Something happened on my ride this morning which may have given me a new outlook on drivers. I was riding West of Madison, on a fairly busy, two lane road, with a designated bike lane. The fog was lifting and I had both head and tail light on so visibility wasn't an issue. I was on high alert due to the fact I was almost hit head on by a truck turning into my lane earlier in the week, but hopeful this ride would prove to be smoother--especially since it was my favorite weather (warm and humid) and one of my favorite routes.
I remember smiling since cranes were flying overhead and about to land next to me in a nearby field. And that's when it happened. A black sedan came within a foot of me, and took a right turn not far in front of me, into a condo parking lot. I was snapped out of my awe of the cranes in a second and instantly felt anger flood me. This was it. I had mere moments to make a decision. I knew I was going to follow him into the parking lot and have a "chat"--what I didn't know yet was how I was going to approach him. In over thirty years of road riding, I've had things like this happen to me hundreds of times. I've handled the situation in about as many ways. I've yelled, I've preached, I've called the cops with the license plate...yadayadayada. Today, I chose to do what I don't always choose to do. I stayed completely calm, waited for driver to exit his car, and asked him a question. "Excuse me sir, do you happen to know about the three foot passing law by any chance?" Weather he did or didn't, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. In that same calm voice, and with non threatening body language, I explained to him what the law is and why it's so important to follow it. I told him he came within a foot from me and explained how mirrors stick out--something most drivers don't think about. I explained what could happen if I hit a rock or a squirrel ran in front of me and he was that close. And you know what...he apologized. That's right, he said he was "really sorry" AND THEN HE THANKED ME. I was stunned. I've never had that happen to me. All I remember is smiling, thanking him for listening, and then letting him know where he could find bike/ped laws if he was interested.
Now I wasn't born yesterday. And I know this won't be the case all the time, even if I approach drivers in the same kind way, but if this works for half the drivers I encounter, it's worth it. I'm not the only one who is talking about "distance passing laws" and if they work, as well as how to enforce them. Lately it's been making a buzz in multiple states. Regardless of the location, bicycle advocacy groups, police and the DOT all agree that education by EVERYONE is the most needed path. Read here how Pittsburgh is approaching the issue. Here in Wisconsin, we are proud to be the first state to pass such laws--ours was passed in 1973. Look at this chart to see what other states are following suit.
If you find yourself in the position I did today, you have every right to be angry. The trouble is, drivers rarely respond well to a cyclist screaming their head off--trust me, I know from experience. Instead, read up on your rights and try killing them with kindness. If this doesn't work, get their license plate information. An officer most likely won't be able to do anything unless it is seen by others or caught on camera, but it's worth a shot.