Saturday, October 20, 2007

Reporting bad drivers

In my last post I mentioned that I occasionally call the police on aggressive drivers. This is true. Someone in the comments sections asked me to expound. I don't have a lot of time (which is why I haven't written in awhile), but here's what I do. This is sort of a touchy subject for me because my main goal with my involvement with cycling is to make it safer for cyclists and a big part of that is improving cyclist, car driver relations. If you have any input in the matter, let me know.

The commenter (Chad, I think), said that he had called businesses about business cars that have been aggressive. I've done that too, and I feel that has been a worthwhile use of my time. I would also like to point out that I try to give compliments as much as I call to complain. For example, I pass through the industrial area of Provo every morning as the Provo city drivers are arriving at work or leaving for the days tasks. It only takes one bad pass and I'll make a phone call, yet I am passed by several Provo city trucks every morning and have NEVER had a bad experience. Which is more deserving of a call, one bad experience, or hundreds of non-experiences. Anyway, I called Provo maintenance people and got in communication with the right supervisor and personally thanked him and his drivers for being nice. Now I visualize in my head the supervisor sharing this call with his employees in a complimentary fashion and the employees reflecting on that as they pass me or any other cyclist. I think that helps car/bike relationships more than any call to complain.

Right, I know, the comment was about calling the police, but I wanted to put the most important point first. So if I think that complimenting is more effectively reaching my goals than complaining, why do I call the police? First, I think calling the police makes the police aware that I am a cyclist and I care about their enforcement of the law. Secondly, I want the passing motorist to know that I'm paying attention and can get their information easily enough. This is the one I wonder about though.

OK, I'm going to go through my procedures first. #1, I never call the police unless it was an aggressive maneuver that put me in danger. So I call on intentional close passes when there are no other cars around (being buzzed). When I'm on a road where there is not room for a car passing me to give me the 3 ft required by law and not collide with the oncoming car it often gets dangerous. In this case, I don't mind getting passed, but if I see an oncoming car, signal for the car behind me to slow, see the driver thinking and then trying to squeeze through, I will call the police. This is probably the most frequent reason for my calls (and I am generally positioned in the middle or to the left edge of the lane so they don't try to get by). The point is that I don't call when someone makes an unintentional mistake or is just obnoxious blowing their horn or whatever. I call when someone makes a premeditated decision to drive aggressively in a manner that puts my safety at jeopardy. I also only call if I get a licence plate number.

So when you call the police you talk to dispatch and report what happens. Then they contact a police officer who will have an officer call you back. Then you get to talk to an officer and explain the same thing to him (they've all been men so far) as you did the dispatcher. The officer will want to know if you want to press charges. I never do. I let the officer know that I just want the driver to know that their maneuver was dangerous and illegal and that my life was endangered and I'm a human being who does not want to be killed by a motorist. Besides, from what I've heard, pressing charges doesn't do any good in these situations because it ends up being your word against the driver's (if you got a physical description of the driver) and they generally don't work out. Normally the officer tells me that they will contact the person and have "a talk" with them. Do they actually do it? I don't know, I've never followed up. I have asked the officers if they feel that what I'm doing is a reasonable use of their time. They have always answered that they thought it was. They want the streets to be safer and that talk should help that come to fruition... in a very small way.

Are these reports working to improve cyclist/driver relations? Ah, here's the big question. I'm guessing that the driver is not thrilled to hear from the police about their bad choice. Then the real question becomes, will this improve their behavior around cyclists or cause them to hunt us down? I really don't think they're going to hunt us down, but I don't know that it will make a drastic improvement in behavior for the majority of drivers. But I do think that call raises awareness which is good, especially among the police that are out there day in and day out.

Let me know if you have a different opinion, I'm looking to do the best for all cyclists, but am not certain on this one.

1 comment:

Ed W said...

I've had mixed results reporting aggressive or dangerous drivers. It seems to depend on the PD involved and their workload at the time. But when I've had the same motorist act aggressively several times, our local PD has been very proactive.

Part of my commute is along a rural 2 lane shared with commercial gravel trucks, the heaviest thing on the road here in Oklahoma. (Some days I'm the second heaviest thing on the road, but that's a story for another time) I wrote a letter to the gravel company, thanking their drivers for being safety minded and courteous - which they are almost unfailingly. I feel much safer sharing the road with these professional drivers.

They wave when they pass.