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Ask BikePortland: Is there a right way to confront someone who’s texting and driving?

Posted by on June 18th, 2015 at 8:58 am

She could be behind you!

What to say?
(Photo: Raymond Clarke Images)

Welcome to the latest installment of our Ask BikePortland column. Read past articles here.

BikePortland reader Kim sent us a query that will be familiar to many people on the road, no matter their vehicle.

Today on my commute I observed a driver veering into the bike lane ahead of me. As I cautiously overtook the driver, I noticed her head skewed with a downward gaze and a cellphone in her right hand, actively texting. I felt anger at this dangerous behavior and yelled (loud enough to penetrate the rolled up windows) “Don’t do that!” and motioned to put the phone down. The driver was startled and didn’t know that someone was observing her.

I continued on, both irritated by the driver behavior and conflicted by having to be either passive or a scold. I’m sure this happens to others… it happens to me on a semi-regular basis.

I wonder if there is a story here. About driving and riding rules regarding distracted driving and how to address them on the fly, if at all. Traffic police don’t seem able to address this adequately. And mobile communications users multitasking seem to be increasing, with an attitude that it is ok.

So should we road users speak up? And, if so, what is the right, or sensible approach? Is there a middle ground between passive acceptance of scofflaw behavior and complete road rage?

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I can’t pretend to have any answers on this one, except that I’ve never confronted a stranger in this situation myself. When it comes up occasionally among friends I’ll admit that there was a time when used to text behind the wheel myself before I realized that I shouldn’t do it anymore. In my case, the knowledge that I’d be escaping the constant temptation to do this was a big part of my relief on the day I sold my car.

We all know operating a vehicle while distracted by devices (or food or pets or makeup) is wrong and dangerous (don’t we?). But when we’re unexpectedly confronted by strangers about our sins, it’s easy for us to shut down, tune out or dig in our heels. When the confrontation is coming from someone on a bike — who is, sadly, often going to be falsely seen as having a feeling of smugness or superiority — that might make the message even harder to accept.

But it’s also impossible to accept a message that you never hear in the first place. If we don’t call the unacceptable behaviors around us unacceptable, who will?

What advice would you offer Kim and others in this situation?

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

131 Comments
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    Eric June 18, 2015 at 9:07 am

    My commute time would double if I confronted every texting driver I see. Just look around at an intersection while you are waiting for a light, you will see a majority of people on their phones. Some blatantly out in the open, some trying to do it stealthily. It is a problem and is extremely common.
    If someone is driving erratically in a way that affects me because of a distraction, I will slap the car with my hand loud enough to get their attention. But I generally never stop moving or say anything. Don’t want to get into a confrontation. But I am lucky that 85% of my commute is on MUP’s.

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    Joe June 18, 2015 at 9:08 am

    Not quite an answer to the question (I look forward to other responses), but I try to discuss this issue with my family and friends.

    * I’ve asked my family & friends to not call or text me while they are driving. If I am talking to someone and suspect they are driving, I will ask them to call me back later. I started doing this after a close call with someone on their phone. I also sent along evidence that using phone is equivalent to drunk driving (and often illegal now).
    * If I am a passenger and the driver starts using their phone, I ask them to stop.
    * When I do drive, I put my phone in airplane mode to avoid any temptation/distraction.

    On the road I am a bit more hesitant to ask a driver to stop using their phone. You never know how a person will respond.

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      Bjorn June 18, 2015 at 9:46 am

      Agreed that one of the best things you can do is if someone who is driving a car you are in and starts to use their phone ask them to stop. It has a lot more impact I think than a stranger doing it. Personally I don’t get this desire to use the phone while driving, I don’t do it but apparently it is really fun because it is extremely common. I don’t think that we will make a dent with enforcement unless they start suspending people’s drivers licenses when they are caught like they do with DUI.

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        Chris I June 18, 2015 at 1:53 pm

        I broach the subject by saying “do you need me to check something for you?” If they still don’t get it, I just tell them that they shouldn’t be doing that, and I can look up the traffic reports or weather, or whatever it is they are doing for them, as the passenger.

