Why can’t motorists wait two seconds?

Journalist Carlton Reid weighs in with a recent event

I was on a car hood last Tuesday night. There were witnesses.

I was riding back from dropping my daughter at ballet. I'm kitted out with flashing LEDs front and rear, plus reflective jacket, plus flashing LED ankleband. The narrow road outside our house is a rat-run, especially at night.

I have to take a right turn on a road and then an immediate right turn into our drive. If a car is too close, the driver might not realise I’m making two turns in quick succession - so, if I hear them getting too close, I wobble to warn them I’m about to do something they might not be expecting. (In a car, I pump the brake lights to add to the flashing indicator).

On Tuesday night, January 27, I heard a car going stupidly fast behind me. An impatient driver ignored my flashing LEDs and disregarded my wobble and hand-signal. I was in the middle of the road. I turned right. The driver couldn't stop his car from nudging my back wheel, albeit softly. I was then parallel to his front bumper, stuck in my right-hand turn. The driver did not smile weakly, shrug his shoulders and apologise. He gunned his engine, and blistering the air, told me to get out of his way.

I have no idea why, but I stood my ground, pointing to my flashing LEDs, asking him why he had been following me so close when I was clearly executing a turn. I was a paragon of calmness. I didn't raise my voice, I didn't swear back. I didn't move. He revved again, and inched forward, pushing into my legs with the front of his car. He repeated his shouted instruction for me to 'get out of his effing way'.

A cyclist came along at that moment and I asked him to be a witness to the drama unfolding. The cyclist tried to calm the motorist, arguing there were no injuries involved and that as he hadn’t seen the original incident there was nothing to report we should disengage. This was sound advice. At that point I'd have accepted any acknowledgement from the driver and I would have stepped out of his way.

The cyclist urged me to give way, reasoning that a driver who was using his car to push my legs might take it further.

He did. He got out of his car. I could now see he was well-dressed, in a smart suit and a solicitor-style knee-length coat.

His manners didn't befit his dress sense. He started effing and blinding into my face. Instead of the expected thump, he got out his iPhone (not all iPhone users are saints, then), said he’d call the police, and took a picture.

By this point, my next-door neighbour was watching and listening.

The motorist said “people like me” needed to get out of the way of cars. I suggested he might have given me two seconds to make my turn and might not want to use a vehicle weighing a tonne as a battering ram on my legs.

He lifted my bike out of my hands, threw it to the side and on to the ground and got back in his car. I stood my ground, in front of his grill, 'Gandhi' of Jesmond Dene.

I was about to take out my iPhone and take a pic of the guy’s number plate when the car revved, and moved forward at enough speed to force me to jump on the hood. I had to hold on, Starsky and Hutch style, as he drove, at speed, 10 metres, before a chicane and an oncoming car stopped him. Now even more enraged, the motorist reversed at speed. All the while other cars are managing to make their way past. (What must they have been thinking? I don’t suppose you see somebody crouching on the hood of a speeding car every day of the week).

I jumped from the hood. The motorist sounded his horn, shouting and swearing, trying to squirm past. "Oh no, you don't," I said and blocked his progress while I took a pic of his number plate, which is only fair as he took a pic of me. Once I recorded his details, I stepped out of the way.

He drove away fast, in a temper, swearing, but, again blocked by a car coming the other way, he had time to shout why he had been in such a hurry to get past me. He was late for picking up his son. Mr Angry revved again, and sped away, brake lights blinking as he aggressively tail-gated a car with the temerity to be in front of him.

The patient cyclist gave me his contact details. I said I would be reporting the incident to the police (for a start Mr Angry now knows where I live). The cyclist said not to bother as “they won’t do anything.”

In fact, far from dismissing my complaint, the police appeared on the scene swiftly. They seemed shocked by the details recounted above and took it all very seriously. Probably because of two witnesses.

The case could go to court, possibly for dangerous driving.

Now, I wasn't injured and my bike only suffered scratches but I was in shock for the rest of the evening. I put details of the incident on Twitter and got an avalanche of encouragement from cyclists around the world. Replying to the 50+ messages helped me deal with the situation. I wasn't alone.

I don’t like or encourage these sort of encounters, but, sadly, they’re getting more frequent. Too many drivers don’t seem to realise cars can be weapons.

Deliberately shunting my shins was dangerous - and stupid given there was a witness standing by - but to take me on a 10-metre drive on his hood was insane.

I was encouraged to call the police by Mr Angry's attitudes to cyclists in general. He didn't just hate me, he wanted all of us out of his way. He doesn’t think we should be on the roads at all, and said so in no uncertain terms. At the very least the guy needs a driver's re-education course to teach him that the roads are not for cars alone.

Will this make him see the error of his ways? Of course not, but next time he sees a cyclist he might not pick a fight, he might just apply his brakes and, more importantly, his brain.

Carlton Reid is the editor of www.bikebiz.com, and is a long-time bicycle commuter and expert in all things two-wheeled.

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