Fitterer-Oil-Rig-Bike-PhotoThe following guest post is by a very well-known (and well-liked) rider from the Finger Lakes Cycling Club in Ithaca, Donal Fitterer.
As you can see in the photo, Donal does some of his riding in a very unusual place – inside of an oil-drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico!

Donal doesn’t always ride in place in a room full of giant machinery. Like many of us, he rides on roads with vehicles. Here, Donal posts an interesting question that crosses the mind of many bicyclists:

What can you do about a car that comes too close, but doesn’t actually strike you? You don’t want the same thing to happen to anyone else on a bike, but what recourse do you have?

Just Riding Along

– by Donal Fitterer

I wrote an email to the Finger Lakes Cycling Club listserv in August, describing an incident where a truck pushed me off the road. You can read my description what happened in the August 2009 FLCC listserv thread.

Suffice to say that I have thought long and hard about what is the best way to handle future situations. Obviously, American Sign Language is not acceptable. How does one express concern about his or her safety to the offending driver?

Bill Lodico said a long time ago that he is not concerned with drivers that are angry, he worries only about drivers that don’t see him. There is truth in that statement, however, I am concerned with the driver’s attitude and the possibility that the next time he or she buzzes a cyclist, contact is made.

The problem is the incident is over in less than a second and my reaction time to record/document the offending driver’s license number and vehicle is usually too slow. Also, how and when do you report the incident? Contact did not occur so what are you reporting?

I can imagine from a police officer’s point of view that he or she wants to minimize the encounter. What is the upside for them to move forward with a cyclist’s complaint? In my circumstance the officer clearly considered me the instigator.

I look forward to having a logical plan when the next situation arises. Now who is going to provide one?


Donal:  I agree that there are no easy or fast answers.  Unfortunately, I think the whole issue of cyclist safety involves a long process of educating motorists, law enforcement officials, local judges, and cyclists as to the laws/rules/techniques/equipment that contribute to cyclist safety.

  • Officers need to understand that there are responsible cyclists who bend over backward to ride safely and avoid problems with motorists.
  • Motorists need to understand that cyclists have a legal right to share the road.
  • Judges need to “throw the book” at motorists who endanger cyclists by violating the law.
  • Cyclists need to understand that many motorists consider them a nuisance and try to ride defensively.

As to your request for a short-term plan, the best I can tell you is to:

  • calm down,
  • document the situation as much as possible, and
  • report your close-call to the police.

What I mean by these simple suggestions is that I truly believe that  the vast majority of police officers truly want to protect public safety, they want to do their job, they want to help you IF they can.  So, you can’t just come in screaming about some jerk in a red car who flipped you the bird.  The officer needs more.  First, he needs to know that you aren’t a lunatic so calming down is important.  Second, he needs certain basic information to assist you:  the exact location where the incident occurred, a detailed description of the car with license plate #, a detailed description of exactly what occurred, witnesses if there are any, etc.   Let’s face it, the police can’t do much to help us unless we can provide them with enough info to track down the offending car and driver.

So, that’s my start to the solution…..  Nothing fancy but effective if we take the time to put ourselves in the shoes of the officer who we are trying to get to help us.  If you try this method and you are still getting an unreceptive ear from the officer, then it may be time to talk to his/her supervisor, the local district attorney or even a local judge.  More on that in another post!!

Thanks for reading and RIDE SAFELY,


James B. Reed, Esq.
NY & PA Bicycle Accident Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William St., Elmira, NY 14901
Tel: (607) 733-8866
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