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          Pete June 19, 2015 at 8:32 am

          Excellent! I used to ride around with sales guys in rented cars for a living, and they were notorious for jumping on phones frequently. There were times that all I could do is sit in the back seat and grumble, and other times I could say something with influence, or once I just grabbed a guy’s phone and said “here, let me take care of that.”

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    AlonK June 18, 2015 at 9:11 am

    If I had a penny for every time a driver opened his/her car doors without looking or ran a stop sign and almost hit me I would be richer that Bill Gates.
    I have used the full range of responses- from screaming and pounding on the near-murderous car to catching up with the driver at the next light and calmly saying that I know they don’t want to kill me and that they need to be more aware. The second approach seems more effective though it did feel good also to express my anger.
    I would like to see heavy fines given to these drivers but am not optimistic as they are just part of the norm where too many people (including cyclists) feel that they must always be “connected,” always texting, talking on the phone, always attached to the electronic breast. Hopefully we can be more connected to what truly matters- the wind, the songs of birds, the beauty of trees, the touch of a loved one’s hand.

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    UncleMuscles June 18, 2015 at 9:13 am

    No, unfortunately there is not. I used to confront people talking on phones, texting, etc. Even if you do it in the nicest way possible some people are going to take offense. After someone tried to hit me with their car I realized my life wasn’t worth the confrontation and nothing I said was ever going to make any of these people stop distracted driving.

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      soddy August 28, 2015 at 1:41 pm

      It’s not worth risking your life to protect your life…

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    Indy June 18, 2015 at 9:18 am

    I see this constantly. To be honest, the people sitting at a red light don’t bother me, I’d rather have someone at a red light that is cognizant of phone use use their phone, than while driving.

    As I ride around though, in all quadrants, I see people driving slowly and texting. Their heads are actually downward, where I would think at least bringing the phone upward to be able to see peripheral traffic would be a better bet. I mean, nobody WANTS to get in an accident, right? Why purposefully put the phone out of sight like this?

    There’s nothing you can do. You cannot change human behavior through scolding, threat, or punishment. Only through education, growth, kindness. So you have to have people motivated to seek out behavior change on their own, not through force, intimidation, or penalty.

    I think we all just have to hold tight for 5-10 more years of human driving before our robot overlords take over. A huge celebration when that day comes. I really thank Google and other companies for at least getting this rolling, it can’t come soon enough.

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    • Tony T
      Tony T June 18, 2015 at 9:33 am

      Except when someone is texting in a car at a light, they can be unaware that their car is coasting forward or backward. I’ve seen it. In my opinion, the only safe time to do it is one has pulled over and put the car into park with the E brake set.

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        Anne Hawley June 18, 2015 at 12:57 pm

        This brings up a related, but much less discussed problem: texting while idling. I guess I don’t have a problem with someone pulling over, taking their call or whatever, and then pulling back into traffic. But what the heck is the compulsion to get inside your parked car, start the engine, and just sit there checking your phone.

        (Not you personally, Tony T.)

        Back in the dark ages when I both smoked and drove, I remember making jokes about the necessary sequence for driving: get in, shut door, seatbelt, lighter, start engine, light cigarette, go.

        What is it about starting the engine first? I’ve had to ask two people to go idle and text somewhere besides in front of my house. It’s not a hazard to bike riders, just to breathers.

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          Tait June 18, 2015 at 11:28 pm

          This time of year, I do that to get the AC going. Or in winter, to start the heat.

          From a legal standpoint, I’m not sure at what point “operating” (the verb used in the law) commences. It would be possible to argue that once the car is on, then it’s being operated, which would make starting the car then texting before movement technically illegal if the car is starting from upon a highway, e.g. parked along the side. There’s probably also some legal gray area with remote-start.

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      El Biciclero June 18, 2015 at 9:40 am

      “Why purposefully put the phone out of sight like this?”

