How should we deal with aggressive drivers?

aggressive driverI recently received an email asking for a discussion on what our response should be when we encounter an aggressive driver (Thanks Paul!). This is a question that I often think about.

I haven’t dealt with a whole lot of problems. A few times I’ve had people get close and blow their horn and my response is usually a wave so they know that I realize they’re there and I’m not planning on giving up my position. This obviously makes them more upset, but I’m not sure what else I can do.

While discussion on how we can raise awareness and create more bike friendly roads is good, what should we do in the meantime when a majority of drivers think we have no right to be on the road?

Personally I always carry a digital camera with me in order to document anything that happens. Another thing I’ve thought about doing is taking down license plate numbers and reporting them. Sure, this probably won’t make a difference but it maybe it would start putting a bit of fire under some people.

So what’s your advice? What, if anything, can we do when drivers become aggressive?

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0 thoughts on “How should we deal with aggressive drivers?”

  1. dave says:

    When you are driving, and stop to turn left at an intersection (or into a driveway) without a left turn lane, and someone behind you has to stop and wait for you, and he honks his horn, do you

    a) pull over to the right and let him go by.
    b) do a quick sanity check – am I in the right place, doing the right thing? – and then ignore him.
    c) go home and swear never to drive on the roads again.

    The correct answer, of course, is b. And did the honking idiot above rear-end you, or side-swipe you? He did not. And you forgot about it 60 seconds after it happened.

    Of course when the same idiot is behind you and you are on a bike, it seems worse – you can hear the revving engine, the horn sounds like it is one inch from your spinal cord, and you can picture him gleefully running you over. But, he doesn’t, and he won’t.

    Wave cheerfully or blow them a kiss if you wish. Or just ignore them. And then forget about them. They are not particularly dangerous – unless they intimidate you into taking a less-safe position on the road. If, due to honking/yelling drivers, you start hugging the curb or riding the sidewalk, then they have made the road more dangerous for you.

  2. Eric says:

    I think it really depends on the situation and each cyclist’s feeling about it. Sometimes a one-on-one encounter can be a “teachable moment” if it’s handled positively, not confrontational. Other times when someone is out of bounds a strong response is needed to let them know you mean business.

    Reporting aggressive or dangerous drivers can also be useful. Here in Missouri we have a motorist contact program that allows members of the Missouri Bicycle Federation to report to dangerous motorists. We use the license plate number to lookup the motorist’s identity and send a polite but firm letter explaining the situation and our state’s rules of the road pertaining to bicycles.

    Eric Rogers
    Missouri Bicycle Federation

  3. John says:

    I once had a chocolate milkshake thrown at me while cycleing on a county road in Ohio. I don’t personally believe in forms of violence, but I think if I had my U lock with my like I always do in the city, I just might have pulled it out of my back pocket and put it through their window. There wasn’t much I could do, but I had to ride home 15 miles with sticky, sweaty, melted icecream all over me. Ruined Jersey and shorts. Anyways…

    I’ve realized that a lot of people are unreasonable, espcially drivers that feel it is there right to drive instead of a privilege. I now commute in a large city with a lot of bad drivers who seem to be in a hurry. Sometimes when drivers honk or cuss at me I catch them at the next light and politely knock on their window. Most guys won’t roll down their window, but on occaision I get to explain bicyclists’ rights, and also mention the fact irresponsible driving could kill a bicyclist. Communication is good.

    Mostly I think we have to stay calm and not flip out when people challenge us, and just keep riding our line. Sometimes, maybe just sometimes, just keeping a level head will speak psychologically to drivers and later they might think about their actions. Chances are less then slim, but this is better than bringing on more anger by acting back.

  4. Fritz says:

    John’s milkshake incident is actual battery and should be reported to the police. They’ll likely do nothing, but if cyclists report the same loser then perhaps the authorities will take note.

    We’re more exposed on the bike, but the ratio of aggressive/jerk drivers I encounter is probably about the same whether I’m on bike or in car. I’ve learned to ignore them. On bike, I get maybe one or two honks per year.

    In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) has an incident report form for Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. The data is examined periodically to look for patterns — if repeat offenders are noted, this information is provided to local law enforcement by the SVBC and the license plate is noted in the SVBC newsletter and website. In this area, the cop’s usual reaction is to ignore it, but in Boulder County in Colorado the District Attorney has been known to go after and prosecute drivers who are aggressive against cyclists.

  5. Cyclelicious says:

    Aggressive drivers and cyclists…

    Spike Bike fights aggression with aggression. 🙂 Don’t try this at home, kids. Spike Bike is a trained professional….

