Safe Riding

Road Rage - Don't Let Your Anger Put You at Risk

Written by  April 1, 2013

If you frequently or even occasionally ride in traffic, it is a safe bet that there has been a time when another motorist has done something that made you angry. Maybe you were being followed too closely. Perhaps you were forced into another lane or even onto the shoulder of the highway. The natural reaction in such situations is to instantly become very angry at the person who seems to have so little regard for your well-being. The way you deal with your anger could become a matter of life or death.





Several years ago, I was riding with a small group of friends on a two-lane highway with a very narrow shoulder. As we approached an intersection, a car came from a country road on our left and turned onto the highway ahead of us. All of the riders in the group had to brake heavily to avoid rear-ending the vehicle. At that point, none of us was holding that driver in high esteem. The leader of our group (I’ll refer to him as Sam, not his real name) apparently decided that, due to his position at the front of the pack, it was incumbent upon him to express our joint disapproval to the offending motorist. Sam passed the car with pipes roaring and then slowed down to make sure the driver got a clear view of the gesture that was intended to convey our disdain for that idiot’s driving skill or lack thereof. For emphasis, he turned in the seat in an effort to glare at the driver. In the heat of the moment, Sam had failed to notice that the road curved sharply to the left just ahead. By the time my friend had both hands back on the bars and his eyes back on the road, rage instantly gave way to panic as his motorcycle transitioned from pavement to grass. Through a combination of riding skill and incredible luck, our group leader managed to avoid crashing his motorcycle. This event happened very quickly, but the lesson I learned from it will stay with me as long as I ride. Anger has no place on a motorcycle!



Aggressive and inattentive drivers are everywhere. As a motorcyclist, be prepared for even more exposure to their unpredictable behavior than you experience in your car. As amazing as it may seem, aggressive drivers tailgate motorcycles just as closely as cars. Don’t they realize that the same following distance that often results in a fender bender with the car ahead can be deadly in the case of a motorcycle? My friend Mike (his real name, used with permission) tells of an experience he had a few years ago with a tailgater. Mike and his girlfriend were in an unfamiliar area riding on a two-lane highway at about dusk when a car came up behind them and began following at a distance that was much too close for comfort. Both Mike and his girlfriend repeatedly made gestures to try to get the driver to either pass or back off but to no avail. What would you do in this situation? Mike decided to flip a coin, actually several. He reached into his pocket for a handful of coins and tossed them over his shoulder. He could hear clinks and tings as the loose change found its target. The car’s headlights soon faded in the distance. Mike says he knows a biker who always keeps a few small ball bearings in his pocket to casually drop on the highway in front of a tailgater. He calculates that they will bounce high enough to get the attention of an offending motorist. These approaches, although sometimes effective, are NOT recommended! Remember, the other driver could be armed!



Lane changes that force a motorcyclist to take evasive action are often due to carelessness but are sometimes due to the bike being in one of the other vehicle’s blind spots, sometimes referred to as the “no zone.” Shortly after I got my driver’s license, I was driving on a family trip to Arizona to visit my sister. On a four-lane highway somewhere in New Mexico, I glanced at the rear view mirror, signaled, and pulled into the left lane to pass a slower vehicle. After I returned to the right lane, a motorcycle pulled up beside me. The rider glared at me for a moment and then blasted on past. I realized that I must have cut him off, but I had not seen him at all. I had no intention of endangering that rider. Obviously I should have been more careful, checking the rear view mirror more frequently and looking over my shoulder before pulling out. I was sorry it happened, but it was too late to do anything about it other than to be more careful in the future. I have a feeling that most of us motorcyclists have had a careless moment or two when driving our cars and possibly have crowded a motorcycle.



Each year in the United States, there are more than 300 “road rage” incidents that result in serious injuries or fatalities. Over 1,200 incidents are reported annually. Here are a few points to consider in order to avoid becoming a statistic:

1. Avoid aggressive motorcycling. Ride with courtesy in order to avoid triggering aggressiveness in the drivers around you.



2. Avoid placing your motorcycle in a situation that is likely result in a road rage incident. Avoiding the “no zone” will dramatically reduce the likelihood of your being cut off or forced to take evasive action.



3. Remember that it’s quite likely that the motorist didn’t intentionally put you in danger. Motorcycles are easily overlooked. Give others the benefit of the doubt.



4. Be aware that a calm rider is a lot safer than an angry one. If you let your anger get the best of you, you may put yourself in a situation worse than the one that made you angry.



5. Anger can be contagious. The driver that ticked you off could be a psychopath with a gun. At the very least, he has at his disposal a 3,600-pound, 4-wheeled battering ram. Let it go.



6. No form of revenge or “special recognition” will change anything that happened. It just makes things worse. It has often been said that two wrongs don’t make a right. If your rage causes an accident, the fact that someone angered you will not be much of a defense in court.

In conclusion, I encourage you do your best to keep your temper under control when you ride. You'll be a lot safer, and so will those around you.

Stripe

Photojournalist/Account Representative - Kansas City, MO

Dave Baxter, a.k.a. Stripe joined our staff in December, 2003, as a photojournalist. If that road name sounds familiar, you may have seen his photos on the pages of such publications as American Iron, V Twin, VQ, In the Wind, and Easyriders. Stripe attends as many rallies, bike shows, and charity runs as he can and is a major contributor of photos and articles to our magazine. His first assignment was our January, 2004, cover photo, where he snapped the awesome photo of a 1958 Harley-Davidson Duo Glide. A rider since the age of 14, he loves to help and encourage new riders. Stripe enjoys meeting new people and looks forward to catching many of our readers in the viewfinder of his digital camera. Contact Stripe at stripe@cycleconnections.com