A Message to Motorists #6

Dear Motorist,

I’m sure you’ve heard of it – it’s called the doppler effect. And you’ve undoubtedly experienced it when an emergency vehicle passed by with its siren blaring and the pitch and timbre of the sound changed as the vehicle approached and then receded away.

When you yell at cyclists from your automobile, the same thing happens; your voice is distorted as you pass by. The effect would actually be quite humorous if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s dangerous and distracting to startle a fellow road user for no good reason. It’s one thing to startle someone due to an accidental slip-up or lapse in concentration, but it’s something altogether different to startle someone for entertainment or to impress your friends. Doing so is rude, dangerous, and possibly even illegal if it leads to an accident.

Next time, please think twice before yelling something out of your car window at a cyclist — it makes you look silly and immature, and the cyclist has no idea what you’re saying anyway.

Thanks from all of us bike riders, some of whom may be your friends, neighbors, or loved ones.

10 Responses to “A Message to Motorists #6”

  • Deb says:

    I generally assume they’re saying “you’re my hero”, certainly makes my mood more pleasant!

    One reason I’ve been enjoying the colder weather on my commutes is because people are keeping their windows rolled up and their comments to themselves. Mostly. About a month ago, I watched a car almost rear-end another because they were so intent on making some unintelligible comment to me that they didn’t notice that the line of traffic they were in was completely stopped. They were in the left travel lane, I was in the right (which happened to be clear at the time) so immediately after they shouted whatever they shouted (sounded like “aaruuugghuuu”, which is pretty close to “you’re my hero” if you ask me), they slammed on their brakes, and I sailed right by them.

    I’m pretty sure, if asked, they’d claim to be “better than average” at driving, and would also find a way to make their near-miss my fault.

    I’m finally reading “Traffic” by Tom Vanderbilt, and it is fascinating! It should be required reading for everyone taking drivers ed.

  • Chris Cowan says:

    I would say likewise for honking the horn at a cyclist going in the same direction as you are. It doesn’t actually serve any purpose except startle the cyclist and possibly cause a tragedy. It’s not like things are suddenly going to change because you used your magic horn.

  • Jeanie says:

    Actually, I think it depends on the road when it comes to honking…Certainly on any highly trafficked route it’s just annoying, distracting, dangerous, &c., but if I’m riding a one-lane country road, I appreciate a light honk to inform me that a car’s about to pass and I should drift to the right.

  • Chris Cowan says:

    @Jeanie I disagree… unless you have an iPod on you can typically hear a car coming on a quiet country road.

  • Chester says:

    “F— you!” is short and succinct enough to always come through loud and clear.

    Last time I got an “F.U.” was while riding with friends through Canyon, a funny little community hidden on the backside of the Oakland (CA) hills. When I took a startled look to my left to see who was doing the yelling, it was a boy who looked about…13.

    Which made me wonder: was he tooling around in a big SUV with a big brother…was he with a parent…do they normally let him swear at strangers in front of them…or, perhaps, did the parent tell junior to lean out the window and scream “F.U.” at a stranger?

  • andy parmentier says:

    pirates on the high seas, and highways, and robin hoods hood ornaments, and christmas ornaments, and ornery drivers, and ornithologists..unite! under the hood is an understanding heart even in the arteries of interstates and other states of mind, even while minding the road,
    and avoiding road rash, and rage, and rags to riches, and richoceting blues brothers ricochet biscuits, and deformed dry biscuits like myself.

  • Jim says:

    When I am riding along and a car honks as it approaches from behind, I always wave. Almost always using my entire hand.

    I think to myself, “I have heard, seen, and smelled you coming long before you saw me; the horn was completely unnecessary”.

    Why do they do this?

  • Chris from DE says:

    My wife keeps reminding me that “the cars don’t expect to see someone on a bike today.” That’s my mantra lately. I think that answers your question of “Why do they do this?” They probably didn’t expect to see you on the road, and they probably don’t have much practice in what to do when attempting to pass a bike. They only have gas, brakes, steering, and horn to use, so they choose horn in an effort to let you know they are going to be passing you. Personally, I’d rather hear an even motor and a quick honk, then a revving engine and a quickly approaching monster in my rear-view mirror.


  • Roberto Rodz. says:

    LOL! not sure if i wholly understand andy but i like his style a lot.

  • Billi says:

    Second on Andy’s finely wound words, not sure where exactly he’s going, but I’d follow just to find out. Nice.

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