5

I do a 35km return commute into a big city. Almost daily, someone tries to run me over.

Just in the past month I've experienced the following:

  • I filter to the front of the traffic, wait at the front of the bike lane, and the car behind me who is not blocked at all, because i'm a meter over to the left into the bike lane, makes a sharp turn into my lane to deliberately drive into the back of my bicycle, while the lights are still red. I have to do an emergency takeoff and left turn through the red into a side street to get away.

  • cycling along a major road in the bike lane at night with bright flashing lights at the front of my bike and red light at the rear. I ride past a side street where someone is waiting to turn right, and as I'm directly in front of his car, he slams on the gas and pulls out, narrowly avoiding cleaning me up.

  • Going through a roundabout, in the middle of the lane, lights on, broad daylight. Following about 20m behind the car in front of me. Again, go past a side street, and the driver pulls out at full speed just as i'm going past him. Only narrowly avoid getting run over because I scream out some sort of profanity at a voice breaking volume and he backs off slightly.

How do you deal with attempts on your life by people who are more focussed on eating their macdonalds and throwing their cigarette butts out the window than the safety of other road users?

  • @andy256 Some good ideas in that thread. Appreciate it. – LifeCycle Aug 7 '15 at 3:32
  • Oh, and welcome to Bicycles! – andy256 Aug 7 '15 at 4:36
  • In different suburbs of Melbourne you'll see quite different driver behaviour. We have to adapt accordingly. – andy256 Aug 7 '15 at 4:39
  • Funny that isn't it. I live in the northern suburbs and find it gets more aggressive the further out you get from the city. – LifeCycle Aug 7 '15 at 5:42
  • 5
    Are you certain they are intentionally trying to hurt you, or just oblivious to your presence? The difference is important. – whatsisname Aug 7 '15 at 16:54
6

In many cities, doing a 35 km (22 mi) commute will take you through parts of the city with different socioeconomic levels and different driver behaviors.

Cyclist behavior that works well in one part of the city can lead to road rage in another place. It's valuable to recognize this and adapt your approach at different parts of your commute.

Some years ago, my commute took me through some quiet streets of a well-to-do suburb of mostly older residents. It took a few interactions, where a driver would look right at me and then apparently try to run me down, for me to realize that they simply didn't see me. They were looking for cars. It's like These are not the 'Droids you're looking for. They are looking for cars, not bikes.

Knowing the area you're riding from, I would describe it (for other readers) as rural / urban interface. There are new developments, and little infrastructure. Roads become congested early, and stay congested late. It's also Winter here now, so it's often only half-light or dark when commuting. Because of the ongoing development there is a higher than usual number of tradesmen (tradies) driving utes (pickups for US readers) and commercial vehicles. Their focus is on getting to their current job. It's not an area where I would choose to ride.

So, either recognize the local conditions and adapt to them in a safe way, or find another route. Another route may not seem practical, but on a 35km commute, a safer route that involves a 3km detour will not be much slower (it may even be quicker), and could save you hospital time in the future. You could maybe drive a short distance to the start of your safer route.

Another change you could make is to use a helmet-mounted light. They shine where you look. So when you look, the drivers are more likely to notice you. Be careful not to get one that's too bright though. If you dazzle the driver then they actually can't see you.

5

Coming back 6 months after I posted this question, I'm happy to report that there has been an enormous reduction in hazardous driver behaviour, and it all changed the day I installed a 20W LED headlight. It was $10 on ebay. Best insurance ever, every rider should have one. Previously I was using a USB rechargeable strap on one (moon mask) - but it just doesn't have the beam required to force drivers to acknowledge your existence on the road. Good luck and stay safe.

  • 2
    Since this worked for you, consider clicking the Accepted tick/check box on the left. This tells SE this question has a successful and verified answer. – Criggie Apr 29 '16 at 4:46
3

Do you live in a region with efficient and non-corrupt police? Then it might be useful to get advice from them, and report the incidents to them. The police can sometimes act even if there has not been an actual collision.

From your description, it seems that you think that driver behaviour is the problem, not your own skills. You should of course check if you can do anything yourself to be safer (the other replies give advice on that), but driver behaviour is definitely often an issue.

