“Boy, boy, crazy boy, get cool boy! Got a rocket in your pocket, keep coolly cool boy!”— Cool, from West Side Story
On a good day, nothing beats a good ride.
Days when the sun is shining and traffic effortlessly parts to let you glide by. And you find yourself offering a nod and a wave to express your gratitude for the courtesy of others on the road.
And there are the other days.
Days when traffic snarls and tempers flare. When horns become curses and cars are brandished like threats.
In most cases, that’s as far as it goes.
But when steel and glass impact flesh and bone — intentionally or otherwise — how you respond in the first few minutes before and after can go a long way in determining whether you finish your ride. Or whether you have a case.
I was the victim of a road rage attack a few years back, and in retrospect, I did almost everything wrong. Over the next couple days, I’d like to share some of the painful lessons I learned so you’ll know what to do if, God forbid, it ever happens to you.
Maybe you’ll be smarter than I was and find a way out that doesn’t pass through the emergency room. Or lose your case before it starts.
Let’s start with those precious few minutes before the impact, when there’s still time to de-escalate and find an exit strategy — or at least find a way to protect yourself and your legal rights.
Let’s face it. There are hotheads on the road. A driver might be mad because he had a fight with his significant other. Maybe he’s an aggressive driver who doesn’t want to share the road. Or maybe he — or in this case, she — is just a bike-hating jerk. How you react to them can go a long way in determining whether that anger gets directed towards you. So always ride courteously. And if you see signs that a driver may be angry or acting in an aggressive manner, try to give them a very wide berth.
I won’t to tell you how to ride. But I will make one simple point: As Bob Mionske observed, whether or not you obey traffic laws could determine whether you have a legal case in the event of a collision or road rage incident. Simply put, if you run a stop sign or red light, or fail to signal a turn or lane change, chances are, you will be found at least partially at fault regardless of what the driver may have done.
And not just during the incident; police and lawyers will look for anyone who may have seen you riding in the miles and weeks leading up to the incident. So the red light you blew through half an hour before, or even last week, may be used to show that you probably didn’t stop at the stop sign when you got hit — even if, as in my case, the physical evidence shows you did. It may not be fair, but that’s the world we live in.
Keep your fingers to yourself
It’s a bad habit, one I’ve struggled to break with limited success. Unlike drivers, we don’t have horns to express our fear and anger, so it only seems natural to flip off someone who’s just cut you off or threatened your safety in some way. The problem is, it doesn’t work. I’ve never seen anyone respond to a rude gesture with an apology; instead, it only escalates the situation. At best, they may ignore you or respond in kind; at worst, it gives an angry driver a reason to retaliate.
And never, ever flip off a driver behind you.
Let dangerous drivers pass
You have a right to the road, no less than anyone with a motor and four wheels. And you have every right to take the lane when the situation warrants it; drivers are legally required to follow or pass safely. But just because it’s the law doesn’t mean that’s what they’re going to do. So the question becomes whether it’s better to stay where you are and fight for your right to the road, or pull over and let the driver — and the situation — pass.
Before my road rage incident, I would have stayed right where I was and held the lane. But I’ve learned the hard way that cars are bigger than I am, and they hurt. So when you find an angry driver on your ass, pull over and let the jerk pass. Then take down the license number, pull out your cell phone and call the police.
Snap a photo
Your camera phone may be one of the most important safety tools you own; I keep mine within easy reach in a Topeak case attached just behind my handlebars. When tempers flare, simply pull it out and snap a photo of the other person, as well as the license of their vehicle. Instantly, you’ve established a record of the incident and documented the identity of the driver — destroying the sense of anonymity that allows most violent acts to occur.
I’ve used mine on a number of occasions. And in every case, the driver has backed down and driven away.
Next: What to do after a collision
The real surprise isn’t that the Times has covered CicLAvia twice; it’s that they’ve finally discovered Midnight Ridazz and Critical Mass. Flying Pigeon demands a bike-friendly North Fig, just like the original bike plan draft called for. Oceanside’s San Louis Rey River Trail is growing, while Glendale is abut to get new bike lanes. Speaking of which, it seems better signage makes for better bikeways. Colorado makes it illegal to text behind the wheel. Here’s one problem L.A. cyclists seldom have to deal with. A Wisconsin drunk driving case finally comes to trial. If a Utah cyclist becomes fender-fodder, he hopes it’s a legislator behind the wheel. Famed frame builder Dave Moultan writes about a Brit cyclist whose 1939 mileage should give Will Campbell a new target for next year. The Mounties may not always get their man, but they did recover a lot of bikes. Finally, after railing against Lycra Louts, the British Press discovers the dangers of iPod Zombies.