When you have been on the receiving end of bad driving, it can leave you shaken. A cyclist has nothing to protect himself with. It really does matter if a car cuts you up or pays no attention to other road users. When this happens, there is a natural inclination to want to educate the driver – e.g. passing with 10cm to spare is actually very dangerous and could lead to a bad accident.
The problem is that the worse people’s behaviour is – the more unreasonably they are likely to be. The worse their driving – the more they are likely to irrationally blame it on someone else.
If someone cuts you up or passes far too close, only in about 10% of cases would they actually feel at fault and be willing to apologise. It does happen, but I’ve had people drive very badly and a red mist descends. It is always someone else’s fault! This is the human mind.
I remember many years ago, I was cycling along a very narrow quiet country lane. The car behind was impatient to overtake. He overtook on a blind corner and nearly hit an on-coming car. Of course, it was all my fault. He got out of car and blamed me 100% for being an obstacle on the road. I was only 15 at the time.
It’s not a question of motorists vs cyclists. It is more human psychology. Any road use is vulnerable to irrational behaviour. I was recently cycling to work through busy back roads. Out of the blue, a cyclist (who was cycling on the pavement) shouted at me ‘what are you looking at?’ – It was said – 50% defensively, 50% aggressively. The funny thing is that I had no conscious awareness of the person cycling on the pavement. I was concentrating 100% on staying alert with all the motorists trying to squeeze through small gaps, late for the school run.
Perhaps, he was in a defensive mode because he knew he was doing the wrong thing – of cycling on the pavement – so he was all ready to defend himself. I’m sure there is a Zen proverb that people attack when they feel weak. Similarly, people attack when they inwardly know they are wrong and the tremendous need for self-justification comes to the fore.
The only time, speaking to a driver might have paid off was one occasion many years ago. I was cycling on a rural road, when a white van passed at high speed with literally less than 1 foot distance. It was so close I almost instinctively tapped on the van to let him know I was hear. He came screeching to a halt and get out of the van fuming, wanting to know why I had done that.
I thought ‘O God, what have I done now?’ Anyway I managed to calmly reply that he passed so close I could easily tap on his van. I didn’t want him to run me over. He replied with a confused look and a simple “O”. He didn’t directly apologise, but from his body language, I got the impression that he hadn’t realise he had passed so close, and perhaps it was dangerous. Perhaps he is now the model white van driver, always giving enough room for vulnerable cyclists, should they swerve to avoid a pothole. I don’t know. I also know that many wouldn’t have reacted the same, but taken the tap as provocation equivalent to starting a mini road-war.
Generally, my attitude is to pursue – defensive cycling. Look after myself, keep safe and avoid confrontation. Confrontation is very rarely productive, often destructive. Yes, many road-users need educating – but it is not my job and if people are going to learn, it’s not when they have just pulled out into a major road without checking to see whether a cyclist is coming along. When people drive dangerously, they are very rarely ready to hear advice about taking an extra couple of minutes to get to work and being courteous to all fellow road users.