Why cyclists should keep their cool in the face of dangerous driving

Anger is often the first response to a near miss on the road but there are better ways to hold drivers to account. In this interesting article taken from the Guardian newspaper, Charles Graham-Dixon explains how keeping calm can benefit everyone.

Not long ago, while riding down Archway Road in north London, I confronted a truck driver who pulled out without warning. The road is a long steep hill where bikes and cars gather decent speed if traffic is minimal. I was riding at just over 20mph, but flowing with traffic in my lane and within the speed limit. When the truck pulled out only metres ahead, I only just had time to brake, narrowly avoiding a collision and fortunate that the cars behind had not piled into me.

Adrenaline and anger flooded my system. I asked the driver why he made this dangerous move. He contemptuously said he did not see me and that I was going too fast anyway. This suggested a rational discussion was unlikely, and my anger rose. I swore at the driver, who responded by challenging me to fight in the middle of the road. I turned down his invitation; the prospect of carefully placing my bike to one side and trading blows in the middle of the street while cars behind beeped wasn’t tempting. 
As I rode off shaking my head, anger remained. Why should I be endangered by someone else’s stupidity and selfishness and not question it? It felt like an injustice. But there was another emotion – regret. I had sworn, allowed things to escalate and became stressed for the rest of the day.

It is normal to feel upset, scared and angry when threatened. Cyclists are skin and bone, exposed to hard tarmac. Drivers are protected by seatbelts and their cars. When riding, particularly in urban environments, our awareness is heightened by our vulnerability, which can be emotionally exhausting. When drivers fail to recognise this, it can be easy to respond angrily. Still, confronting drivers with anger rarely ends well. Situations are not resolved and the “us v them” dynamic is maintained.
So how should cyclists react when faced with aggression and dangerous driving? Remaining calm is vital. For drivers to understand what they have done or to hold them to account, deep breaths and a cool approach is the best tactic.

If, like me, you do not own a small video camera, note down the registration plate. The Met, Gloucestershire and Somerset and Avon police forces now have online forms for cyclists to report near misses. Others, such as West Midlands Police, have rolled out safer road initiatives such as Operation Close Pass to stop and educate those who drive dangerously close to cyclists.
If offences are committed in company cars or vans, try Twitter. After the same Royal Mail van hurtled inches past me on the same road too many times, I tweeted the incident and number plate to the company. Their response was swift as they apologised and investigated immediately. This may sound like petty vigilantism, but reporting incidents can be reassuring and worthwhile.
After recently suffering a succession of close passes, I responded with outrage each time. So did the drivers. Nobody was happy. When a similar incident happened to me in Central London recently, my approach was different. Despite my pounding heart and simmering rage, I explained, in what I hoped was a serene tone, that their driving placed us both at risk. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a genuine apology and recognition they had done wrong. It did not change what happened, but I rode away feeling more positive.

Riding angry is not good for anyone. Adrenaline coursing through the veins only makes us more likely to have accidents or confrontations. It’s unfortunate that cyclists are treated with disrespect on the road, but keep your cool. If someone drives recklessly, arguing is unlikely to change entrenched views. Verbal abuse? Water off a duck’s back. They’re the ones with the problem. Rise above it.


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