Accepting Fault

No one likes to be wrong. Some take this so far that they automatically refuse to accept fault, even if they make a mistake that endangers another. During my ride home on Tuesday, I experienced two opposite reactions from drivers in this situation.

1) As I took my turn riding through a four-way-stop intersection, a BMW perpendicular to me went through at the same time. The driver eventually saw me and slammed on his brakes. Immediately he threw up his hands, as if to say, “Not my fault! Not sorry! Screw you!” Then he drove off.

2) Fve minutes later, as I was riding in the bike lane, a sedan in front of me suddenly pulled to the right to nab a parking spot.  I had time to stop and yell, “Bike!” The driver slammed on the brakes, then completed the parking maneuver. As I passed, the driver opened the car door and called out, “I am SO sorry!” I gave her a wave and replied, “It’s okay,” even though it really wasn’t.  She sounded so distraught, I almost felt sorry for her.

This is my "give me a break" look (clean version)

Both situations were unsafe and whether a driver accepts fault does not change that fact.  But it sure does make me feel better about the world!  What has your experience been?

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28 thoughts on “Accepting Fault

  1. Ipstenu says:

    I hate the ones who assume you’re NOT going to take your legal turn at a 4-way. The bike is the same as the car, drivers!

  2. Eric says:

    If I had to bet, I would say that both of these people had a similar internal reaction when they almost hit you, that is, they got scared and then felt badly for almost running you over.

    I’m not sure if it is a man/woman thing, but some people seem to react to fear and guilt with anger, while others are able to respond with empathy immediately.

    I wonder if you had met up with that BMW driver a few blocks later when his adrenaline had subsided, might he have apologized?

  3. Cameron says:

    It seems the two of you have faced more than enough excitment lately, but you do appear to be the sort who take the long view. Chosing flight over fight and accepting an apology go a long way toward making one’s own good luck.

  4. erin says:

    at least you look super cute? ;)

    (glad you made it safely!)

    • Traci says:

      Unfortunately, it seems as if the response from drivers is all too often like the first one at the 4-way stop. My husband and I were riding once though and he had gotten ahead of me (as usual), so made it through a light while I stopped. As I was waiting, I saw an SUV begin to move to the right and almost hit him. He was able to reach out and hit the hood of the vehicle with his hand which I suppose startled the driver. She was also intent on finding a parking space, so hadn’t even noticed him. She did however, follow us into another parking lot and rolled down her window and profusely apologized. It made us feel somewhat better, and hopefully she will be more aware in the future. I absolutely hate riding along streets which have a lot of parallel parking for that reason – but that’s almost every street in Atlanta, and only a couple have bike lanes. Even if someone sees you when passing, but then spies a parking spot, they usually won’t hesitate to slam on their brakes right in front of you in order to get it.

  5. Michael says:

    If the person makes a heartfelt apology I would have hope that they realized what they did and that would prompt them to greater care in the future–easy to say, difficult to do when your life/health has been heedlessly put in harms way. The fact that the lesson was learned without serious harm is good. Unfortunately, I usually get the BMW guy: “what are you doing on my road? This adds an extra 30 seconds for my trip to the most important place in the world? UNACCEPTABLE!” That must be how these people think. I am trying to learn to restrain myself and wave with all five fingers when someone does something stupid. I am learning the words of Solomon (and Sts. Peter and Paul) that it does not help to repay evil for evil–hard to put into practice!
    Curiously I get really worked up and aggresive on the close calls; the one time I did get hit by a pickup truck (totally the truck drvier’s fault) I was completely calm, almost detached. Like I thought through and realized it was not a deliberate act. I see that same truck every month or so and my feelings aren’t quite so benign. I remind myself that I had no major injuries, no concussion (thanks to my now smashed up Giro helmet) and the insurance company fully covered my losses; then I just hope the owner is more attentive now.

  6. cycler says:

    Of course it makes you feel better if someone is sheepish about endangering you, but you’re right, it still doesn’t make it right.
    I think of the “accident pyramid” where reducing 100 near misses reduces actual accidents by 1. One wonders if the fear of almost hurting someone, and the acceptance of fault helps people to be more careful in the future.

