Assertive Road Education for Dummies

In this exercise, YOU are the easily-spotted yellow-and-black-covered book to the careless and dangerous road user who has just unintentionally (I hope) put you in danger of injury or death on your bike.

Point One: Profanity, verbal abuse, vigorous gesticulation and questioning the perpetrators maternity Does Not Achieve Anything, besides a disquieting adrenalin rush followed by a vaguely empty and strung-out feeling. I should know. I’m Mark, and I’m a recovering screamer-at-delinquent-motorists. I still relapse, on occasion.

Point Two: If you threaten motorists because they near-missed you, and most of them exhibit behaviour showing them to be very threatened already all the time, they have a very big weapon at their disposal to further hurt you with, and you only have the distant and uncertain back-up of the law, and your pump, or at very most, your U-Lock for protection. Some idiots will try and run you over if you call them, however deservedly, a F#$&ing S%*@h$~& – there are documented examples. I once hit the front passenger-side wing of a Ford F250 with the flat of my hand as its driver pushed me into the gutter; it was lucky he was stuck in traffic, because later, he got out and tried to chase me down Royal Parade with a jack handle, which I suppose he wanted to hit me with. I just stopped occasionally, laughed at and taunted him, and when he got close, rode 50 metres up the road and did it again. Luckily I had Princes Park to disappear into. It could have got ugly otherwise. The following technique doesn’t work for these kind of psychos. Just get away as quickly as possible and stay away – or get witnesses and their rego number and go to the cops. I suppose I shouldn’t have touched his sacred pickup truck.

Point Three: They’re more likely to do the stupid thing that’s threatened you again than not (maybe not by much), if someone doesn’t clearly reinforce to them what it is that they’ve just done wrong. A good slag-off by you doesn’t do this – it just gets them more irate and/or confused. Someone once said that driving a car is the most complicated thing that many people will have to learn, and the road toll confirms that there’s a lot more stupid drivers than unlucky ones, and quite a few vicious ones as well. You don’t want to be their victim. Maybe you can be their teacher.

Point Four: Some cyclists advocate the “Smile and wave. It confuses them” approach after a near-miss. I don’t – because it’s sarcastic and passive-aggressive, because it infuriates the perpetrator, and because it doesn’t let them know in most situations exactly what they’ve done wrong, in your opinion. Also, it’s very hard to do, because you’ve got adrenalin coursing through your veins from that near miss and just want to SCREAM at someone.

So what’s Uncle Mark’s sure fire remedy for Bad Driver Blues? Well, it’s simple. Tell them in a loud (all the way up to a moderate yell, for effect and penetration), assertive voice – maybe with just a hint of sarcasm (to vent your frustration), exactly what it is that they just did to put your life and limbs in danger. This technique doesn’t work if you’ve really been knocked off, the best tactic here is to act like a South American soccer player who has had his shin slightly bumped: roll around on the ground in throes of grotesque agony and freak them out and impress potential witnesses, if they stop their car and get out. No good if they don’t, of course. No good if you are really hurt, as well.

If you’ve been road-raged, or hurt, or had your bike damaged, get the rego number, colour and make and type of car/truck, if you know it. Good for the police to track them down with if they’ve been really bad. Keep a record of the time, and “contemporaneous evidence”: notes, photos or digital (phone) camera video, if anything physical was damaged. Pride doesn’t count.

Do go to the police if you’ve had anything more dangerous than a near miss. You’ll get a sympathetic hearing more than half the time, in my experience.

It’s no good yelling “You nearly killed me!”, “Why don’t you look where you’re going!” or “Why don’t you open your eyes/get a driver’s licence/try a bit harder to kill me next time!” at them. That’s too general, hyperbolic, emotive and mealy-mouthed. You need to be concise and specific to what just happened.

Here are some examples:

“Didn’t look (variation: “before you pulled out”,”before you turned left in front of me” etc.), did you?” Good for on-the-fly commentary.

“That’s a Give Way/Stop sign. This (point at bike) is a vehicle . YOU have to Give Way to me/Stop for ME” (Pedantically repeat this or similar, until you get a sensible response).

“Would you have run that red light if I was in a B-Double truck?” (Pedantically repeat this or similar, until you get a sensible response).

“What’s This? (pointing at wing mirror. You have to be stopped to do this) It’s a wing mirror. Look into it before you pull out next time”. Notice the nice easy steps? I’m condescendingly assuming this motorist is a dummy – well, if they pull out before looking, they ARE a dummy – you could have been a Kenworth. Or maybe, more insidiously, they didn’t care you were there, because you’re just a bike rider. Whichever, you’re doing good;

“The little yellow flashing lights on the corners of your car are called INDICATORS. Turn them on BEFORE you change direction!” or, more concisely “Next time, indicate BEFORE you pull out!”;

” I’ve got a 10W halogen light on the front and a reflective safety vest on! It’s YOUR fault you can’t see me!”;

“This is a BICYCLE lane (point at bike symbol). This is MY bit of the road. Have you got a motor? Yes? Then go over there and use YOUR bit of the road!”;

A polite tap (not bang or slap – as I’ve learnt to my chagrin) on their bodywork or windows, followed by an appropriate (polite) hand signal as to what you’d like them to do sometimes works, for example; waving them out from a kerb to give you more room, or if their window is down, tell them (politely).

“Have a good hard LOOK AROUND YOU before you turn a corner next time!”;

“There’s twenty bikes here. I think you’ll have to wait”;

and your own variations on the theme.

All this is assuming that you haven’t just done something shifty and/or contrary to road rules on your bike. All you can do if you come to grief then is to adopt a sorrowful expression and shake your head as you ride away in disgust.

So the common reply is usually “F&*# off, ya adjectival expletive” etc., I just give them a one word reply – whatever I’m feeling like, to avoid a slanging match.

If they’re polite, genuinely apologetic or contrite, forgive them straight away – with maybe a “Next time, (insert appropriate behaviour)”. At least they know they’ve done something bad. Reinforcing appropriate behaviour gets you more of it.

The caveat “Next time, . . . ” tells them that this time they didn’t act with care enough to prevent you from feeling threatened. It’s not up to them to gauge your perception of threat, it’s up to them to act with “due care and attention” to the spirit as well as the letter of the road rules. “Next time . . ” assumes an ongoing relationship that they may want to improve with the next cyclist they encounter. If we all do it, it’ll be little incremental, evolutionary steps to more respect and less danger for us cyclists on the roads versus more aggro, condemnation in the press and calls for bans on various cycling activities. Going the extra mile for the vulnerable used to be one of the central tenets of our society – cyclists are vulnerable road users, but they have a right to be on public roads. Don’t let arrogant and aggressive drivers take you out of the traffic mix by intimidating you, explicitly or implicitly, with their bad driving. Hold your line.

So there you go – my little prescription for making the world a better place to ride bikes in.

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