Monday, November 2, 2015

Assigning responsibility in that Texas road rage crash, and advice on avoiding similar situations in the future



I'm the last guy in, when it comes to commenting on that famous Texas incident in which some angry old redneck swerved into the path of an unlicensed motorcyclist about to make an illegal pass across a double-yellow line.

Thanks to the video coverage provided by a following motorcyclist, the redneck will almost certainly be convicted of some kind of vehicular assault. In the past, I've been dismissive of riders who seem to be obsessed with this kind of self-documentary, but I have to admit that video evidence has sure proven handy.

Obviously, while the rider is guilty of poor judgement, as well as a moving violation for crossing that double yellow, the only person who committed a crime (as opposed to a moving violation) was the car driver. This is the kind of gratuitous vehicular aggression that I see directed at bicyclists more often than motorcyclists (for reasons I can't really explain.)

Having lived in Texas, I can attest to the fact that there are lots of angry rednecks there. There's a reason why in the Scandinavian countries 'Texas' is slang for crazy. But in the Lone Star State's limited defense, I did not experience as much sheer cage-driver aggro there as I did in California. This isn't a Texas thing, per se.

I'm not going to bag on the motorcyclist for passing across the double yellow line. As others have pointed out those no passing zones are engineered with the roll-on acceleration of cars in mind, and there are many situations where cars can't safely pass, but motorcycles can. Nor am I going to make the fatuous claim that any safe riding skills can reliably protect you from car (or truck, or SUV) drivers who are actively trying to hurt you.

But I think there are some safety lessons that can be drawn from this suddenly famous video.

While the pass would almost certainly have been safely executed if the vehicle hadn't swerved across the line, the motorcyclist might have avoided contact if he'd maintained a wider safety zone between himself and the car. I say this because while the car driver obviously and purposely crossed the line, I think he wanted to scare the motorcyclist, not actually hit him. (Support for this point: The car is actually cutting back towards its lane at the moment of impact. If you just wanted to take the guy out, would you stop and basically ensure you were going to get caught?) 

Also, my take on this is not that it was a case of traffic-law vigilantism; my read on this kind of driver is that it's more about territoriality and ego than anger about traffic rules being bent by two wheelers.

As a motorcyclist, you have to optimize a complex equation when you pass another vehicle in situations like this. You want to complete the pass reasonably quickly, minimizing your exposure in the oncoming lane, but blitzing a car with a high closing speed makes any unpredictable behavior that much more dangerous. (More on this in point in a moment.) And, it's not great public relations to rip past car drivers two feet from their driver's side window, scaring the crap out of them.

The motorcyclist justified his illegal passing maneuver by saying the car driver was traveling 20 miles an hour below the speed limit.

I doubt that was really the case, but if it was, it would be cause for an alert on the part of the following rider. Right off the top, driving well below the limit is often an indication the driver is drunk. That kind of ultra-slow driving could mean that the driver is aware of cross traffic ahead, or is about to suddenly stop, attempt a u-turn, or turn into a hidden driveway. 

If you find yourself in that situation, you should never just rip past without a second thought. Give that car an especially wide berth and, ideally, flash a high beam and/or make eye contact with the driver before committing to your pass.

If it's a 'normal passing' situation, where the car's going slower than you want to go but otherwise the driver seems normal, the appropriate protocol is to look well ahead to ensure there's space to complete the pass, make sure there are no hidden driveways; in rural settings you should be aware of the possibility animals could enter the road; and give the car as much space as possible. Pass as quickly as practical, and bear in mind that you're not doing other riders any favors by wheelying past the dude at 12,000 rpm, brushing his wing mirror while your passenger flips double birds. (Don’t get me started on the judgement, or lack thereof, displayed by the passenger, who got on a motorcycle ridden by an unlicensed bro’tard. Anyway, so far she’s paid the highest price, it seems.)

Again, I'm operating on the premise that the driver of that car is guilty of some kind of reckless endangerment but that he probably wouldn't have swerved all the way over to the left ditch. I think it's likely that if the rider had used better judgment, he would have experienced infuriating and stupid behavior on the part of that redneck, but that he would also have gotten past safely. 

If, as motorcyclists, we’re all going to look out for one another, the best thing is to pass as safely and reasonably as possible, and then give the cager a little wave if they don’t do anything stupid. We could, as a group, do a much better job of our public relations. Considering that the Texas motorcycle rider in question seems like an ass, I’d say he falls (pun intended) more on the ‘problem’ than on the ‘solution’ side.

Conclusions
  • The driver’s behavior was criminal.
  • The motorcyclist was a dumbass.
  • Individually, the rider shares some responsibility for what happened, but he’s still an aggrieved party, along with his passenger.
  • Collectively, motorcyclists could do a much better job our relations with car drivers to minimize the risk of these road-rage encounters.

That said, next time you find yourself following a guy who is shaking a .45 out his window, don't assume he's merely waving you past.


2 comments:

  1. Great points. I agree 100% with your conclusions. There are two other things I've never seen mentioned:
    1. He passes two vehicles, when he is behind the SUV it is unlikely the driver of the car even saw him.
    2. The argument that many riders have made that sometimes you have to pass an aggressive driver to get away from them, misses the fact that there was more traffic ahead. He would have ended up behind another car with the aggressive driver he was trying to avoid behind him. Much worse place to be.

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