If you’ve been bicycling for any length of time you are sure to have some colorful stories about drivers’ misguided attempts to educate you about your rights as a bicyclist with their rallying cry of “get on the sidewalk.” Mostly it’s frustrating and part of the territory of change we are trying to ride our way through. But lately, we’ve had some harrowing reports from some of our most responsible commuters about another kind of driver we all want to steer clear of – the aggressive driver.
Georgia has a specific law related to aggressive driving and defines the act as “intent to annoy, harass, molest, intimidate, injure or obstruct another person, while doing one or more of the following: overtaking and passing another vehicle; violating traffic lane markings; following too closely; violating signal, lane change, slowing or stopping laws; impeding traffic flows; reckless driving.” Anyone convicted of aggressive driving will be guilty of a misdemeanor and receive six points toward the suspension of their driver’s license.
So does this mean you are reporting every driver who passes you too closely on your way into work? We don’t think so, although the proposed 3-feet safe passing bill might help with those. What we want you to pay attention to and report are incidents that seem too close, too intentional, too avoidable and/or involve threats of or actual physical assault. Aggressive driving is sometimes defined as blatant disregard for traffic laws.
If the actions of a driver make you feel unsafe, you have the right to file a police report – and we encourage you to do so. While you might hesitate to report aggressive driving that does not result in a crash or assault, drivers who try to intimidate or harass cyclists may have made other bad decisions, and you might be doing the next person who would otherwise encounter them a favor. [One ABC member reported a driver who screamed at her to get off the road, then swerved directly into her path into an attempt to run her off the road. The car turned out to be stolen and the driver and passengers were ultimately arrested.]
While ABC is working hard to make it safer, we cannot enforce laws, only educate people about them. Reporting aggressive drivers helps police officers monitor problem areas, keep records of repeat offenders and generally put these issues into public record as a public safety concern.
Tips on avoiding aggressive drivers:
- REPRESENT – Are you doing everything you can do as a road user to operate your bicycle safely and legally? Do you know the laws about bicycling? Do you ride defensively and follow traffic laws so that other road users won’t be surprised or caught off-guard by your behavior? If not, take a class to help refine your bike skills and knowledge.
- GET OUT OF THE WAY – If you are being approached too quickly, followed or passed too closely or being obstructed by an aggressive driver, make every attempt to get out of his/her path. DO NOT challenge aggressive drivers by cutting them off or attempting to hold-your-own in your travel lane.
- GIVE THE SILENT TREATMENT – Do not engage drivers verbally. Though we often feel compelled to let drivers know that bicyclists can operate on the shared roadways, pointing out an aggressive driver’s mistakes can often put you at additional risk. As the nature of an aggressive driver is “unpredictable” you simply cannot be sure what action the driver (most likely still sitting behind the steering wheel of a car) might take against you. Remember – you are still on a bike! Protect yourself first, get to a safe destination and call 911.
- AVOID EYE CONTACT – Eye contact can sometimes enrage an aggressive driver.
- GESTURES – Ignore gestures and refuse to return them. We all know what this means! Even making the peace sign which I sometimes favor over other gestures (but will now retire) can make people think you are trying to engage them somehow.
How to report aggressive drivers:
- REMEMBER IT – Get the plates. Get the plates. If you don’t have something to write the number down with, memorize it and say it out loud until you can stop, then write it down or text it to yourself from your cell phone.
- REPORT IT – If you feel safe doing so, stop in the location where the incident took place, otherwise continue traveling until you reach a safe stopping place andcall 911. In Atlanta, 911 is the dispatch number
for all incidents. Although calls are prioritized by severity, 911 is not reserved exclusively for reporting life and death emergencies. This should be your first action after an incident. Our neighbors in the Castleberry Hill Neighborhood compiled a great list of tips to keep in mind when communicating with 911 services.
- RECORD IT – In addition to cell phone cameras that capture photos and live video, there are a number of helmet-and-handlebar mounted cameras that bicyclists are now using to record their commutes. Please do not endanger yourself by operating camera equipment and your bicycle at the same time. However, if you are stopped due to a driver’s behavior or if a driver tries to engage you, recording the interaction and the vehicle can be helpful in reporting the incident as well as raising awareness about unsafe driving.
*While we encourage you to forward a copy of your police report to ABC, please remember that we cannot enforce laws. Please file a formal report through your local police department to create an official record of the incident.