      Because they know they shouldn’t be doing it and don’t want to get caught. Ironically, making texting and driving illegal just makes trying to get away with it even more dangerous. The real question is why individual humans tend to think their abilities are superior to those of everyone else, and can’t seem to see the life-threatening potential of their actions?

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        Dan June 18, 2015 at 1:25 pm

        Exactly right. It’s like a form of denial. I’ve nearly been hit a couple of times at one particular intersection by drivers making an illegal left turn in front of me, from a right-turn-only road. Every single time I’ve seen a driver make this illegal turn, they don’t signal first. They KNOW they are making an illegal turn, and they don’t signal, as if this would somehow mask the behavior. Drivers turning right from this same intersection DO signal. It’s gotten so that if they don’t signal, I can tell they are very likely to turn the wrong way.

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      9watts June 18, 2015 at 9:46 am

      “There’s nothing you can do. You cannot change human behavior through scolding, threat, or punishment. Only through education, growth, kindness.”

      I disagree. I don’t see this as an either or, but as deserving an attack on all fronts. I have encountered the exact same behavior as Kim: weaving into the shoulder where I was biking only to catch up to her at the next light. Where I discovered what Kim did. All I could do was shake my head, I was so dumbfounded. But I’d like to learn a hand gesture or short phrase that we could all consider using to make some inroads into this despicable practice.

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      Gary June 18, 2015 at 9:56 am

      Why put the phone down, out of sight? Umm, so the cop can’t see it, of course. Because that few hundred dollar ticket is a real bummer, but killing a person–meh, it was an accident!

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      Spiffy June 18, 2015 at 10:03 am

      the people sitting at a red light don’t bother me

      I used to think that…

      but when people do that they’re only paying attention to the light changing and nothing around them…

      I changed when I had an eye-opening event…

      I was focused on a light change and not paying enough attention when it turned green and I started to go… I stopped just in time to not hit the little girl crossing late in the crosswalk who I didn’t see because of a tall truck next to me who was also waiting for her to cross…

      I could have killed that girl with my inattention…

      thankfully that personal story convinced my girlfriend to stop using her phone at stoplights…

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      Reza June 18, 2015 at 11:58 am

      No, even using it at a stoplight is not OK. So many times I’ve been stuck behind a distracted driver who didn’t notice that the light changed to green 3-5 seconds ago.

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        HJ June 18, 2015 at 7:11 pm

        That’s what your horn is for! I use it gladly when people are spaced out at a green light.

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          are June 18, 2015 at 10:10 pm

          that is absolutely _not_ what your horn is for. the horn is to warn someone of an emergent danger.

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            Middle of the Road guy June 21, 2015 at 10:17 pm

            there is a toot and a blare. a toot is tantamount to ‘excuse me’.

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          Reza June 18, 2015 at 10:55 pm

          Except my bicycle doesn’t have such a feature! Yelling really doesn’t do much either…

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      Tim June 18, 2015 at 3:12 pm

      As I pass the long string of cars waiting for the light, I try to guess who is texting or whatever they do besides driving. I notice that vehicles spaced oddly or not in the lane properly are far more likely to be playing with their devices. Since the car didn’t get that way after they stopped, I assume they were testing while moving.

      The funniest (luckily) was the lady who rolled out into traffic without realizing she was even moving. The look on her face when she dropped the phone was priceless.

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    grrlpup June 18, 2015 at 9:18 am

    I think a lot of people believe that no one can tell they’re texting or on the phone, because it “doesn’t affect their driving.” I see some value in at least disabusing them of that belief, if it can be done safely.

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      rick June 18, 2015 at 9:53 am

      Many people have died in texting and talking on the cell phone while driving.

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        9watts June 18, 2015 at 10:12 am

        3,145 people a year in fact (the most recent statistic I know of), see: distraction.gov
        I suppose some of those might have been due to eating or applying makeup, but the point is that it isn’t just a few people dieing.

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      Anne Hawley June 18, 2015 at 1:33 pm

      Seems like a lot of people say that about their moderate drinking, too.

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        Chris I June 18, 2015 at 1:59 pm

        How many people are killed each year by “moderate” drinking?