Dangerous behaviour can be due to several factors, and without knowing the specifics of each incident it is not really possible to judge. It could be anything from inexperience, honest mistakes, misjudging a complicated situation, inattention, not knowing how much space cyclists need, all the way to people who have a grudge against cyclists for whatever reason and deliberately try to "teach you a lesson", for example a "punishment pass" that doesn't quite hit you but scares you to death.

When you feel threatened or in danger, then you should contact to the police. If they are competent, they will be able to judge if drivers threaten you deliberately, but in most countries there are also laws that cover dangerous or careless driving. It might be difficult to have enough evidence, but often the police can at least speak to the driver or even issue a warning, which may already help to make them aware and change their behaviour.

If it happens frequently, then you should think about getting a camera to collect evidence. But note that recording others is not legal in all countries. You should definitely be careful before you upload clips on the internet - besides being possibly illegal, it can also reduce the chances of getting a conviction, because a widely shared youtube video can mean (in some jurisdictions) that the accused can't get a fair trial, so the case will not even be tried. Therefore, do show the video to the police first, get advice if they can do anything, but don't put it on youtube.

Besides driver behaviour, there are also cases where the road design leads to conflict, e.g. cycle lanes dumping you into fast traffic where drivers don't expect you, or bad sightlines at junctions. Again, it is helpful to report such incidents, as many police forces need this information to know about "hotspots" to focus their work on.

  • 1
    Thankyou for this fantastic answer. I agree, dangerous behaviour can be caused by many factors, probably the least of which is malicious behaviour against cyclists - although it does happen. I'll consider the camera - there have been several examples of clear aggression by drivers where I have wished I would have been able to capture the number plate - but even if i had remembered it I think the police would be unwilling to do anything without a video for evidence. – LifeCycle Aug 10 '15 at 2:09
  • I don't know about Victoria, but I do know that in NSW the police, with rare exception, presume "the cyclist was in the wrong". They may make sympathetic noises but ultimately, video evidence, or independent witness statements are required to overturn the presumption. Recording is legal. Get a small helmet cam and be religious about maintaining it. Don't hesitate to take footage of an incident to the police and insist on an event report. In NSW the officer may call the owner of the vehicle, which in turn, can influence behaviour. Present yourself as calm and unemotionally as you can. – John Aug 10 '15 at 12:56
  • 1
    @John Thanks for this comment, a very important point to "present yourself as calm and unemotionally as you can". Not only when talking to the police, but also during the incident; try not to provoke drivers or swear and shout at them (although that can be difficult in the heat of the moment). The police officer viewing your video should not get the impression that you were looking for trouble. – Stephan Matthiesen Aug 10 '15 at 14:45
3

1. Motion (not intention)

Watch intensely the motion of a suspect vehicle, and consider it over anything else you think it's driver might do.

When I see a vehicle threatening to cross my path, where time permits I'll seek to make eye-contact with the driver as outlined below, but penultimately the only thing to trust is it's actual movement...

The front wheels don't lie

Many things are revealed by watching the rotation of the front wheels of a vehicle. In particular you can tell by their motion:

  • are they patient (brakes engaged-locked and zero motion)
  • are they anxious to attack (rocking slightly-back and forth, riding the clutch or brakes off)
  • are they keen to attack (rolling forward)

2. Eye contact

Eye contact can be crucial to getting drivers to mentally elevate you from being just another traffic obstacle to an actual human-being trying to get somewhere.

Eye contact confirms to you that the driver has seen you.

Eye contact establishes a connection: you see me and we both know that you have seen me. If they are such a terrible person as to deny this established fact later then hopefully you'll see that in their eyes in that moment, and it will be the warning you need to survive the attack.

  • If you are not making eye contact with the drivers, then start doing so.
  • If you are wearing sunglasses replace them with clear/yellow/ones that show your eyes
  • At night, use a big light on your helmet, and shine it directly into the face of any driver threatening to turn across your path

There is usually enough light for eye contact to still be effective at night, but the big bright light is very effective: no-one starts moving forward when they are being blinded by 800 lumens worth of 'get-that-effin-light-out-of-my-eyes'

Getting back to the three scenarios the OP describes:

  1. doesn't quite make sense to me; if you're in front and they're willing to run you up the rear then, for want of a better option, you have to play chicken: if they're aggressive enough to blatantly run you down, then welcome to Australia in the 2010s. Sadly it has happened, happily less often than the question has been presented. If it does happen and you are subsequently conscious (1) get a witness, and (2) be direct, unequivocal, and unshakeable... "I was run down from behind!".

