Sunday, March 13, 2011

Road Rage (or, my jaw's still on the floor)

I was horrified, earlier today, by this Ottawa cyclist's account of what happened to him on Thursday, when he was stalked, threatened, deliberately sideswiped and struck, then physically tackled by an angry motorist.

I haven't heard much more about the case except that I understand when the issue was raised with Police Chief White the response was quick and courteous (in contrast to how the officers on the scene behaved.) Still, the precedent is scary as all hell. For one thing, the police telling the cyclist that he had a responsibility to stop at the scene of a "collision" is - in my opinion - nonsensical. The driver struck the cyclist in order to get him to stop, or to get out of the way at any rate, and had he stopped, the driver would have continued on his way, mission accomplished. Leaving the cyclist with no recourse.

Sure, maybe the idea is that a bike, as a 'vehicle,' should be subject to the same rules as all other vehicles. Which I am all for in most cases. But in a car/bike collision, a whole lot of things are different from a car/car collision. For one thing, face it, most of the reason anyone stops and gets out and talks to the other driver is insurance. Damage is incurred on both sides, and you get out and exchange the names of your insurers. That just doesn't happen with a bike, because, well, most bikes aren't insured, and the culture of insurance isn't built into people's concept of bike ownership. Besides, the damage is very likely to be one-sided. (As an illustration, I accidentally rear-ended a car, with my bike, a couple of weeks ago on Montreal Road as I was trying to get into the left-turn lane and my brakes slipped. She didn't even notice.)

The power difference is huge between a bike and car, as well. When a driver behaves aggressively, the aim is to scare the cyclist out of their way. Maybe it goes the other way, too, maybe some extremely bold cyclists are out there biking with the intent to frighten drivers, but I can't quite see it. An angry cyclist cutting into traffic suddenly, or whacking someone's hood or threatening to - what? - key someone's car? Sure, that would be damaging, and criminal, and reprehensible, but it's got nothing on trying to hit, or nearly hit, another person with several thousand pounds of high-speed metal. It certainly isn't going to scare the driver out of their way.

The power discrepancy is such that when a driver decides to use their vehicle as an extension of their anger, it often (usually) works - the cyclist coming away from the encounter shaken, if not actually hurt, and the driver just speeding off - and that just reinforces the behaviour in the already maladjusted driver. And the police letting this driver just walk away from the scene reinforces that behaviour as well. Aggressive driving like this is assault. With a deadly weapon.


  1. helmet purchase for me. And always have your cell with police on speed dial

  2. I am also getting a helmet cam following the Ken Walker story. GoPro has one for about 200$ available at some bike shops and at futureshop-bestbuy

  3. I hadn't heard about that incident. So sad. There is a total double standard out there against cyclists. Not to mention horrible communication between the two groups.