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          Anne Hawley June 18, 2015 at 6:23 pm

          No clue. Probably fewer than are killed by drivers who believe their drinking is moderate and their control is better than average.

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    The Duke June 18, 2015 at 9:23 am

    I’ve yelled at plenty of people for using their phones while driving (my wife included)
    I’ve found its better to speak up than hold back (or bite your tongue)
    In my experience 99% of the people I yell at for distracted driving or even speeding react in a bashful “I just got busted” way

    Every once in a while I’ll get the person that throws their hands up in a “What?! F you” reaction but even they typically slink away.

    Just yesterday I rode SE Water to see how it will be today and tomorrow for the detour around OMSI and as I yelled at 5 drivers for speeding in a 20 mph (as I was doing 20 also) they all reluctantly slowed down (once they passed me) only one actually gave me a negative reaction and it was reluctant as well.

    I think if you don’t say something then your doing yourself and others a disservice.
    And even though the culprits are going to judge you (and they will) most of them will think about it whether they are complaining to one of their friends about “this cyclist yelled at me…” or in a deeper fashion It Will Sink In.
    And if another person or 2 yells at them they’ll get the picture, and change their ways.

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      9watts June 18, 2015 at 9:49 am

      “I think if you don’t say something then your doing yourself and others a disservice.”

      Agreed.

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      rachel b June 18, 2015 at 12:05 pm

      I agree. Speak up. Do something. Portlanders are so rarely direct and are very non-confrontational, generally (and the newcomers we attract seem to be of the same ilk in that regard). Because of this I reckon that speaking up has double the impact it might have in less passive-aggressive places like NYC, because it’s just so uncommon here. Rarely does anyone respond well to the criticism, but I figure if they think even an iota more about their negligent/dangerous behavior because of my calling them on it, it’s a victory.

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      Paul Atkinson June 18, 2015 at 12:31 pm

      I tend to speak up loudly but politely. “Would you please hang up the phone while you’re driving?” is a typical admonition.

      Also, I do this while the GoPro stares them in the face. I get pretty good compliance.

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    Slow Joe Crow June 18, 2015 at 9:26 am

    I haven’t run into the texting and driving issue yet but I have had good results with a polite knock on the window when slow moving traffic encroaches into the bike lane on NE 25th in Hillsboro. It’s useful to remind Californians that the bike lane is not a right turn lane in Oregon, nor is it a passing lane.

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      Caesar June 18, 2015 at 9:46 am

      Be careful knocking on angry drivers’ car windows in Stand Your Ground states. In Texas, over half the cars on the road contain a firearm.

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        Mixtieme June 18, 2015 at 10:17 am

        Conceal and carry. My bike could contain a fire arm if you wanna play eye for an eye. Personally not saying anything at all is passive agreement, saying something… Even if it could esculate my current situation from yellow could have been injured by their actions to a red certainly could be killed by thier actions, i am totally down… I might die either way might as well go out fighting.

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          caesar June 18, 2015 at 10:19 am

          Dude, like…chill.

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            LC June 18, 2015 at 1:11 pm

            Yeah chill, but not til people stop running over people with cars.

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        OrganicBrian June 19, 2015 at 2:10 pm
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    Allan L. June 18, 2015 at 9:26 am

    enforcement would help

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      Dave June 18, 2015 at 9:29 am

      Perhaps equipping police with specially modified Vise Grip pliers and requiring them to crush and destroy on the spot any cell phone they see someone using while driving.

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        9watts June 18, 2015 at 9:51 am

        I like it. And have Hales & Co. include this as part of their Vision Zero campaign: Print up some billboards showing the cops hands squeezing the visegrips…

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        Spiffy June 18, 2015 at 10:06 am

        confiscating their phone is a great idea… it’s the tool they used to commit the violation… the police usually keep those tools… oh right, unless the tool you’re using is a car or anything having to do with a car…

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    Adam H. June 18, 2015 at 9:36 am

    Toss a U-lock.

