What to do when yelled at by motorists
Ah, the cowardly yell from the passing motorist.
It’s happened to all of us. Rarely is it deserved (just because you ride a bike doesn’t make you immune from being a jerk-off… sometimes it enhances it…). Rarely is it easy to shake off, but that depends on the severity, I suppose.
There are different types of the drive-by yell. There’s the one where guys whom aren’t entirely confident with their masculinity point out that you are, indeed, a queer. There’s the one where someone tells you how very unwelcome you are on their road, and that maybe you should get off it. Then there’s the one where the passengers lean out of the window and scream as loudly as possible with the aim of surprising you into the gutter. These people have usually just been granted a driving licence for the first time. There will likely be second and third times for these people. There is also the type of drive-by yell that happens with yells in the shape of hands, rolled-up newspapers, or other objects (full, open can of beer), but these should probably be the subject of another post. As it happens, I’ve had all of the above happen to me at least once over the years.
In terms of ranking these from easiest to shake off, I’d have to say the random jab at one’s sexuality is obviously the easiest, followed by the suggestion to get off the road, and then getting screamed into the gutter. The second one can, if done correctly (generally, the closer the car and scarier the occupant), edge right up to the third category, and if done rather half heartedly, is hardly worth paying attention to.
After recovering from the shock of the screamer, or the self-preservation-induced fear of the scary person in a car at close quarters, how could you respond?
You could yell back or damage their vehicle in some way. Bike messengers have done this for years. Big heavy chain to lock your bike up with? The locking feature is often a bonus. This will definitely be satisfying, but it has about a 100% chance of merely escalating the situation and at the very least will simply embitter the other party more than they already are, resulting in the same situation happening to the next unlucky cyclist.
Mess with their head. Try some of these:
Or, you could do nothing. You never know what might happen if you choose to escalate the situation. Reacting aggressively to the wrong person could result in that person using their vehicle to actually run you down further up the road, on another day, or on someone else, or may just get out and physically assault you. Imagine if the person you hurled abuse at (however justified) or smashed their side mirror off was a bikie or similar. I don’t think the impending beat-down/shanking/shooting would be worth it. Not likely, of course, but not impossible. Example:
“In one such instance, a taxi passenger got out from the car in the center lane and walked directly across my path. I was close to expressing my opinion of his survival skills but did not. After I saw the tattoos on his knuckles and the t-shirt that said (I kid you not) ‘Be silent or be silenced’, I was very pleased with my decision.”
This line of reasoning is dealt with in greater detail in this article from The Center for Cycling Education, and it’s definitely worth a read. In brief summary, nothing you can do in that moment, however calmly or rationally, in the roadway while both of you are a little emotional, will be of any benefit. It can potentially take a turn for the worse, so do nothing, and fight your battles elsewhere:
My desire to teach someone a lesson—a desire that I constantly have to keep in check—is a response to people exploiting others’ vulnerability, and comes from knowing that someone can run a person off the road then still be allowed to be behind the wheel. That’s when I have to think of personal safety versus long-term cycling advocacy and education goals.
Probably the best thing you can do after you walk away, aside from making sure you don’t give motorists anything legitimate to actually catch you out on, is to push for tougher penalties that are actually acted upon for motorists who injure/kill cyclists and pedestrians, as well as introducing and actually enforcing penalties for drivers who intimidate cyclists. We can dream…
Header image: Robert S. Donovan/Flickr