Tips on What You Should Do if You Encounter an Aggressive Driver While Cycling

Jim Dodson: Hi there, I'm Jim Dodson, the Florida Bike Guy. I'm a injury lawyer in Clearwater, Florida, but representing cyclists across Florida.

So, how do you respond to aggressive drivers? There's been a number of incidents in our local area, the most recent one being in Sarasota that was reported by ABC News, and also on Facebook. My friend Kirby Beck alerted me to the ABC News article about a situation, this was a couple down in Sarasota who were were on a regular ride, and a very aggressive driver came up to them. They felt extremely threatened. The driver pulled around them, stopped in front of them, risked a collision with them, really put them in peril on the road, in their view. Fortunately, they had a video camera, they recorded the whole thing, and went to the police with it. So from what I could read in the news report, the absolute right thing to do.

I was appalled, quite frankly, disappointed, but not totally shocked at the response of the police. So on two fronts here, the news report indicated that on the scene, the highway patrolman basically took the position, well, there's no bike lane here, and maybe if there's no bike lane, you'd better off ride on the sidewalk. Wrong, we have a right to be on the road, and that is not the right advice. Actually, it, really typical of a lack of understanding by the police of cyclist's rights, of the responsibility of the motoring public. We have a right to use the road, they have a responsibility to avoid endangering us. But what also bothered me was they took the video and I have not seen the video, but they took the video to the Manatee Sheriff's Office, and the response from someone was, it wasn't criminal and it didn't seem all that bad. So, I wanna applaud them for taking those steps, because I think that's the right thing to do. And I'm gonna give you a couple of suggestions that I think might be helpful as we kind of evaluate this situation.

I think most of us would agree that when we're riding, the vast majority of our interactions with cars are positive. I mean, rarely, rarely, rarely do I have a situation where someone intentionally, or even negligently, causes me to really be anxious about my position on the road. I think it's a little bit like airline pilots, they say that it's hours of boredom interspersed with seconds of sheer terror. I think that's what our bike experience should be like, in a sense that unusual or aggressive incidents ought to be unusual. And I think they, for the most part, they are. But what we do about those situations that are so noticeable, they sort of remind us to, we also kind of overlook all of the great interactions we have with cars, and just remember these terrible situations that occur.

So, I think the thing that we need to remember is that we have to always assert our right to be on the road. We have a combination of kind of being assertive of our position. At the same time we have a responsibility, number one, to be safe, to be defensive, and at no time should we ever get aggressive, all right? I think what's happening in our politics sometimes happens on the road as well, and we don't want to respond in kind. Responding in kind only escalates the situation. I was a prosector for five years back in my early life, and I've learned from those years of handling situations like this that escalation on the road, no one wins. Particularly us as cyclists. I think the point of every encounter like this has to be a deescalation. And it requires, specially guys, me included, to kind of fight that initial impulse is that you're ticked off, and you wanna do something. I think we have to just resist that impulse, because generally, nothing good comes out of it.

I think that, you know, I always tell people, you're never going to win an argument with a police officer on the road. They have handcuffs, and they have a ticket book. Police officers always circle the wagon, even when they're in the wrong, they tend to circle the wagon. I've seen this countless times in my years as a prosecutor. They're gonna defend their own, even if they're wrong in many situations, there is a right and a wrong way to handle police officers who are making the wrong decision on the road, but it is not to engage with them on the road, okay? It's yes sir, no ma'am. You can state your position, but if it's not going your way, there's no point in escalating that argument.

So, the same thing applies to an aggressive driver. We're not gonna win that argument on the road. I think the thing that we need to do is be courteous, but assertive. Courteous when you can. It shocks them, they don't know what to do, they want you to respond aggressively so it justifies their thinking that you're a jerk, that you shouldn't be there, that they're right, you're wrong. In my personal view, in my experience of life, I think we wanna deescalate by being courteous when we can. We don't wanna be patsies, we don't wanna be pushed around, but we also don't wanna escalate.

I've never ridden with a camera. I think I'm going to start riding with a camera, only because I see enough of these situations that I think it's very helpful to have it. If you're going to do something about an aggressive driver, the first thing we have to have is a description of the car, the tag, and the driver. The best way to do that is with a video. Videos are the best evidence, and you can play it at will with the police officers, and it doesn't have a memory problem like you and I might have, 'cause we're not typically riding around on our bikes with a pen and a pad of paper to write a tag number down.

When you get a tag number, when you get a video clip like this, just like this couple did in Sarasota, I think it's the responsible thing for us to do is take it to the police office, go over it with them. In my personal view, law enforcement needs to support us. There is a big gulf unfortunately, between the attitude of law enforcement and cyclists. I think sometimes, because they view us like some of the motoring public does, is sort of like, people that don't obey the rules, we all have to work to kinda dispel that. That's the subject of another video, perhaps. But I think the right thing to do is to take that video to the police, and give them an opportunity to do the right thing. If they do nothing more than to drive out to the person's house, confront them, and say, hey listen, I saw this video, you do this again, we're gonna arrest you. That would be a great way to start.