    I heard an interesting NPR article about dealing with teenagers, and it was talking about emotion “flooding” where people can’t think rationally because of their adrenaline. I would guess that someone who reacts angrily is not able to rationally process what he did and thus isn’t able to modify future behavior rationally. I know that such “flooding” on both sides governs most of my bad interactions with motorists, and I so wish that we could have more occasions for less fraught interactions and conversations with motorists.

  7. welshcyclist says:

    You’ve got to be so careful out there, on the roads, it’s the same here.

  8. Evie says:

    In addition to those two groups, you also get people who don’t even realize they made a mistake.

    I recently had a close encounter with a taxi driver who apparently didn’t bother to check his blind spot (or notice me when my bike was still in front of him) and swerved through the bike lane into the right turn lane. I had to swerve to the right myself to avoid a collision. He was completely oblivious and drove away.

    As I briefly paused by the curb to collect myself, two guys yelled “Get his license plate! We saw that, too!” It was nice to hear. Sure, he didn’t acknowledge his own fault, but at least someone else did!

  9. Nicola says:

    When I come into contact with people like BMW man, I just feel sorry for them. I only have to be exposed to his crapittude for 30 seconds, he has to live with it full time. He must make himself so miserable, always on the verge of anger. Sucks to be him.

  10. NancyB says:

    At 4 way stops I always take the lane so folks can 1.see me 2. realize that I’m an independent vehicle and not some sort slow appendage to the car next to me. Let’s all take our turns boys and girls! I’m sure BMW man would have reacted the same way if you were a vehicle.

  11. Anne says:

    While biking home just yesterday with the sun to my back I came to a busy street with a car coming my direction. Me – wanting to go straight, her – unsure, turn, go straight, couldn’t tell. She then begins to turn left into me and I yell “SIGNAL” and she yells back “IT’S ON” Oooopppssss….Me – Sorry.

  12. erin says:

    I do tend to be more forgiving to those errant drivers who apologize — even if what they did really isn’t ok. I feel like at least they have somehow acknowledged my rights to the road, if too late.

    I have a bit more trouble with the drivers who are angry/frustrated at me when they are clearly in the wrong. It is wonderfully magnanimous of so many commenters here to acknowledge that these drivers are probably more scared than anything, and their anger is only an expression of their fear. I have no doubt this is correct. But it’s so hard for me to keep that perspective as the events unfold. It’s just the mantra I keep repeating in my head after the event so that I can let go my own anger and move on to the happier parts of cycling.

    This being said, I will take an angry wrong-doer any day over the person who says, “Oh sorry. Didn’t see you,” in situations where that couldn’t possibly be true. Gggrrrrrrr.

    • Tinker says:

      What drivers mean by “Sorry, didn’t see you” is “Sorry, I didn’t perceive you to be a threat to me.”

      I noticed the difference in behaviour of drivers when the “perceived” threat is a bus or concrete truck, and the behavior of drivers and unexpected cars. and its obvious they SAW, they just didn’t process it. Never mind a bicycle. In fact I noticed drivers were more deferential when i was in a pickup truck, and yielded to me, even when I was wrong, far more often than when I was on my motorcycle, and within my rights to do as I did. Perception, not inability to see!

      Best bet is to assume “they ARE out to get you” and will attempt the stupidest possible behavior at every opportunity. Because on a bicycle you are no threat to anyone, and thus INVISIBLE.

  13. Emily says:

    In NYC the fault always falls on the bicyclists. Pedestrians, motorists, public transportation drivers alike place the blame on bikes. It’s best to by hyper aware on the goings on around you and show your disappointment, however so unladylike, when the fault is not yours. This is how I ride and it has served me well so far.

  14. Jeanette says:

    I think people have an immediate emotional reaction to close calls based on an automatic assumption that their right of way trumps everyone else’s. Later, perhaps, they might be able to see what happened in context. The other day I was riding down the bike path on Broadway in Midtown (not fast…it was busy) and swerved to avoid a pedestrian. A cyclist then swerved to avoid me, and yelled at me “you have to watch what you are doing, lady.” (I hadn’t checked my mirror and so missed that cyclist, but on the other hand, I didn’t really want to risk hitting the pedestrian, either.) Who was at fault? All of us, a little, probably, though I felt very self-righteous for at least the next twenty blocks….

