been several other incidents, on the same road, between cyclists and this particular driver.

What is interesting to me about this case, besides the outcome, is how the defense attorney is portraying the cyclists to the jury. This could give a good indication on how we cyclists are perceived by the car-driving public.  This could be of great benefit to us cyclists and our relationship with car drivers.

The executive summary is that the defense attorney has tried to portray cyclists as not very skilled and who could fall over and crash without any outside influence. I haven't yet seen the attorney try to portray cyclists as rogue warriors who disrespect laws and authority which may mean that this type of behavior is not pertinent to this particular case, but I was fully expecting it.

The trial is not over yet, check out:

for more info as the trial progresses.

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Dealing with Road Rage

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Aug 25, 2009

Road rage is something that most of, as cyclists, have had to deal with at one time or another. Clearly, there are some drivers out there who intentionally pass cyclists way too closely in an attempt to either scare the cyclist(s) or to generate some sort of reaction. While this is pretty sad behavior on the part of the motorist, how we cyclists react is also very important.


Bob Mionske, former professional cyclist and now a lawyer specializing in bicycle law, has a very informative website( where he talks about the best ways for a cyclist to deal with road rage. I would strongly recommend that everyone read what he has to say as it is very sound advice.


In a nutshell, Bob gives some real world examples on how a road rage incident where a motorist has put a cyclist's life in danger ends up with the cyclist going to jail and the motorist getting off scott free. In a common scenario, a car driver intentionally "buzzes" (passes too closely) a cyclist looking for a reaction and when the cyclist flips off the car driver, the driver stops and a confrontation ensues.


During the confrontation the now-enraged cyclist damages the driver's car either by kicking in a tail light, scratching the paint or knocking off a side view mirror. Ultimately, the authorities are called and the police step in to figure out what happened and who is going to jail. Unfortunately, it is the cyclist and not the motorist who is charged with a crime.


The reason this happens is that most of the time, the motorist has what Bob calls "plausible deniability" for his/her actions. Even though the motorist intentionally passed the cyclist very closely, when questioned by law enforcement later, the motorist can claim that they did so unintentionally or by accident while trying to put a CD in their car's stereo or some such excuse.


However, the actions of the cyclist are not deniable. The broken tail light, scratched paint or broken mirror is undeniable damage to the car and is a violation of the law.


Bob recommends that in such confrontations, cyclists try to remain calm and do everything they can to avoid breaking the law by causing damage to the motorist's car. While this can leave a cyclist feeling less than satisfied with the outcome of the situation, this is very sound advice because, as Bob points out, the motorists usually has "plausible deniability" for his actions while any action a cyclist takes is not deniable.



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