There are crimes that are committed. Just a little primer of the criminal code in Florida, remember that an assault is somebody doing something that puts you in eminent fear of harm. Someone walking up, and getting in your face, and threatening you is an assault, particularly if they've got the means to harm you right with them. Moving aggressively towards you, in my view, is an assault. If they're in a vehicle at the time that they do that, this, you know, criminal code is all based on shades of degree. Is a foot enough, is two feet enough? It's all shaded by the facts of each individual case. But when someone's driving a motor vehicle, and they swerve that vehicle at you, depending on how close they are, and the proximity, and what have you, that can be an aggravated assault. That's a felony, okay? If they make contact with you, that's an aggravated battery, that's a second degree felony. That's a 15 year in prison felony. And when those things happen, we definitely need to step up and make sure we get to law enforcement with the facts. Motorists can't be given a pass for those kinds of conduct.

I think one of the things that I would consider doing, I had an incident somebody brought to my attention this last year, over in Lakeland where they have these rock haulers going up and down the road, of a truck that was passing a group of cyclists too close. They did it once or twice, but the second time they did it, they got the tag number and the employer's identification information, and the truck number. And all they did was call the employer and say, this driver on this day passed us, and it's the second time that it happened. And you know what happened? It never happened again. Employers are very sensitive, and they don't want the liability. They know that if that driver hurts somebody, it's gonna be them, and the employer does not want the liability. There is a lot of employment vehicles on the road, from vehicles that are regular cars, to the rock haulers, and delivery trucks, and what have you.

You know, there's a difference between drivers who are just dumb, thoughtless, inattentive, and those who are frankly aggressive, and rude, and trying to make a point against cyclists. And you don't know who you're dealing with when you're on the bike that day. It's a big difference between someone who's inattentive, and someone who's a flat out sociopath. So, we don't know who is behind the wheel, and what we're dealing with. We always have to keep that in mind before we kind of get that temptation to escalate the situation.

One of the things that, up in Sumter Landing, the bike club up there has developed a really great relationship with the sheriff's office. And whenever they have a situation with a motorist, or any issue with an issue on the road, they have someone that they can go to in the sheriff's office that will tell them how it can best be handled. I think that's a great thing for our clubs to do is find that person in the sheriff's office, in the police department, who will at least give you an ear. And if this person believes that what you have addressed to them needs action, they'll know who to take it to. And when you walk in off the street with a video of something like happened down in Sarasota, and you just talk to the desk guy, this is a person who may be on injured, he is on desk duty for two weeks. They have little interest other than clearing the phones, and getting people out of the lobby to the right person. It's not the same as knowing a person, having a relationship through your club with an individual at the sheriff's office, or the police department, that you can take a problem to, and let it be known. It's, you know, we're educating them, and they're helping us. And they need education as well, 'cause there is a lot of misunderstanding by law enforcement, and a lot of prejudice out there against us, we all know that.

So, unfortunately, you know, there's no silver bullet in these situations. I've outlined seven things I think might help. I think I have a lot of hope for us, that as cycling continues to grow, there's more and more people on the road, as e-bikes become more and more prevalent, there's gonna be more and more cyclists on the road, and good behavior by cyclists creates better driving behavior by drivers, and it's a very synergistic relationship that we should be developing.

So, a couple things before we end. We are announcing the winner. We had a contest, I wanna thank all those, we had a lot of people who entered to vote for the Bike Club of the Month. We're gonna announce the bike club of the month later on Facebook, but we do have a winner, for those who made an entry. And we're giving away this really cool NiteRider. This is a thousand lumen bike light, front light, and it's a rear-facing taillight as well. So this is the prize we're giving away for those of you who entered. We're gonna give that to Steven Kavalan. And Steven, we're gonna notify you today that you've won this, and we'll arrange a way to get this shipped out to you. So I appreciate everyone's entering that contest. I appreciate Steven, it's a great opportunity to give this to you. I'm happy to do so. This would be a good addition to anyone's riding equipment on their bike.

Also, I wanna give you our offer for this particular livestream is this, really it's a very handy card, it's got a great caricature of me on it by the way. But it's really, what you do after a bike crash, and it's a place to capture that information that I just talked about, if you're on the road and something's happened, place to capture the information right here on this card. So I'll be happy to give that. This fits really well into my jersey bin, where you can keep your phone, wallet, or driver's license, insurance card, what have you. Throw this in there, it's a great addition. We'll get that out to you. Kati's putting the Bitly link on the screen now. And, be happy to send it to you.

So, that's it for Jim Dodson Law, the Florida Bike Guy. You know, we represent cyclists across Florida, whether you've been injured in a cycling crash, or as a passenger or a driver in a motor vehicle accident. If you need us, we're there for you. Take care, I'll see you next time, bye.

Jim Dodson
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A Florida injury lawyer, family man and avid cyclist who clients have trusted for over 25 years.