The PI reports that a Redmond cyclist has been charged with a felony after an alleged road rage incident in October. Of course both Chad Olson, the bicyclist, and the Volvo driver have differing accounts of what happened.
From the P.I.:
The driver told police he honked his horn after the cyclist — since identified as Olson — “cut (him) off” by swerving into the roadway from the bicycle lane, a Redmond officer told the court.
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Olson then chased after the car, pulling up beside the driver-side door when the car stopped for a red light, the officer continued. Olson then spit on the car window, struck the side mirror and circled around the car.
As the driver attempted to pull away, the cyclist threw his bicycle at the side of the car, the officer told the court.
An hour after the incident, Olson arrived at the Redmond Police Department hoping to report a road rage incident.
“Chad (Olson) stated his bike hit (the driver’s) vehicle while he was attempting to avoid being hit by the vehicle,” the Redmond officer told the court. “He stated any damage that occurred was based on his actions of self defense. …
“He did admit that he hit the driver side mirror out of anger.”
The charges have amounted to a felony because repairs are estimated at $5,700.
Too many details are missing from the story to really be able to tell what happened or for me or anyone else to place blame. For example, it was either a golden Volvo or there was more car damage than we know about. I can’t imagine what one could do to a Volvo with a single toss of a bike that would add up to over $5,000 (the point where property damage becomes a felony). And it says he rode away from the scene, so clearly he didn’t smash up the bike too badly in the process.
Second, what exactly happened to spur the incident is completely unclear. Did the cyclist feel threatened by the driver like he claims? We don’t know yet.
I can see a story like this getting out of hand in the public view, and I want to remind everyone (people who want to defend the cyclist and those who want to blame him) that we really don’t have a clear view of what happened.
It is, however, useful to discuss how to best handle a situation in which you feel endangered or threatened in some way by a vehicle in general (again, we don’t know what happened in this particular incident). I know there have been a couple times when I was glad my u-lock was in my backpack and hard to reach. When someone passes within inches of your handlebars, your body kicks into a kind of survival, adrenaline-pumping mode where it is very easy for anger to overpower your better senses. After all, someone almost killed you. It is completely legitimate to be angry at someone who almost kills you. The question is, what do you do about it?
1. Just report it and let it go?
By default, it’s probably best for your safety to just let it go and do what you can to report the incident. If you know you have a tendency to lose it, you should make even more of an effort to let it go. Get the license plate, report the incident to BikeWise and the police. Though Seattle Police may not do much about an “almost hit me” report, it’s good to have it on the record with as much vehicle and suspect info as you can get (if the suspect is still in the area, call 911, if they are long gone, call 206-625-5011). Some people have even started wearing helmet cameras to capture these incidents. Remember, it is illegal for a vehicle to pass you within a “reasonably safe” distance.
2. Try to teach the driver a lesson?
“But if I just let it go, the driver is going to go on and not realize the trauma they are causing to people riding bikes!” I have had a couple experiences where I have been able to talk to the driver at a stoplight and explain that I felt s/he endangered me and make a calm-as-possible request for more space next time. You will probably not get a good response on the spot (they range from ignoring you to telling you to screw off and ride on the sidewalk). But at least the driver knows they scared someone and has the opportunity to change their behavior. Often times, people don’t realize what they did. They may be defensive when put on the spot, but most people will continue to think about the incident after they take off in a puff of toxic exhaust after the light changes.
However, your safety needs to be your number one priority. Engaging in conversation with someone in a car is potentially risky. Their vehicle is a deadly weapon, after all.
3. Put them in their place?
“This driver just stomped on my rights and threatened my life. There is no way I am going to let them get away with that.” I’ll admit, I have tried this strategy, too. Luckily, I have never had it backfire too badly. Mostly, the driver and I just yelled at each other, threw around some curse words and went our separate ways totally riled up and steaming. In an article published today, a Melbourne cyclist explains what happened when he got buzzed and lost it. After getting into a yelling match, the driver circled around and tried to buzz him a couple more times.
So perhaps trying to talk with a driver at all is a bad idea. But that just seems so defeatist…
4. Put your taillight between your legs and sulk away?
I reject this as a reasonable option. You have to be proud about being a cyclist. It’s demeaning to have someone intimidate you with overwhelming physical force. It is wrong. You must refuse to be a victim and learn to recognize how that victimization manifests inside yourself. I, for example, have huffed and puffed all the way home, replaying the incident in my head over and over, imaging myself smashing their window or videotaping it with my phone and sending it to the police and having them arrest the guy and take away his license forever. Meanwhile, any relatively close interaction with a motor vehicle that occurs along my way is ripe for me to irrationally blow up. This is dangerous and completely negates the relaxing joy that I love so much about biking. If I am not careful, I can feel depressed and angry for the rest of the day.
How do you keep from being a victim?
My answer is easy: I write Seattle Bike Blog. No matter how wronged I am on the road, I know that bike advocates are on the right track and that we are accomplishing great things for bike safety. I get to write about organizations that empower young people with the knowledge of safe biking and bicycle repair. I get to look at exciting new plans that will make our roads safer. I get to read about people finding a bike at a garage sale for $30 and taking to two wheels, never looking back. Instead of dwelling on the negative experiences I have, I get to be positive. This is a big reason why I started the blog in the first place, and it works for me.
How do you handle a negative or threatening interaction on the roads? How do you remain proud and confident after close calls with aggressive or negligent drivers?