COPING WITH ROAD RAGE
There is no war on the roads between cyclists and drivers. After all, many bike riders are also motorists and vice versa. However there is an abundance of atrocious drivers and a surfeit of seriously bad cyclists.
The interface between these two urban tribes (if they can be called that) and any interaction involving just one or other of them, is all too often characterised by large quantities of two things; “sound and fury” - almost always signifying nothing. No all-out war then, but plenty of skirmishes.
As a cyclist it’s hard to know how to deal with being the object of a driver’s irrational tantrums. Road rage has no etiquette but maybe it should.
Remaining calm is always a good Zen-like state to aim for but it’s all too often, easier said than done. If you’ve just come close to being hit by several tons of rapidly-moving metal, you’re likely to be in an extreme panic from the outset. This clouds judgement and makes it much more difficult to control the way you react. With your entire being in full ‘fight or flight’ mode, it takes superhuman willpower to adopt a tranquil demeanour. You want graciously to gesture with an upturned palm and a good-natured yet questioning shrug – maybe even adding an enigmatic and knowing smile - but your inner caveman takes over and responds with a spittle-flecked exhortation and a rigid finger. However, the more you do maintain your dignity – and open, unthreatening body language is crucial here - the more absurd any ranting motorist will appear.
Keeping a civil tongue in your head when engaging in ‘debate’ with an irate motorist obviously deposits the cyclist squarely on top of the moral high ground. Difficult again - try staying civil when you’ve just had a near death experience perpetrated by your newly-acquired interlocutor and the adrenalin is racing round your system. However, by maintaining a degree of politeness, even if you end up being pummelled into submission, you can at least console yourself with the knowledge that you did nothing to exacerbate the situation.
Avoid waving the red rag of provocation in the face of your raging motorist. We’ve all seen the YouTube where the fuming, foul-mouthed driver gets out of his vehicle and runs toward the retreating cyclist, Keystone Cops style. The chase is filmed from a backward-facing camera on the cyclist’s bike frame. It catches in full HD glory the moment that the galloping would-be assailant trips after attempting to kick the bike’s back wheel and face surfs painfully along the hard surface of the pavement. It’s best to avoid reaching the point where the aggressor starts taking action such as running after you, in the first place. If the driver sounds angry and unstable, don’t tip him or her over the edge of reason with a barbed comment, rude gesture or crude insult.
The ultimate prize is to escape from any confrontation intact. I’ve had a driver chase me onto the pavement, jump out of his car and grab me by the neck waving his fist in front of my nose. My offence? The second time he’d sped past me coming too close (in my opinion) I glanced at him pointedly as I then overtook. A fleeting moment of eye contact catapulted him into an incoherent rage. He very nearly decked me. On no account initiate physical contact. Some riders say they rap their hand off any vehicle which comes into range, arguing that if they can touch it, it is indeed too close. How many YouTube examples are there of van/truck/taxi/car drivers yelling into the rider’s camera, “Don’t you f***ing touch my car again!” It’s a sure fire way of upping the ante and best avoided.
It’s common for drivers to impute wrongly from a cyclist’s actions that he or she is willfully breaking the rules of the road and causing inconvenience to passing motor vehicles purely for the hell of it. Take riding out in the flow of traffic as opposed to trundling along in the gutter where many drivers seem to think we belong.
Many drivers don’t get it – they just don’t appreciate the hazards cyclists face and the actions they have to take to stay safe. To the driver shouting that a bike should be in to the left at all times, the cyclist can justifiable ask (as in the YouTube video), “So you want me to go into the “door zone”?
Cycling journalist, Carlton Reid - in a much tweeted and quoted piece - explains why taking the primary position as it’s known, is not only permitted by the Highway Code, but is almost certainly a potentially life-saving move. I make the latter point as a cyclist who’s been painfully ‘doored’ twice. When confronted with a driver’s angry misreading of a situation it’s better calmly to argue your point than to respond with ridicule at what you think is the driver’s ignorance of the situation. If the motorist realises you’re poking malicious fun at his or her lack of understanding of the cycling point of view, this course of action may amount to a dangerous upping of the ante. Engage in rational discussion rather than getting hot under the helmet. You may not win the exchange but at least you conducted yourself in a civilised manner and didn’t let the ‘cycling side’ down.
These guidelines remain a pipe dream most of the time. And they don’t take into account the fact that some people riding bikes DO break the rules and have ceded the moral high ground.
After one near miss too many by a London cabby in central London, I was bound to lose it. Any thought of discussing safe distances and explaining that exposed on a bike, in traffic, it was good for me to have an escape zone should I need it, I fired a withering glance at the offending Cockney geezer – my best Paddington stare no less – and informed him sarcastically that if, as an aspiring ‘roadie’, I’d wanted to shave my legs, my depilatory implement of choice would have been a razor and not the front wing of his black cab. I’m not sure if he got the sarcasm, but he fired off a few hefty epithets as I pedalled off, and, blood boiling by this stage, I couldn’t stop myself from snarling back at him with some choice unprintable rejoinders of my own. C’est la guerre!