Cyclists fear drivers with road rage

Posted: Wednesday, May 17, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) -- There was the driver who pulled a gun on him, and the driver who ran a pickup truck onto a sidewalk after him, Christopher Scott recalled.

And this was only while Scott, a bicycle commuter in Washington, was doing his four miles between his home and his job.

''Things do get a little hairy,'' said Scott, 25, who works in the membership department at the League of American Bicyclists.

Things are too hairy, say officials of the bikers' organization. Road rage isn't simply driver against driver -- it's driver against cyclist, too. And the bike group officials want government officials, as well as drivers, to pay more attention to the risks that cyclists face.

The association cited the fatal shooting May 5 of a 32-year-old Lakewood, Colo., cyclist by the driver of a pickup truck in what Denver police describe as a case of road rage.

''It's an almost weekly occurrence'' to get some kind of abuse, Scott said. A driver pulled a gun last summer after being unable to pass him on a crowded street, he said. And in the same area, another man drove his pickup onto the sidewalk and started to chase him, Scott said. In both cases, ''I clicked into full gear and got out,'' he said.

''Road rage is a growing and dangerous phenomenon,'' the league's executive director, Elissa Margolin, said in a statement. Drivers and cyclists as well must learn to share the road, she said.

The federal government also is concerned, but has no data on how large the problem may be or whether it is growing, said Rosalyn G. Millman, acting director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Being out of emotional control is not regularly singled out on police accident reports, she said.

For now, the agency is trying to distinguish between road rage and ''aggressive driving,'' Millman said. The safety administration considers aggressive driving to be a combination of unsafe driving behaviors, such as speeding and weaving in and out of traffic, she said. That's less violent than road rage, which would mean ''criminal behavior -- using the car as a weapon -- or using a weapon from a vehicle,'' Millman said.

Although the agency has been concerned primarily with driver-against-driver activity, ''clearly someone on a bike is very exposed. They don't have the protection of the metal, like someone in a car would,'' Millman said.

Stopping road rage is up to both the driver and the cyclist, because the activity is an interaction, said psychologist Leon James of the University of Hawaii. ''Both have traffic emotions that they cannot keep under control because they are not trained to do so,'' he said.

For the cyclist, this involves not demanding a share of the road when the driver refuses to give it, said James, who has interviewed drivers and had them carry tape recorders to capture their emotional reactions to traffic.

''The prime directive is to retain control over the situation,'' James said. Once the cyclist shows anger, the situation is out of the cyclist's control, because ''the cyclist doesn't know how the driver will respond,'' he said.

Drivers must realize that ''there are roadway bullies, and any of us can turn into a bully,'' James said. ''All of us drivers have a bias to feel we have priority over the road. It's a territorial competition where the driver feels that the cyclist should not be there, in the way of the car.''

Drivers should acknowledge when their emotions become a problem, figure out exactly what triggers their outbursts and start to put locks on those triggers, James said.

The safety administration advises those who are confronted by aggressive drivers to make every attempt to get out of their way, to avoid challenging them, to avoid eye contact and not to return any gestures. Later, report the driver's vehicle description and license plate number to police, the agency said. The agency is working with state and local officials to develop programs against aggressive driving.

And cyclists should always wear helmets. ''That's the most effective safety device we have,'' Millman said.

End advance for Monday, May 15



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