  15. glad you’re okay. I usually just use my mom voice and say something like “be careful” or if I’m more riled up I might say “watch out”. I try (really hard) not to swear and yell, but I also try not to just say “that’s okay” because I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t mind being pushed around on the road.

  16. Scott says:

    I get sincere, or at least sincere-sounding, apologies from Chicago drivers all the time. Often there will be some kind of incident where the driver zooms off only to get stuck in a line of cars waiting at a traffic light. I pull up and ask what was wrong without any sort of anger and often get the apology.

    Auto travel isolates the drivers from one another, and often there is no way for them to communicate other than to scream profanities at each other. It’s traffic and we’re all in each other’s way. If you were in a crowded room and asked someone to move so you could open a door, he would be looked on as a psycho if he responded by screaming F-you. But in a car this is often how they interact. If you pull up and calmly ask what he was screaming about, the driver often feels embarrassed.

    I get the apology far more often from men than women. Men seem more able to understand that I am not angry, but rather just asking what he was upset about. Women far more frequently continue to scream and sometimes will have a little melt-down when faced with a well dressed, calm, reasonable man who is simply asking what is wrong. They want so baldy to stomp on the gas and leave me behind in a cloud of dust — but they can only just sit there in stalled out traffic.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      I did that once. A woman was driving behind me in the bicycle lane, revved her engine loudly, squealed around into the motor vehicle lane rolled down her window when parallel and threw every possible profanity and racial disparity at me while telling me to get out of the road. When I caught up to her trapped at the next light I calmly tapped on her window (while she pretended to adjust her radio) and explained to her that I was, in fact, riding in the bicycle lane. Then when the light turned green the next 4 cars all intentionally buzzed me to teach me a lesson for sticking up for myself. I don’t bother anymore.

  17. scott t says:

    because of the mass differential and drivers often unawareness about bikes i generally use avoidance. if it means waving a car by i will generally do that. bikes on busy car street realy isnt fun or safe as bikes on less busy streets or bike paths.

    when people in cars throw stuff at me they open themselves up for being attacked back…if i feel it necesssary. luckily that hasnt happend too often.

  18. bongobike says:

    I almost got creamed at a four-way stop like that many years ago. I was able to slam on my brakes and stop just in time as the little old lady, completely oblivious to what had happened, merrily motored on a few inches in front of me while my heart formed a lump in my throat. :-(

  19. dukiebiddle says:

    That car pulling into the bike lane to parallel park happened to me about 90 minutes ago. No signal. Luckily I was in the process of merging into the vehicle lane at the second it happened (driver was focused on the bicycle just in front of him, I was right behind him in the bike lane in his SUV blind spot). I think this is a very good reminder that bike lanes don’t insulate us from traffic and it is still a safe practice to presume you are not seen, to try to not ride next to motor vehicles, to keep behind them so you can watch their movements and to only filter forward with extreme care, even in a bike lane.

  20. Kara says:

    I think it is very therapeutic for both parties when a person admits fault. I know when I do something wrong and I admit, “My bad,” I feel a weight lifted. And of course, the person I am apologizing too feels better too. When a person does not admit fault they get more and more worked up. It is like they didn’t have the release that a Sorry can give.

  21. cb says:

    well i am glad that nothing happened to you! that could have been even more awful! well to be honest i have had not one person who has tried to run me over ever apologize. they have just shouted or sped off really fast. but it has a lot to do with where i live. people are still not accepting bikes as a way of transportation even though i live very close to sf where a TON of people ride bikes…but i have to say that there are a few others out there that always let me go first at stop ways or when turning and that always makes me feel good because they see me and want to be polite. i am hopeful things will change for the better though!

    xo,
    cb

  22. David From Madison says:

    I’m still a believer in that any accident is never fully one person’s fault. Sure, legally, someone decides who’s fault it is. I just mean the final outcome usually could have been avoided.
    I always make eye contact with motorists, I never assume. Just because it’s your turn at a four-way stop means NOTHING. Just because you have green, or the cross street has a stop sign and you don’t, means NOTHING. You still have to turn your head, and make eye contact. Otherwise, you will get run over.

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