Cyclists talk a lot about aggressive drivers. They talk about getting cut off when cars turn right directly in their path. And they talk about drivers buzzing them and nearly making them crash, but they rarely talk about tailgating.
Of course, every cyclist has had the experience of having a car ride up their back. This is most disconcerting when arriving at a traffic light where stopping could mean having the car slam into the bike’s rear wheel. At such times, it’s difficult to know whether to stop or to blow through the light to avoid getting hit from the rear.
Still, we never talk about this as tailgating in the same way as we refer to it with cars. With respect to bicycles, tailgating is considered to be aggressive driving or intimidation.
To address this problem, and make it a traffic violation, Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington County, VA, submitted a measure, HB785, that would outlaw following bicycles, mopeds and electric personal assistive mobility devices too closely.
“Current state law forbids motorists from following another motor vehicle ‘more closely than is reasonable and prudent.’…
‘Bicycles are becoming more common on Virginia streets and roads,’ Lopez said, ‘and broadening the tailgating law to cover them would provide riders an extra margin of safety.’
But the subcommittee rejected the bill, 4-2, with minimal discussion. Del. Scott Garrett, R-Lynchburg, expressed concern that it might impede traffic flow.
The panel will have one more opportunity to address the issue. An identical bill, SB264, from Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, has passed the Senate and is on its way to the House.”
The first thing that catches one’s eye is the explanation by Del. Scott Garret, whereby he claims that making tailgating of bicycles illegal would “impede traffic flow.” Are we to take this to mean that traffic flows better when a car is allowed to risk crashing into the rear of a bicycle? Such an assertion is preposterous. A car would not move any more freely or quickly if it followed a bicycle at a close distance versus a farther distance.
What makes the law’s defeat even more amazing is that the law included protections for electric personal assistive mobility devices — in other words, wheelchairs. If we agree that allowing a car to follow a bicycle very closely should be permitted in the name of traffic flow, then we would have to say the same about electric wheelchairs. Apparently, elected officials like Del. Scott Garrett took this stance.
In many areas, disabled people travel around town by wheelchair. They cross the streets and, at times, ride in the street in order to reach an area where a curb cut will allow them to return to the sidewalk. Any civilized person would think that the above measure should pass for the safety of wheelchair users alone. However, once bicycles were added to the mix, there was resistance to providing protection for road users other than motor vehicles. And this resistance came at the expense of the disabled.
Laws prohibiting the tailgating of bicycles have come about in response to situations where drivers were deliberately tailgating bicycles because they thought the bicycles were in the way. One such case occurred in Portland, OR.
“A man who lives on a narrow rural road in the foothills leading up to Skyline Blvd just north of the Helvetia area has become a lightning rod for community activism. People accuse him of repeated aggressive behaviors while driving his pickup near people riding bicycles, and some are concerned that it’s only a matter of time before his alleged verbal aggression and menacing actions lead to someone getting hurt…
The person accused of the aggressive (and illegal) behavior has been publicly identified as Scott Wheeler, a man who has written letters to his neighborhood newsletter about his interpretation of Oregon traffic law (he maintains that bicycles must pull off the road when a motor vehicle is trying to pass), and he has even filed a complaint with the Oregon State Bar against noted bike lawyer Ray Thomas for allegedly “circulating misleading legal information to the public.”
Aside from aggressive behavior towards bicycles in the area, this driver has gotten into the habit of tailgating the bicycles because he believes that they should pull over to let drivers pass. One cyclist wrote an account of this behavior.
“I pulled to the far edge (borderline gravel) and signaled to pass (no on-coming traffic and at this point we were on a flat). He would not pass so I kept riding a SLOW pace (5 mph) until he felt comfortable to pass. He continued to honk and started creeping up on my back wheel. At this point, I do not know what he wants and I’m freaking out.
So I pull over into ditch/gravel and expected him to stop and explain what’s going on. He revs up and blasts past me w/in inches of my face. That freaked me out.”
While this driver’s actions go beyond simple tailgating, not including bicycles in the laws which protect vehicles from being followed too closely, escalates the danger such cyclists face when confronted by an irate driver.
Oregon has a slow moving vehicle law. It requires slow moving vehicles to pull over to allow faster moving vehicles to pass. However, according to Ray Thomas, an expert on bike law, this doesn’t apply to bicycles since the law refers to vehicle “drivers,” not “riders.”
To further his anti-bicycle campaign, Wheeler (the aggressive driver) filed a complaint against Thomas with the State Bar, asking them to “censure Thomas for ‘circulating misinformation’ to the public. Wheeler requested that the OSB shut down Thomas’ website, remove two articles, and that Thomas’ firm pay for a $3 million educational campaign to ‘counteract the effects of a decade of misinformation on their website.’” Fortunately, Wheeler’s complaint was dismissed by the OSB who found no professional misconduct.
The refusal of drivers and elected officials to provide cyclists with the same protections afforded to drivers is just one more example of an entitlement mentality. By denying cyclists the right to be free from cars bearing down on their rear wheels, endangering their lives, the drivers are in effect saying that if you want to ride a bicycle on “our road,” you will have to endure our self-proclaimed right to strike you from behind, throwing you over the bike’s handlebars, and accept our attempts to force you off of the road, into a ditch.
This fight over tailgating, and whether one has a right to drive at a speed appropriate to their vehicle, on a shared road, is just one more attempt to assign ownership of the road exclusively to motor vehicles. What it boils down to is that some drivers don’t want bicycles on the road. And they will fight tooth and nail to keep cyclists from asserting their rights, and from attaining equal rights with drivers.
For this reason, cyclists must stay abreast of the laws designed to enhance their rights and safety on the roads. And when such laws fail to pass, cyclists must contact their elected officials to protest the diminution of their rights. Otherwise, aggressive driving will continue, unchecked, and more cyclists will lose life and limb when riding on “shared” roads.