How To: Report Dangerous Drivers

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.

Dottie,

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!

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16 thoughts on “How To: Report Dangerous Drivers

  1. Very useful, Dottie. Thanks!

    May I use it–with attribution–on The Social Biking Blog?

    BTW…I was involved in a similar confrontation a few years ago with a Semi Truck driver who stopped his huge rig in the MIDDLE of a two lane road–on a hill, got out of the truck and began yelling threats at the lead rider of our biking group. We were all riding on the shoulder to the far right, exactly where we were supposed to be. His complaint: what the #%!! were we doing on “his road?”

    He could easily have been on speed and/or armed, so we backed it down. Afterwards our lead rider, who took most of the abuse, called the cops–and got little satisfaction. But then he called the trucking company to let them know how their quarter million dollar Semi was being operated. They thanked him profusely and promised to deal with this character the next time he showed up for work.

    • dottie says:

      Of course!

      Sorry to hear about your experience. It’s great that you called the company, though. I’m sure that will make a difference, as having drivers like that is a liability for the company.

      • In fact the guy who called the company did consider a suing the company, but once he calmed down he dropped the idea. He would have had more than a half dozen cooperative witnesses from our riding group.

        Just curious: would he have had a legitimate claim? He wasn’t actually hit, but he was threatened, humiliated and frightened during a bike ride. Also the truck driver blocked the road throughout the incident, which could have caused a serious accident.

        I’m wondering what would be grounds for a claim in such a situation.

        • dottie says:

          I don’t see a civil claim. No damages, nothing really happened. (Not legal advice, simply my opinion.)

          • Nothing? Do you think of your own incident that way? At what point would one of these situations become actionable?

            • dottie says:

              Yes, I think of my situation that way. Civil court is to redress wrongs that lead to damage/loss. This is not legal advice, simply my opinion.

            • Well, I hope your local police won’t tell you that “nothing happened” when you report the driver who nearly ran you down.

            • dottie says:

              There is a difference between a criminal claim and civil claim. It sounds like nothing happened to establish a civil claim for a lawsuit, unless your friend was so emotionally distressed that he had to seek therapy, miss work, etc., which was what you asked. Let’s leave it at that.

  2. E A says:

    Thanks for sharing this advice on your blog. :-)

    Ethan is right that more cyclists need to report these incidences so that we do get increased support from law enforcement. I’ve been nearly run off the road lately (while on Lincoln’s shared lane!!!)

    Also… I do try to educate other cyclists I see out there of our rights and also of the rules — front headlight and rear reflector at minimum and encourage them not to ride the wrong way down one-way streets, too. Seems I see more bike salmons (riding against traffic on one-ways or on the wrong side of the road) now than ever.

  3. yolaleah says:

    heh bike salmons. That’s hilarious.

    Also I have had to call 911 before while biking. The police were incredibly helpful. Good to know the correct terminology though. That should help lots of us…even if its hard to stay calm when someone is being so threatening.

    http://yolaleah.wordpress.com

  4. Karen says:

    Dottie: I would take this complaint directly to your Mayor’s office. You probably won’t talk to the Mayor personally but he does have a staff of legislative aides and communications staff members whose job it is to respond to your concerns on his behalf – I had such a position for a metro councilman in Louisville, who BTW is a big proponent of bike commuting and public transit. If there is a city council member or alderperson who actively supports bike issues contact him or her. I agree with the Chainlink writer who urged you to report. In my former job we urged people to report serious law breakers each and everytime. It is the only way they learn how to follow the rules. Most cops I know take issues like yours seriously. A dispatcher heres a lot of bad calls everyday but he or she might not have the level of professionalism that a trained officer does. Might not . . . I can promice you that cops who do bike patrol will understand your concern and help you. In many cities you can also file a report on-line as well as just going down to PD headquarters and filing the paperwork yourself.

  5. Steve A says:

    Thanks for the post. Thanks also for the useful comments people have made.

  6. Pam Thorne says:

    We were successful at getting a harassment ordinance passed in Columbia Mo but now one of the council members is trying to get it reversed. Most people do not believe harassment like this occurs, but it does and anyone who rides on a regular basis has experienced it. I’m glad you found out how to report it and I hope they’ll do something about it. Ride on!

  7. anna says:

    Such things are never nice and consume a lot of time, so I often don’t bother. But I went to a police station once when 11 (!) cars in a row were parked on a bike lane and the sidewalk right next to a school (parents apparently that what pick up their children cause the traffic is so dangerous). I spend more than half an hour on the police station, but I think it was good to report them in person rather than calling up.
    I think I have the problem of finding the right words to describe it when a driver threatens me, too. Once Maff was involved in a hit-and-run accident. He was a little bit injured and the bike was also damaged. The next day he went to the police (rethinking it, he should have called them up immediately), but didn’t know the plate number. The policemen there just said “we’re not gonna get him anyhow”, “live and let live” and that they would actually have to report him for hit-and-run instead (as he didn’t call the police immediately), so in the end he just didn’t report the accident. Luckily I never had to deal with such rude policemen.

  8. ksteinhoff says:

    If you tell him that the driver might have been drunk because he was driving erratically, that will get a faster response, too.

    Cyclists don’t have a lot of clout, but cops don’t want MADD to hear they blew off a drunk driving complaint, particularly if the driver goes on to hit someone.

    And, you’re not fibbing; who is to say that the driver HASN’T had a few?

  9. Greyhound says:

    Very useful info, especially the terminology.

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