I have more tales of (other people’s) road rage than you could possibly imagine. There’s a new one every day. Yesterday there were two, both moderately upsetting. But I’m not going to tell you what happened, because it’ll just make you angry and me angrier, and neither incident was any different from the hundreds of thousands of other nasty little encounters between cyclists and drivers that happen every day. It’s endlessly frustrating, but it also gets a little boring.
So instead I’m going to tell you how to deal with road rage. If you cycle in London you’ll be familiar with that feeling of fury as a taxi driver sweeps past you with millimetres to spare, and then cuts right in front of you, only to stop at the traffic lights a few metres ahead. And you’ll probably often yield to the temptation to pull up alongside him and have a good shout.
And then there’s only one possible outcome. He’ll have a good shout back, and tell you exactly what he thinks of you and your stupid bike, liberally interspersed with four-letter words. Well, what did you expect?
“Actually yes, that was terribly rude of me. Please accept my apologies madam. It won’t happen again. No no, please, after you…”
So how can we get a more positive outcome?
1. Smile. It confuses people. Or better still, actually laugh. It’ll make you feel better, and it’ll either wrongfoot the driver (who was expecting a mouthful of abuse), or actually put him on your side. A driver once started yelling at me for jumping a light, when his passenger pointed out that in fact I hadn’t, and he all-of-a-sudden changed his tune, apologized and got the giggles, and I ended up laughing too, and we chuckled merrily together until the lights changed.
2. Apologize. (If it was even a tiny bit your fault.) A little humility goes a long way, and also gives you back the moral high ground. And I’ve found that if I say “I’m sorry, that was my fault” or similar, the driver will often smile, give me the thumbs up, and be a lot nicer to the next cyclist he encounters. Well, probably.
3. Point out how unreasonable they’re being. Would you shout and swear at someone who annoyed you in a shop, at work, or walking down the street? So why is it suddenly OK when they’re on a bike? An Irish friend of mine sometimes catches up with verbally abusive drivers and, with schoolmarmish outrage, asks “is that any way to talk to a person?” She’s not angry – just shocked. And quite right too – why should we get used to being spoken to like that?
4. Be female. (If you can.) I sometimes turn round to respond to a volley of abuse, only for the driver to say “ooops – sorry love!” And one of my van-driving colleagues once told me that he can’t bring himself to shout at female cyclists, even if they’re in the wrong. (To which I responded that if they’ve done something stupid, they blooming well deserve to be shouted at.)
5. Be funny. Think up some good lines like “do you always tell girls this is six inches?” (accompanied by the appropriate hand gesture) or “ever heard of traffic lights?” (this got me a chuckle from an errant pedestrian just yesterday). If you make them laugh they might hate you for it, but they won’t be able to carry on being angry.
6. Rise above it. This is hard, I’ll admit. But entering into an argument with a driver isn’t going to score you any points, and might well leave you even more angry than you already were. Far better to take a deep breath, keep calm, and carry on. They probably already know they’re in the wrong anyway – and, whilst you’ll never actually win in a battle of tongues, you and your bike will be at the other end of the city long before he and his car have even managed to escape the West End. And he knows it.
Be careful out there. And come back and let me know how you get on.