  6. Val says:

    My route home requires using a four lane road where at least half the drivers seem to have a woman in the back seat giving birth. There is usually room for them to get by me, but few of them know how it’s done. I get honked at at least two or three times per week, and frequently have people yelling at me to “Get on the sidewalk.” It is, in fact, legal to ride the sidewalk in this area, provided one behaves as a pedestrian, and yeilds the right of way to pedestrians. In some spots, I am ascending a steep enough slope to warrant using the sidewalk, in other areas, I go fast enough to use the road; since I’m the one riding, I feel best qualified to choose. I have even had Sherrif’s Deputies stop me and tell me that I should not be in the road. When dealing with Deputies, I find it best to simply agree with everything they say and wait for them to leave, and when dealing with regular citizens I find it best to ignore them. When they honk at me, though, I can’t resist honking back – I have an air horn that puts out around 100 decibels. The message is: What a nice horn – I have one, too – isn’t that wonderful? Horns are fun.

  7. Tom says:

    To, Fritz..
    “I live in Boulder, Co. The D.A. may have an agenda, but the police could not care less. I have had a few experiences here with bad drivers and I have taken down more that a few Plate Numbers. I try, but I have to tell you, the police just don’t care.”

    I will say that we as cyclists really have to help other cyclists realize that their poor cycling etiquette reflects poorly on the rest of us.

    We just have to find our own way of dealing with bad people all around us. It’s the same whether we’re in traffic or in the grocery store. Bad people are bad people in all aspects of their miserable lives. We keep on keepin on. Don’t worry about others, stay safe by staying aware

  8. Fritz says:

    @Tom: City cops don’t care, but the Boulder County Sheriff will sometimes followup, especially on mountain road aggression against female cyclists. Admittedly, incidents where roadies gang up on motorists on Nelson Road don’t really help the situation much.

  9. Paul Tay says:

    Jackass comment EDITED

  10. Jay says:


    What planet are you from? I’m embarrased to be associated as a bicycle commuter with a nut job like you. Better to keep your comments to yourself from now on…

  11. Paul Tay says:

    Another Jackass comment EDITED

  12. Paul Of N.W. GA says:

    Thanks Folks for discussing about how you handle aggressive motorist.
    Today I had to ride up to my post office to pick up some packages.
    There is only one road that goes there. I did my best to act as the most of you do”
    To bad in the three miles back, I had seven motorists who made it hard to keep my cool, especially toward the top of a mile stretch of a steep grade. On the down side as I caught up with them I ignored them.

    I have to wonder if any of you understand this. When I am climbing or keeping up 20mph+ I find it hard to keep cool when someone tells me to get off the road, but after 45 seconds of 5mph faster, it’s all gone” : )

    I think I might be Fred!

  13. Sue says:

    I have tried to cultivate my “irate outburst” to be “Be Careful!!!” — it’s gt the right consonants to explode and feel good and sound forceful. It occurred to me after I was speechless when a woman utterly ignored me at my peril at a 4-way stop, and had a car full of children getting ready to trick-or-treat. I’m reasonably sure she was simply oblivious – but I don’t consider that an acceptable reason for unacceptable behavior.
    Last time, though, it was somebdy making a left-turn-on-green-in-my-face (me going straight)… at a very low rate of speed. I had already shouted “Learn to Drive!!!” when I realized the driver had learned to drive a long, long, long time ago. I doubt he heard me, either.

  14. Steve says:

    Aw c’mon! What did Paul say?!

  15. Warren says:

    If we want drivers to slow down and chill out: Legalize pot – that’ll do the trick. Pizza Hut will overtake Starbuck’s as the most popular stop-off for motorists.

    In the real world however, changing driver behavior is something that CAN happen, but it is not accomplished by telling drivers they are idiots – even if some of them are. We as cyclists will never have influence over motorists, but we can have influence over our legislators. I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia in a metro area of about 300,000. The roads are built for cars, not bikes. But, we are making a difference by building a network of greenways and bikeways where no cars are allowed. There will be two major bike routes connecting the four corners of our valley that will make bike commuting 100% safer and more enjoyable. Within the next couple years my 10 mile commute will be 99.9% on car-free greenways.

    We are also having an impact on VDOT. They routinely invite us to meetings where improvements to roadways and streets are discussed. We now have a say in how the roads are built so they can be safer for both cyclists and motorists. Ever wonder why on some roads motorists drive more slowly and safely than on others? So did we – and VDOT is looking at factors in road design that have a calming effect on drivers.

    Here’s how we are doing it:
    1. Band together – cyclists need a unified voice in order to be heard.
    2. Have a goal – Ours is to improve bikeways by selling their benefits to the community.
    3. Get out – go to every meeting you can in your community where you can bring up the need for improving bicycle and ped accomodations.
    4. Work – volunteer your time and recruit other like-minded folks to do the same.
    5. Change – find someone you work with or you live next to or go bowling with who is somewhat interested in riding a bike and take them under your wing. Drivers who are also cyclists drive differently than people who don’t ride a bike.

    It’s not easy. You’ll be frustrated more than you’ll be elated. But it’s worth it. Momentum builds and things finally happen.

    Don’t give up.

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