Editor's Note: RoadBikeReview contributor Megan Hottman is a recognized legal expert on cycling laws and advocate in the cycling community. She provides bike law education clinics and classes to cyclists, local bike clubs and to law enforcement personnel in the state of Colorado. This post addresses the question, What can a cyclist do if harassed or threatened by a motorist?
At one point or another we've all uttered some version of this sentence: "I wasn't hit, but I was harassed, yelled at, honked at, buzzed, menaced, or otherwise threatened." But what can you do?
The truth is, being harassed, buzzed (passed so closely from behind, that the hair stands up on your arm and neck), yelled at, incessantly honked at, had objects thrown at you (beer bottles and fireworks among the most common), or any other variety of these types of behaviors, is REALLY, REALLY SCARY to a cyclist out riding their bike.
Some days it feels like motorists see a cyclist as the "dog they want to kick" after a bad day. They take out their life's frustrations and anger and unhappiness on us while we sit there next to them in the bike lane, or to the right side of their car on the roadway, just trying to get to or from our home or office, just minding our own business. We are vulnerable and often unaware until the venom is directed our way. And man, is it unsettling. Does this outweigh our true love and enjoyment of cycling? HELL NO! But do we need to discuss this? Absolutely.
A motorist was caught on video threatening and endangering the life of a bicyclist in Ross. The motorist was charged and convicted.
So, what can you do? Many folks choose to vent their experiences on social media, and while it feels really good to get the support of your community in response, the reality is that these posts don't do anything to solve the actual problem. Instead, here are my suggestions for actual conduct, actual response, and actual behavior, which we hope can begin to curb these behaviors. At the very least, they serve the purpose of tracking these motorists and notifying authorities, in the event this person ends up threatening or hitting or killing a cyclist in the future.
Does it take time and effort to report these motorists? Yes. Is it time well spent if you felt threatened? Yes again. Authorities cannot take action with social media posts/vents (and they won't). Save the information below in your phone for future use:
1) Call Colorado State Patrol Aggressive Driver hotline (or your state's equivalent). Here, it's *277 (*CSP) on your phone. The hotline has been approved for use by motorists to report drunk or erratic drivers, and it's been approved for use by cyclists to report motorist aggression. They will want license plate numbers, vehicle description, driver description - as much info as you can provide (video or cell phone photos are a bonus).
CSP claims that it collects this information and once a driver has been reported three times, will visit the driver and issue a citation where appropriate. This is something well worth your time.
2) Call your local law enforcement authority (especially if this happens within a City). You can simply call 911 if you don't know it and ask the dispatch to connect you to the local jurisdiction non-emergency line. Take the time to give them your statement and all of the information you collected. They may also ask you to remain on scene so they can come and take your statement in person. I've seen some local authorities then contact the motorist, if still in the area, or attempt to locate them to have a discussion and/or issue a warning or ticket if they feel it is warranted.
3) When you get home, visit the Close Call Database, and enter all information in that you can. This is not a law enforcement website, but a privately run by a cool guy named Ernest who's doing his best to collect this information. If you sign up for it (free) via Strava, you'll also get notifications when other riders update the database concerning incidents in your area. The mission is also to gather information about repeat offenders in the hopes that information can then be provided in comprehensive form to law enforcement.
4) If you believe that sharing the photos of the vehicle/driver/license plates will serve your social media circles, feel free to post them as a general "heads up" to your friends. I have seen these posts come full circle, where someone else knew the person in the photos and sometimes those ties result in good outcomes. For example the driver is mortified to learn that their boss' best friend saw a post about them harassing a cyclist on Facebook.
Finally, you've heard me preach this before, but camera footage makes documenting these incidents even easier, and makes law enforcement's job easier as well. If the video clearly shows the license plates, vehicle, and driver identification becomes less of an issue and videos don't lie. Bottom line, be proactive. Don't just vent online. Make the calls above. It matters!
Cyclist Dirk Friel says he and a friend were doing nothing wrong when a motorist began to harass them during a bike ride.
What Law Enforcement Says
After first penning this post, I sought some input from one of my most trusted law enforcement resources and he's given me permission to share his email here:
"I agree with you Megan. When a cyclist feels threatened, harassed, or endangered they should report it to the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction. That itself can be a challenge - municipalities are pretty clear cut - but on roads in the unincorporated areas it could be the State Patrol or County Sheriff. Every situation is different and the outcome will vary depending on the facts.
The more evidence you have the better result of the outcome. In other words if you have video clearly showing the location, vehicle description, license plate, driver, etc. it is much easier for the officer/deputy to take action, whether it be educating the driver, a summons, etc. Even if you don't have video it shouldn't preclude you from calling. Just remember it's your word against theirs, so be aware if we do write a summons there is the potential for you to be called as a witness in court.
While it is our job to sort through the stories, it can be difficult and/or impossible to determine the facts in some cases. I can't promise every deputy or officer will respond in a manner that you want but I can tell you in Boulder County we are working hard to move the needle to reduce the tension (or maybe better said in a Boulder way - increase the harmony) between cyclists and motorists.
You mention the Close Call Database and I encourage you to use it either when you don't have enough information to file a report, or even when you have a police report filed so the data can be collected there as well. Ernest is doing awesome work in this arena and we all need to support it. I'm also aware the City of Boulder has a similar database for reporting close calls. And while posting to social media feels good at the time, it is usually not productive in educating the violators. Also key to remember everything you post is eternal.
Now, it sounds like I'm pro-cyclist and you should call on every aggressive motorist. Well I am a road cyclist but also a motorist. I give the same speech to the motorists about cyclists who violate the law. We are supposed to share the road - so it's a two-way street. I tell motorists to call and report unsafe or illegal cyclists as well. I encourage you to self-police your fellow cyclists when you see them break a law.
This weekend, I was out riding and a cyclist blew through the one-way section against a red light. Bad enough, right - but he literally rode past 6 or 7 motorists patiently waiting for the light to turn green. I yelled at him as he went by at 25 mph. What I should have done is follow my own advice, blown off my ride, turn around and catch up to him, and educate him on the damage he just did to our sport.
Thank you for reading.
- Commander Lance Enholm, Boulder County Sheriff's Office