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      Adam H. June 18, 2015 at 9:38 am

      Yes, this was a joke.

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      Spiffy June 18, 2015 at 10:09 am

      and then claim you didn’t see them…

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    Edwin W June 18, 2015 at 9:45 am

    I don’t think there is a universally acceptable way to do this. Here in the south, there are too many guns in cars for me to confront people.
    If someone endangers me, I take a picture of their plate if I can, not that I can do anything with it, but they often notice.

    It is one of the biggest hazards of biking – seeing what everyone is doing when they are supposed to be focused on driving!

    Edwin in Nashville

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    J_R June 18, 2015 at 9:50 am

    If I saw someone weaving in and out of lanes, I’d be more likely to call 911 to report a possible drunk driver. I would not even try to determine the cause of the weaving.

    I’ve pretty much given up trying to politely speak to violators.

    I used to ask residents in my neighborhood to please trim their vegetation so it didn’t encroach on the sidewalk. More often than not, they resented my request. I now just file a complaint with the Bureau of Development Services. I just hope that never comes back to haunt me, but Portland won’t accept anonymous complaints.

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      Chris I June 18, 2015 at 2:02 pm

      I usually just break the branches. Once they see that, they usually deal with it. At 6’5″ I am very sensitive to this issue.

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      Tait June 18, 2015 at 11:44 pm

      “I now just file a complaint with the Bureau of Development Services”

      I wish you wouldn’t. I’m not familiar with Bureau of Development Services in Portland, but in some outlying neighborhoods the response to complaints is the police come out midday while you’re not home and just leave a $250 fine on the door, accompanied by a threat of worse if the problem isn’t fixed within a week. There seems to be no discretion or judgment here, just complaint = fine.

      We all get busy and perhaps sometimes fail to notice or can’t find time to address household chores as timely as we ought, but a polite request would be far less ornery than trying to get revenge on your neighbors by calling in enforcement. I mean, heaven forbid you talk to people. You might accidentally get to know them or something, or *shudder* begin a friendly relationship that contributes to a happy and engaged community instead of a bunch of hidden resentment.

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    Stumpyjoe June 18, 2015 at 9:52 am

    I generally just try to catch their eye and give them the head shake of shame. I smiling finger wag works well too. Biking in town is confrontational enough, I dont need to go looking for it.

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    El Biciclero June 18, 2015 at 9:52 am

    If by “right way” to confront someone, you mean “a way that will be well-received”, then I don’t think there is one. Most of the time, riding around on suburban arterials, I see drivers who I suspect of distracted driving, but I never have a chance to catch up to them on 45-mph roadways.

    I don’t necessarily have a problem with so-called “scofflaws”—depending on the law being scoffed at—but if I see someone doing something blatantly dangerous, and I get an opportunity, I tend to speak up a lot more in my old age than I used to. I figure there are plenty of drivers willing to honk and yell and crowd me with their vehicles in response to my legal behavior, so the occasional driver ought to be able to handle an earful from me if they are driving dangerously.

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    Spiffy June 18, 2015 at 9:53 am

    the last time I called out a driver for being on their phone I was on my scooter… I yelled but couldn’t get their attention so I knocked on their car…

    the guy got out of his car, came over to me and threatened to beat me up if I ever touched his car again… it’s wasn’t that nice of a car…

    I continued berating him for using his phone… he continued berating me for touching his car… I’m sure the people at the bus stop were amused…

    he eventually got back in his car, got back on the phone, and drove away…

    a couple days ago I yelled at somebody leaving a driveway for not stopping before crossing the sidewalk and pulling directly into my path and stopping so they could look for traffic… they told me to go do something sexual to myself as they drove away…

    when was the last time you yelled at somebody doing something illegal and they looked introspective?

    doesn’t usually happen… when you yell at somebody their first reaction is usually anger and confrontation… why would they think they were doing something illegal? they don’t… they think they’re doing everything right and then some stranger comes along and tells them they’re wrong… they have no respect for strangers so your input is completely unwelcome…

    even if they do have a conversation with you they’ll come up with what they think is a perfectly reasonable excuse for breaking the law… they don’t realize that their choice put them in that illegal situation and they use the status quo as their excuse just like most drivers do…

    a better approach: video camera and a citizen initiated citation…

    there’s no need to yell when you can write them a ticket and make a real difference…

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      9watts June 18, 2015 at 10:15 am

      “when you yell at somebody their first reaction…”
      sure. But as The Duke pointed up upthread, their second reaction may well be worth it.

