In a thread on The Chainlink, a Chicago bicycling online community, I asked what one should do in the situation I was in last month. Recap: I was riding along on a quiet street, lalala, when a guy in an SUV honked continuously at me, pushed by me so closely that my fingers brushed his truck when I put my arm out for him to back off, forced me to pull off the road and then yelled, “stay off the fucking road.” I got his license plate number and description and called the police station when I got home, which told me to call 311, Chicago’s info line. I followed the prompt to file a police report, but after describing the incident calmly and using the term “assault,” the operator told me that the guy’s behavior was just “ignorance” and there was no police report to file for “ignorance.” I was fuming inside, because I know the law and the meaning of “assault” but decided not to pursue it further for my mental health.
Ethan from the Active Transportation Alliance (formerly the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation) answered with their advice on how to handle the situation.
Sounds like I could have asked to speak to the operator’s supervisor. It’s good to know that I could have called 911 on the spot. I did not think I could/should do that.
I’ll try to answer your question while providing some additional background and information about reporting incidents.
The more people that appropriately report these incidents, the more chance bicyclists (and pedestrians too) have of increasing support from local enforcement.
At the time of an incident, it’s best to call 911 with as much information as possible (plate number, car make/model/color, description of driver, etc.). You should call 911 if a driver endangers your life (too close, too fast or tries to hit you on purpose), even if no one is hurt. That is “attempted assault with a vehicle” or “reckless driving.” Personally, I’ve made 911 calls like this and officers have responded and filled out reports.
Stay calm and use some of the following terms:
· Hit and run – car hits/touches bicyclist or pedestrian
· Reckless driving or attempted assault with a vehicle – driving dangerously close, endangering bicyclist (the law says drivers should give bicyclists three-feet when passing)
·Verbal assault – yelling, swearing, etc.
Avoid the term “road rage,” the Chicago Police Department and many others most likely will not file reports on road rage.
If you can’t report the incident immediately, and you’re in Chicago, call 311 to report incidents after the fact.
Use the same terms as above to help describe the incident. Remember that bike-safety issues are new to many officers, as the boom in street-cycling has been relatively recent. Some officers may not know how to handle your request, ask for a supervisor if the person you are talking to is not helpful.
Another good option after incident that you can’t report is to go directly to the police district or municipal headquarters where the incident occurred. Talking to someone in person could help make sure your report gets filed. You should be able to get a report number for follow up.
Be sure to let the police or 311 know that you want to make sure a report is on file in case the same motorist injures or kills someone next week.
Ethan, with Active Trans
I will remember this for the future. I almost feel sorry for the next driver who assaults me, because he will get the full treatment. Thanks, Ethan!