Dear World: There’s a Human Under the Helmet!
A letter to those automobile drivers with incredible road rage who neglect to consider the lives at stake.
Motorcyclists are not strangers to danger- not only do we hear constant frantic warnings from those who’ve not yet discovered the wonders of riding two wheels, but we are literally putting our lives on the line every time we ride. Whether you like thinking about it or not, that’s a fact. There is a reason I take the neglectful, ignorant, unsafe and sometimes just plain rude actions of drivers very personally. Why? Because not every motorcyclist is able to avoid bad situations- we do not all ride equally. While one rider is apt at quick braking, another might have better luck with slow maneuvering. What’s the point? A motor vehicle tapping/hitting the brakes (aka “brake checking”) a motorcyclist, swerving at them, riding their tail, and a number of other forms of reckless driving can leave a person DEAD. Yeah, a person… not just a robot riding a motorcycle.
(FYI, some NSFW language behind the cut.)
So, how are you going to feel about your little road rage explosion if you actually harm that person? Will you feel vindicated in your vehicular assault, manslaughter, attempted murder or straight up homicide? What about when you find out you’ve just left their family crying, wondering why someone would do such a thing?
This is the question I want to ask the person driving the car that hit Richard Fletcher in Oakland, CA on his commute home from work… leaving him paralyzed with a severed spinal cord. The same question I want to ask the older man (and his wife, who was riding in the car) who rammed their vehicle into my dear friend Chris’ motorcycle and leg just a couple days ago here in Oregon. The very same question I have for countless other drivers, like the person who drove their Chevy Cavalier into a motorcyclist in Los Vegas, knocking them completely off their bike.
Not sure about everyone else, but I don’t see as much [attempted] physical violence face to face as I do on the road. For the most part, I don’t see people getting swung at for not holding a door open or accidentally bumping into someone on the street. It was not that long ago that I myself almost ate metal after a young truck drivers temper flared whilst I rode behind them.
Here are a couple vague scenarios I frequently hear of from witnesses and riders.
Driver of car is traveling in far left lane (“the passing lane” under the speed limit, or not actually passing other cars. Motorcyclist eventually speeds up to pass on the right. Now, whether or not the motorcyclist acknowledges the driver’s stupidity (or just selfishness) only seems to dictate just HOW aggressive the driver gets, not whether they get angry at all. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this, only to have them merge behind me and flash their brights or pass me again just so they are in front of the “line”. Their reaction usually looks something like this.
Driver of car unknowingly [so we hope and assume] almost hits motorcycle in one form or another- pulls out in front of them, merges into the lane forcing evasive maneuvers, etc. Motorcyclist, rightly so, is upset about their lack of awareness and let’s them know in one way or another. More often than not, the dreaded middle finger gets flashed.
This is when all hell breaks loose- whether you give them a thumbs up, thumbs down, point at your head (as in, think more), or your eyes (look for motorcycles) or simply shrug… it’s as if you just pointed a gun at them. It’s personal, it’s on… they want you to feel their pain.
What this state of road rage doesn’t allow them to consider is that we are people, too. We have significant others, children, pets, jobs, parents… our mom and dad worry about us, too. There are people who depend on us, love us, and people who we love too.
So why? Why is it so easy for a misunderstanding or simple disagreement to turn into a potential trip to the hospital? Think about it, next time you get frustrated and wave your hands around in anger. It’s something I had to learn for myself, too.
Here’s what really gets me… how often the rider gets the shaft in these scenarios. Because it’s a “he said she said” kind of situation, insurance companies, police officers and even lawyers will hide behind the law and tell you there’s nothing they can do. That hey- motorcyclists drive like assholes… so basically you deserved it. Isn’t that like telling someone who got mugged that maybe they shouldn’t walk outside by themselves? Stop making excuses and let’s work together to fix the problem.
To the person who hit Richard and left him for dead… this is the family you affected. (For more information on his recovery fund, and this incident, check out fletcherracing.com.)
To the old guy who tried to maim my best friend, these are the smiles you’d be taking away from the world.
Please, remember we’re made of flesh and bone just like you. The difference is that we’re not surrounded by protective metal and airbags. So please, if some “young jerk” speeds by you on their motorcycle, remember that you don’t need to be the one to teach them a lesson.
May 16, 2014 update: To my motorcycle family out there, consider wearing a GoPro, Contour, or similar device on your bike to record altercations. Even if you only wear it when you’re commuting through heavy traffic. This will save you from the he-said-she-said scenarios and could potentially save you money in medical and insurance bills, or even jail time. Just look at this video of a Las Vegas Police Officer brake checking a motorcycle and then blaming the rider. I know it’s not cheap, I know it’s a pain in the ass… but seriously it’s worth a thought.
(Photo credits in order of appearance: Canada Road Rage Sign, Richard Fletcher’s motorcycle damage, Road Rage Meow, Double Fuck You, Nighttime Ride photograph by Alicia Elfving copyright themotolady.com, OSP Citing Motorcyclist, The Fletcher Family, Chris & Alicia by Nathan Slabaugh.)