What to Do When You’re a Victim of Road Rage?
Before I get to answering the question in the title of this post, I wanted to write about a road rage incident that was reported this past Tuesday by Channel 10 News (KGTV).
On Tuesday night, a local rider was hit from behind while riding with eight friends on Adams Avenue in Normal Heights. To the Channel 10 reporter that covered the story, those friends were a “mob,” immediately casting negative judgement on the riders. Angie Schmitt also recapped the incident on Streetsblog. Here is an excerpt:
A cyclist in San Diego was hit by a driver and managed to avoid more serious injury by jumping off his bike. Prior to the incident, the motorist had been honking repeatedly at the group the victim was riding with, according to this report from KGTV San Diego.
Although she struck a person, dragged his bike for blocks, and only stopped when confronted by the victims’ friends, the driver will receive no ticket and face no criminal charges. In fact, one of the friends who chased the driver down may be charged with a misdemeanor for banging on her window and breaking it. In KGTV’s telling, that makes the cyclists a “mob” and the whole incident “a tussle” between them and the driver.
I met with two of the victims last night to listen to their side of the story and connect them with a local attorney. Channel 10 placed the blame squarely on the group of friends who were riding home after spending the evening at the Velodrome. And while it’s fair to say nobody should resort to physical attacks – against a person, or the machine at their control – it’s also understandable that it can be a challenge to respond calmly and rationally when one is being threatened by a driver. Whether that was the right thing to do, however, should have no bearing on how the SDPD and the District Attorney choose to proceed with the case.
Riding a bicycle is fun, healthy, and a great way to experience our city. But without a dedicated and protected bike lane network, the inherent sense of ownership of space over our roadways rests solely with the driving public – despite well-meaning public safety pleas to “share the road.” As the reporter in the video states, the riders were attacked on Adams Avenue—a road with no bike lane. However, Adams Avenue does have “sharrow” markings on the road. Riders are thus expected to ride in a manner that makes them visible, as well as, far away from parked cars so that distracted drivers don’t inadvertently open a door and hit them (in the “door zone“). Adams Avenue, with its current design, creates conditions that are ripe for road rage conflicts between drivers and bicycle riders.
If you’re new to the site, you may be wondering, “What are sharrows?” Here is the explanation from the city’s own Transportation Department:
Shared lane pavement markings (or “sharrows”) are bicycle symbols carefully placed to guide bicyclists to the best place to ride on the road, avoid car doors and remind drivers to share the road with cyclists. Unlike bicycle lanes, sharrows do not designate a particular part of the street for the exclusive use of bicyclists. They are simply a marking to guide bicyclists to the best place to ride and help motorists expect to see and share the lane with bicyclists.
What do sharrows mean for motorists and bicyclists?
- Expect to see bicyclists on the street
- Remember to give bicyclists three feet of space when passing
- Follow the rules of the road as if there were no sharrows
- Use the sharrow to guide where you ride within the lane
- Remember not to ride too close to parked cars
- Follow the rules of the road as if there were no sharrows
In other words, bicycle riders are legally allowed to take the lane on a road that is both too narrow to share side by side with a driver, and lacks dedicated and connected bike lanes free of debris. Drivers aren’t suppose to honk non-stop when they see a bicycle rider ahead of them (regardless of the presence of sharrows). And drivers, most certainly, should not use their vehicle as a weapon to hit a rider. Furthermore, California’s Three Feet for Safety Act, is a law that requires drivers to give bicycle riders at least three feet of space before passing them.
I have reached out to the reporter who wrote the piece to talk about his writing of the incident, but I haven’t heard back yet. I also followed up with the San Diego Police Department to ask about whether a police report was filed, since the intention of the driver was both to intimidate and injure. I haven’t heard back from them either. I connected the riders, who were victims of the road rage incident, with a local attorney, a fellow cyclist, who has offered his services.
So what can you do if you’re unlucky to encounter an angry driver on the street?
1. According to SDPD’s Sergeant Flake, if you encounter a driver using their vehicle as a potential weapon (and to intimidate), please call 911 immediately. As he writes, “No one would have faulted the riders for calling 911 in this instance, as the driver was placing lives in danger.”
2. Try to remain calm. I know it can be a challenge to assume the identity of a serene buddha when your life is in danger of being snuffed out by an enraged motorist, but try to remain calm. Try not to yell out curse words or flip the bird. Instead, let the driver’s anger work against them and in the eyes of witnesses.
3. Describe to the 911 operator what is happening and get out of harm’s way. Note details about the vehicle and the driver to use in your description. If you have a Go-Pro or other recording device, this is a good time to turn it on.
4. In the unfortunate case that you are struck by a vehicle, regardless of whether there are visible injuries, call 911 and file a police report. Try to get information (if possible with the help of a witness or an officer) about the driver so you can file a claim—either with the insurance provider or in a civil or criminal court against the driver. Try to be calm in stating your side of the incident. In general, after the SDPD completes their investigation, they forward the report to the District Attorney who then decides how to proceed. With Tuesday night’s case, I hope that our DA refrains from charging the one bicycle rider with a misdemeanor for breaking a window and instead chooses to use public resources to address truly egregious road behaviors, such as using one’s vehicle to intimidate and harm.
5. Once a police report is filed and you need help finding an attorney, please contact us.
6. Don’t stop riding. While it may seem, at times, that the roads are filled with enraged drivers out to kill everyone on a bicycle, it is only a handful that really don’t deserve the privilege or responsibility that comes with being able to drive. Take action if you encounter a bad apple, and get involved with us to make San Diego a better, safer city.