How to Not Be a Bully Behind the Wheel

Photo:  Rebranding Driving
Photo: Rebranding Driving

We’ve all been there. You’re crossing the street, thinking you have a clear path, when the driver waiting at the light starts lurching into the crosswalk, itching for the green signal. Before you know it, you and everyone else crossing has to squeeze around this bully.

Inspired by a recent Jonathan McLeod post (headline: “Stop fucking driving your car at people”), I set out to catalogue a few of the most obnoxious behaviors people routinely engage in behind the wheel of a car.

Intersection bullying — when motorists occupy a chunk of crosswalk real estate that belongs to pedestrians with the right of way — is just one example of the many nasty, antisocial, and downright dangerous things drivers do when they’re interacting with people outside their car.

There’s a ton of bad driving behavior that should be socially unacceptable, but for some reason, granted the anonymity of a car, people engage in it anyway. This routine aggression needs to be called out for what it is — bullying. To start things off, I’ve compiled this short list of things that people should never do behind the wheel.

1. Don’t hog the crosswalk when pedestrians have the right of way

Photo: Rebranding Driving
Photo: Rebranding Driving

Letting pedestrians make full use of the crosswalk when they have the right of way is non-negotiable. There is no benefit to the driver from hogging a crosswalk — there’s only harm to the people crossing on foot. So if you’re driving, don’t start across an intersection unless you’re sure you’ll clear all the crosswalks before the light turns red. And you come to a red light, don’t inch into a crosswalk until the light turns green and there are no people in front of you. If you do, you are a bully.

2. Slow down and yield when someone crosses the street in front of you

Photo: Arrive Alive

See someone crossing the road ahead? Slow down and be prepared to stop. If braking at the sight of human beings in the path of your car feels like an unbearable imposition, you might be a garbage person.

3. Don’t buzz people a few feet away on the sidewalk at high speed

Photo: Transportation for America
Photo: Transportation for America

Having a two-ton vehicle speed past you at 30+ miles per hour can be quite frightening. The good news is that it doesn’t take much to be considerate to others. All you have to do is use your judgment and slow down for two seconds.

4. Don’t honk at the cyclist in front of you

Photo: Richard Masoner/Flickr
Photo: Richard Masoner/Flickr

Cars in motion are always loud. That person on a bike in front of you can already hear your car. Honking at them won’t clarify anything that you’re trying to communicate. It will only signal aggression and startle them. Just. Don’t.

That concludes this quick lesson in courteous driving. But the list could go on a lot longer.

Do you encounter routine motorist bullying that makes your blood boil? Tell us all about it in the comments.

64 thoughts on How to Not Be a Bully Behind the Wheel

  1. I read an article where the CHP officer said basically they don’t enforce noise ordinances around motorcycles because “noise doesn’t kill”. I responded with a letter citing a EU study showing hundreds of thousands of premature deaths from highway noise. They still don’t enforce.

  2. I learned to ignore it. Since Chicago got denser fairly quickly, drivers still don’t know how to deal with the overcrowding. They honk constantly. I was blown away how quiet the NY is compering to Chicago. Seems like no one honks there.

  3. Then cyclists have to squeeze into the crosswalk or swerve out into faster moving through auto traffic.

    …or, y’know, stop and wait for the truck.

    Yeah, I know. I used the ‘S’ word…

  4. This needs to be in the Driving Test as soon as possible to save lives. Who can action this request?

  5. I guilt free call the drivers idiots who’s reckless behaviour endangers my life, no matter what I’m doing.

    This idea that someone else’s bad act absolves you of responsibility for killing someone or some other nonsense isn’t acceptable, and anyone who uses it in an argument is acting in bad faith. Worse, the idea that bad acts by some in a group absolve society of ensuring the safety of that group, is equally reprehensible.

    I do wish more people realize that.

  6. If you’re queuing for a right turn, don’t queue in the bike lane. Stay in your lane and cross the bike only when it is clear of bikes and safe to do so. Do not block the bike lane as you wait your turn!

  7. Nope, I’d rather have them merge to the right rather than right hooking me. If I’m going straight, I’ll pass them on the left in the lane.

  8. No, crossing into another lane is the least dangerous way to pass a bicyclist. It is legal to cross a double yellow for this purpose at least in Virginia, and it should be legal everywhere. It is the responsibility of the passing driver to wait for a sufficient gap in oncoming traffic to execute the maneuver safely, and also to react safely if something should unexpectedly enter that lane ahead during the pass.

    To prevent being squeezed dangerously, a cyclist always should take the center of the lane unless it is at least 14 feet wide. Anyone who tries to pass within a narrower lane is putting the rider at great risk.

  9. Note: laws on right turns vary from state to state. Oregon drivers are required to behave as you indicate, but in California and in most other states, drivers are required to merge into the bike lane before turning, and thru-cyclists should go around on the left. This minimizes the likelihood of right hooks.

    As a cyclist, I find the California design far more sensible. It is dicey to pass on the right side of any vehicle, especially one indicating a turn.

  10. There is a gray area with regard to crosswalk hogging that the article doesn’t mention. As a driver, you should always stop behind the line and wait for the crosswalk to clear before attempting a right on red. And the article rightly points out that many drivers fail miserably in this responsibility. But at most intersections, you will be unable to see well enough to make a right on red from the stop line. So after crosswalk traffic clears, it may be necessary to creep into the crosswalk and then block it while waiting for an opportunity to complete your turn. If vehicle traffic is heavy, you might thus end up inconveniencing pedestrians who arrive later.

    Hopefully even the most passionate pedestrian advocates understand that not all crosswalk-blocking behavior is bullying.

  11. You could not attempt a right turn on red if you can’t see if it’s clear to go. You’re not required to go.

    And do note, many people use their cars for travel that doesn’t actually require a car. Consider not driving, if you’re likely to be driving someplace where there’s also a lot of people on foot. (E.g., my daily commute into Cambridge, MA, 6 miles, I use a bicycle. It’s a cargo bike, so it can carry more than just me. I’m not “young”, either. If I don’t require a car, lots of people driving don’t require cars.)

    So the crosswalk-blocking is not necessarily bullying, but it’s also not necessarily necessary.

  12. Although you are 100% correct with regard to my example of a right on red, anyone who drives will find crosswalk blocking to be in fact necessary at times. Most turns at unsignalized stop signs (or driveways) will require the dance described above to execute safely. You can’t just wait for a green at those places.

    I take the vast majority of my urban trips by bicycling rather than driving, but I still encounter plenty of situations where driving is my most practical option. For instance, when carting a drumset plus keyboards and amplifiers to a downtown gig.

  13. In Massachusetts, the bike lane lines tend to be dashed into a mixed lane when there is an upcoming right turn to accommodate a merge. It sends a clear message to all users.

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