As I watched her approach the stop sign, I had a feeling she wasn't going to stop. She was talking on her phone and looking for cars approaching from her left.
Despite the sun reflecting off my obnoxious high visibility yellow jacket, she didn't see that I had already entered the intersection from the right. Sure enough, she rolled past the stop sign, completely unaware of me. I had break hard and turn sharply to avoid winding up under her SUV.
"Watch where you're going!" I shouted. "And hang up the phone!"
Since she didn't even notice she'd almost run over me, it took her a moment to figure out who had yelled at her. When she saw me in her rearview mirror, she stopped (finally), rolled down her window and yelled back at me. I couldn't make out her words, but I doubt they were complimentary.
We continued on our separate ways after that, both of us angry. I gained no satisfaction from the exchange. She gained no appreciation of how to safely share the road with cyclists. In fact, I probably lowered her opinion of cyclists considerably. Would a reasonable person expect any different results?
I'm not much for New Year's resolutions, but I truly want to handle these sorts of encounters more reasonably and productively in the future. The cyclist's voice often serves as his or her horn, and the urge to lay on it is strong when another person does something reckless or inattentive.
It's especially hard to resist shouting when a person's actions could have had harmful or even deadly consequences for you. In most cases, it's best to keep your emotions in check, keep your voice down and pedal on.
If I felt absolutely compelled to say something to the motorist in the situation described above, perhaps a short, "Hey," would have been enough in the yelling department to get her to stop. Once she did stop, who knows, she might even have rolled down her window to offer an apology.
With that invitation to civil discourse, I could have ridden up to her window and talked with her. "Excuse me," I could have said. "I don't think you noticed, but you came very close to hitting me back there. I know you wouldn't want that to happen, so please try to be more careful and look out for us cyclists."
While this wouldn't guarantee a more desirable response or more thoughtful driving behavior in the future, it would have to offer more potential effectiveness than barking accusatory demands. Motorists, who might be sorry and embarrassed about their actions, can quickly be persuaded not to be so apologetic when they find themselves being hollered at by a furious person on a bike, whose presence they didn't even detect until the shouting started.
I ride my bicycle just about everywhere I go in Savannah and have abundant opportunity to observe drivers at their best and at their worst. I'm pleased to report most of the drivers, with whom I share the streets, are careful and courteous when we meet at intersections or at other points on the roadway. I do my best to ensure this response by complying with traffic regulations and making myself visible to motorists.
If I want to be reasonable, I must remember that the people who make me want to scream at the top of my lungs are in the minority. For every motorist who pushes me to this point, there are countless others who take seriously their responsibilities as drivers.
Even these folks can suffer from rare lapses in attention or judgment. When they do, they're sufficiently self-aware and exercise greater caution going forward. They don't deserve an ear-full, maybe just a friendly reminder to be careful, if the opportunity to do so presents itself.
That said, there are those with whom it is impossible and inadvisable to interact at all. Though rare, I have seen people driving so recklessly or aggressively that they represent a real and serious threat, not just to cyclists, but to everyone on the road. In these cases, a different approach is needed.
Find a safe place to stop. Make note of the vehicle's color, type and direction of travel. Get a tag number if you can.
Then call the police. That's the reasonable thing to do.
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