How to respond to aggressive/obnoxious individuals

I've been cycling around London for around two years and in that time I have infrequently found myself having a full blown argument with other road users. I find this quite surprising because I'm generally quite a mellow person and rarely argue with anybody.

I would estimate this has happened about four or five times over the last two years. It just so happens that two of those occasions have been in the last couple of weeks and I'm wondering what the best way to respond to clearly aggressive and obnoxious individuals on the road is?

To give an example: today I was waiting at a t-junction to turn right, I could not pull out because there was a steady stream of traffic travelling on the carriageway immediately in front of me. A motorist pulled up behind me and repeatedly beeped at me and shouted out of his window to pull out and get out of his way. He was clearly wrong because there was no way I could pull out. Initially I ignored him, I then pointed out the traffic stopping me from being able to pull out. Two pedestrians crossing the road between us laughed and commented that he wanted me to fly! With further provocation I ended up answering his abuse by shouting equally bad language back at him (which I am not at all proud of).

The driver in this example was particularly obnoxious but when faced with these situations I usually want to try to get the obnoxious road user to understand my point of view, be more tolerant and less aggressive in future. So far I have found this to be impossible, and have ended up engaging in slanging matches which are completely unproductive, increase tension on the road in general and I find affect my concentration on the road in the time which follows.

Does anybody have any tips on how to deal with this situation and stop it affecting your concentration and subsequent road safety?

Additionally are there any public order or highways offences being caused by being inconsiderate, aggressive or abusive? If it were possible to gather evidence on such episodes (e.g. by wearing helmet cameras/microphones) would it be possible to make a complaint to the police? And would doing so actually do any good?

 

Replies

How would you respond if these situations were not on the road and didn't involve a bike? My recommendation would be to remove yourself from the situation as best you can.

If someone is impatiently trying to overtake me and I think they are such a bad driver that I may get injured I will remove myself and my bike onto the footway, put on a "I'm afraid for my life here because of your awful driving so you'd better go past" face and wave them past. That look takes some practice. Wide eyes are good for that expression.

If the other road user is already in a foul mood I don't fancy your chances of re-educating them at that time I'm afraid. My eyes have been blacked when I've tried standing up to bullies. It's not nice.

I just looked up 'Roadsafe London'. You can report bad driving and behaviour there to the Met Police.  I don't know how much effort they put in to responding to these reports, but I know I feel as though I have done my best if I fill one in.

https://secure.met.police.uk/roadsafelondon/

This post was edited by Jon Fray KC at 4:43pm 18 February 2013.

I've had this very situation - waiting at a T-junction of a busy main road to turn right when a car pulled up behind me and the driver got verbally aggressive because I wouldn't move out into traffic, but waited until there was a safe space.

I don't know what to do to be honest. I don't think Jon has really got the answer, although certainly if you felt at physical risk, yes it's probably better to remove yourself. But you can't give in at every piece of aggression - the bullies will simply win and no-one will be able to cycle.

I think that one reason some drivers become aggressive in this way is simply their ignorance of cycling and the risks it poses. When car drivers reach a T-junction they quite often do move forward into traffic which has not stopped; however, they are bigger, more visible and better protected than a cyclist. I expect if they ever did get on a bike they would instantly recognise why cyclists don't do this.

I think you have to judge your own particular situation. I'd recommend trying to keep cool and sticking your ground. If you can do it in a pleasant way - a cheery smile and wave sometimes disarms an aggressive opponenet - then all the better, but I have to confess it's not that easy to pull off.

  • By phufbl at 9:39pm 20 February 2013

I completely understand what you are saying Jon Fray and I quite often think to myself while I am cycling that being in the right won't be much consolation when I am lying in the road. I also agree that if someone is acting aggressively it is unlikely that arguing is ever going to change their mind. However I don't think acceptance or even accommodation of that type of behaviour is a good thing. If I dismounted and stepped onto the pavement every time I thought other road users endangered me then as well as inconveniencing me, surely that would just encourage that dangerous or intimidatory behaviour? It has to be important to display to a driver that you are unhappy with their actions because you think they have done something dangerous, which I am not sure I can do by widening my eyes!

 

In the past when I have been over (or under!) taken dangerously I have asked the driver at the next set of lights why they did it. I try as much as I can to do so in an unaggressive way because my purpose is not to provoke an argument. However some people do react aggressively and provoking those people could end up with me being hurt maliciously which definitely is not my goal - I'm not convinced therefore that any attempt at direct confrontation is a great idea, or I certainly think that retreat has always got to be an option!

 

I like that police link you gave Jon Fray and I will bear it in mind in future. The reporting process I guess has two outcomes. (1) to inform police statistics (2) to take action against the potentially dangerous individual being reported. The second goal can only be achieved if there is some way of identifying the individual and evidence of what has happened. So does that support an argument for wearing video recording equipment e.g. mounted on helmet or handlebars?

  • By jimw at 3:24pm 21 February 2013

It depends how big you are relative to the aggressive individual!

Seriously though, I've come to the conclusion there is little to be gained from engaging with such people. Just treat them as you would any other hazard on your journey: avoid them. You'll never see them again. If you get into an argument you'll just raise your own stress levels and adrenaline, which can impair your judgement for the rest of your journey. And if you regularly get into confrontations, it's only a matter of time before you pick a 'wrong 'un' - and things get violent.

 

I find it quite satisfying to thank the beeper effusively, with really appreciative gesture and voice. 

If actually threatened then it is a 999 call - immediately after you are out of harm's way, hopefully remembering the registration number...

Last time it was a passenger with a fishing rod; police said they had a word with him/them.

You live in a massive city where it's par for the course that you're going to interact with and be pissed of by inconsiderate wankers on a daily basis. You can either be the kind of person who gets irate, angry, wound up, vengeful, puffed up and righteous and sour your cycle or you can take a couple of deep breaths, carry on on your way and enjoy the rest of your day.

Post a reply

Sign in to post a reply.