  2. again not clear if the driver is turning right from your right, or from your left:

from your right: shine that big-arse light right in their eyes. It may not be good driver-cyclist relationship etiquette, but it has certainly worked for me.

from your left: motion, eyes, big bright light: "i'm here, don't cross me".

  1. driver may have genuinely not "seen" you.

Magicians make their money on this: normal brains filter out "noise" and focus on the the "important" stuff. Cars are important, cyclists are noise.

Hang back more than 20m so you are not 'part of' the noise behind that car in front. Or get right up the arse of that car in front—provided they don't stop suddenly—so that the brain of that threat just blends the two of you together.

  • 3
    Sorry John, eye contact does not mean they've definitely seen you. Assuming that it does is deadly. The only thing that matters is what they do. And blinding divers is not good for the cyclist population either! – andy256 Aug 10 '15 at 14:22
  • 1
    @andy256 I certainly receive, and advocate, your point, but it's definitely better than not making eye contact at all, nor have I personally experienced it. You know when someone is looking at you. On the odd occasion eye contact has been made and something has happened nonetheless I've looked and them hard and they know they're lying. They'll argue the lie for a time, but the spirit of truth is not with them, so it peters away saving face until they are looking for an exit. There are no guarantees, but is very worthwhile. – John Aug 11 '15 at 6:48
  • I agree it's better than not. But IME there's no time to look hard. You look, make eye contact, they go that's not a car, and you're immeadiately trying to avoid death. – andy256 Aug 11 '15 at 6:53
  • you're not helping mate. look hard meaning during subsequent discussion over 'what happened' – John Aug 11 '15 at 8:32
  • Lol! The dangers of online text. Take care out there. – andy256 Aug 11 '15 at 9:06
2

I appreciate the attitude towards the people driving around in a climate killing, lansdscape scarring murderweapon you display just in your subject but my first suggestion would be to soften your stance a bit, and take the opposing point of view.

These people are likely not out to kill you. They are just not used to small, climatefriendly fitnessmachines on their roads. So from time to time when they quickly check the corner of their eye looking for a big hunk of metal they miss the small, soft piece of flesh, bones and lycra. Sad but true.

Once you realise this some solutions present themselves.

  • Since you are the party dying, you should be extra carefull. Even though you have the traffic rules on your side, they won't help you when you are dead. Look ahead, slow down so you have some energy to spare, get good brakes, get good tires that have good grip in all circumstances, make sure your glasses are sweat-free, don't spend all your time looking at your fancy cycling computer, don't wear noise-cancelling headphones, etc.
  • The other party is looking for something about the size of a car. Perhaps you can ride in a group of three or four people? Toghether you present a bigger "object" to spot.
  • With enough exposure people can get used to anything. Encourage other people to bike around your city, join advocacy groups, etc.
  • (last resort) become an educational news item. Stick some camera's on your bike and maybe get a fancy drone with "follow me" mode to make sure your inevitable (near)death or (near)serious maiming is properly recorded, then send the spectacular but gory images to all local tv-stations and websites willing to show them.

I'm being intentionally facetious towards the end here, but you get the idea. In many parts of the world the bike is a new type of road participant. This introduces some friction with the old road participants as they get used to the new situation. Calling people homicidal won't help with that.

0

If you often have people coming at you from the side, you need to make yourself more visible from the side. Many front and back lights don't actually illuminate much to the side. To make yourself more visible, especially at night, add reflectors to your bike. You can go for the basic wheel reflectors, and you can also put white reflective tape along your forks, and red reflective tape along your seat stays (It's mandatory where I live, not that anybody does it). This will help you to be illuminated from the car headlights or street lights. Also consider getting a reflective vest for riding at night.

  • That would only help a homicidal driver achieve his goal. Disguising as Batman as suggested in the avoiding to get hit by cars thread might work better here – gaurwraith Aug 7 '15 at 22:10
  • 2
    I think Hanlon's razor applies in this case. "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity". – Kibbee Aug 8 '15 at 23:02
  • Yep, that reflective tape is great stuff. I have about a meter of it taped all over my bike. If i step away from the bike and shine my bike light at it, you can definitely see the reflection. – LifeCycle Aug 10 '15 at 3:29

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.