Five Ways Motorists Can Defuse Road Rage for Cyclists

By Beacon Staff

In my last column, I suggested five ways cyclists can help defuse road rage. Now, here’s “the other side;” what motorists can do to not only curb their anger, but also make roads safer and more pleasant for people on bicycles.

Before I get started, I should say, as I have several times in the past, cyclists realize that the vast majority of motorists safely and courteously share the roads with us. But a tiny minority continues to make life miserable and hazardous for cyclists.

Actually, it almost seems like a few motorists are hellbent on intimidating and scaring cyclists off the roads, and sadly, they sometimes succeed, especially with beginners. After years of neglect, somebody finally decides to dust off the bicycle and ride it to work. Then, he or she has a conflict, and it’s back in the garage gathering dust.

Hopefully, a few of the motorists with such an embarrassing and dangerous attitude read this, but more importantly, the rest of us – cyclists and motorists – need to continue politely and safely sharing our public roadways.

Here are five ways motorists can fight road rage:

1. Accept It. I have to believe those few motorists who become enraged with cyclists do not truly understand or accept the fact that people riding bicycles have the same legal right to use public roadways as they do. Accept it and move on.

2. Share the Road, Not the Lane. Here is, no doubt, the most important decision a motorist can make when he or she approaches cyclists from behind on a high-speed highway.

If on a four-lane road, move completely into the inside lane and pass safely. If on a two-lane highway, slow down, and please don’t resent having to do it – no more than when coming up behind any slow-moving vehicle. Then, wait for oncoming traffic to clear and move completely or mostly (at least five feet separation from the cyclists) into the left lane for a safe pass. Never try to pass the cyclist at high speed in the same lane without crossing the centerline. If you need help adjusting to this critical safety procedure, pretend bicycles are strollers carrying your children or grandchildren.

3. Understand Why Cyclists Do Things. Clearly, many motorists don’t understand cycling, and if they did they might be more accepting. Here are a few examples:

Cyclists, with the exception of young children, don’t ride on sidewalks, not only because it’s sometimes illegal (or should be), but also because it’s dangerous and difficult. Riding on sidewalks means stopping or almost stopping at every block (some with steep curbs) and constantly risking cyclist/pedestrian/dog accidents. Ditto for urban bikeways. More cyclists are injured in collisions with dogs, pedestrians and other cyclists than with motor vehicles.

Cyclists ride four feet from parked cars to avoid being “doored.” Traffic laws require motorists to check for oncoming cyclists before opening doors, but in reality, many don’t. And most experienced cyclists know it.

Cyclists detest coming to a dead stop at a stop sign because it’s difficult to unclip, put a foot down, and then regain hard-earned momentum.

Cyclists, especially experienced commuters, often ride busy thru streets instead of residential streets (even those designated as “bicycle routes”) because that’s often the easiest, fastest, flattest way to get across town – and they can avoid residential stop signs and unmarked intersections, which are more dangerous for cyclists than motorists. In other words, cyclists use busy, thru streets for the same reasons motorists use busy, thru streets.

Cyclists riding single file don’t position themselves directly behind each other because it’s dangerous. Instead, they offset slightly, so they won’t run into the cyclist in front of them in case of an unexpected slowing. Also, crosswinds often create a draft offset instead of directly behind another cyclist’s wheel. A cyclist riding slightly offset behind the next cyclist is still riding single file, even though it might not look like it from behind.

4. Cut Them Some Slack. No cyclist is perfect. Like drivers, cyclists sometimes lose their concentration, get preoccupied, haven’t had their morning caffeine yet and end up making a bonehead move. Cut them some slack, OK? You’ve done it, too, right?

Also, cyclists can’t do some things. They can’t always signal because safety dictates they keep both hands on the wheel. They can’t ride 25 mph, except briefly on descents. They can’t ride safely on shoulders full of glass and debris.

5. Appreciate the Effort. Riding a bicycle isn’t easy. If it were, we’d all do it, eh? But a few of us make the effort for health or environmental reasons – and perhaps free up a parking spot for somebody. We’re out there trying lose a few pounds, keep our blood pressure down, save a little fossil fuel and lessen our dependence on oil-rich Middle East countries that hate us, reduce traffic congestion, and set an example for our kids. A little appreciation wouldn’t be out of order.

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