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        Anne Hawley June 18, 2015 at 1:11 pm

        I really like the image of the outraged car driver beginning a rant to a friend: “Can you believe this?! This [so-and-so] on a bike actually yelled at me!”

        Friend: Those [blanks!] I can’t stand those people. What’d she yell at you for?”

        Driver: Texting while driving! Can you even beli… oh wait.

        Friend: …

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    e2pii June 18, 2015 at 9:54 am

    Go for the engineered control rather than the administrative control (law) which don’t work and which are not enforced:

    Outlaw and phase out automatic transmissions.

    It’s much harder to text and drive (or talk on the cell phone and drive, or drink a coffee and drive, or floss your teeth and drive, apply makeup and drive — all sorts of “distracted and drive” activities) when you NEED both hands to drive.

    And yes, I only drive stick shift when I have to drive. Any time I drive someone else’s car, or a rental car, etc. I am AMAZED at how much easier it is to become distracted because you do not need to pay attention to the act of driving.

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      Spiffy June 18, 2015 at 10:13 am

      I hate automatic transmissions and think they’re a bane on society… they contribute to traffic with drivers having to use the brakes all the time…

      and, as stated, they take your focus away from driving…

      when I drive other people’s cars they usually say “you’re the only person that’s ever shifted my automatic” since I actually use the gears even though there’s no clutch…

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      oliver June 18, 2015 at 12:02 pm

      Yes.

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    • Rich Fox
      Rich Fox June 18, 2015 at 12:32 pm

      Interesting idea, but most / all hybrids and electrics can’t use manual transmissions for various technical reasons that I won’t go into here.

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      TonyJ June 18, 2015 at 3:24 pm

      Getting rid of power steering would also help keep both hands on the wheel.

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    spencer June 18, 2015 at 9:58 am

    i yell loudly, through the window, “dont you dare _____ text and drive next me, put your _______ phone down”, works every time

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    IanC June 18, 2015 at 10:23 am

    It’s not worth the confrontation and stress. ALWAYS bike defensively and expect drivers to be blind, deaf, heartless, and STOOPID.

    Remember: the only thing that matters is getting home safely.

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    ethan June 18, 2015 at 10:25 am

    There was a woman texting while parked on a crosswalk yesterday. When I pointed out to her that she was blocking the sidewalk and breaking the law, she pulled up… and blocked the bike lane. Then she cut off another driver, made a turn and nearly hit 3 people who were walking across a crosswalk.

    I called the police non-emergency with the license and description. I doubt they will do anything about it.

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    Buzz June 18, 2015 at 10:26 am

    Uninformed motorists who really don’t understand traffic law as it applies to cyclists frequently try to tell me how to ride my bike, or what they think I’m doing wrong.

    In this case, the motorist is in fact committing a clear-cut violation, and I see no reason not to inform them of that fact.

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      Buzz June 18, 2015 at 10:28 am

      OTOH, the cell phone companies have certainly made it easy to drive and text by providing excellent coverage on roads, particularly interstate highways. I question whether this should even be allowed.

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    Alex June 18, 2015 at 10:27 am

    Couple toots on an airhorn, followed by pointing at them. People figure it out.

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      Rebecca June 18, 2015 at 12:02 pm

      Maybe this is where the ORP horn/bike light comes in handy. I’ve got one and hate the 96-dB horn because it’s pretty much the worst sound ever. But if it gets a driver’s head out of his/her, uh, phone before they hit me, I suppose it’s worth it.

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        Anne Hawley June 18, 2015 at 1:27 pm

        Ooh! Now I want one.

        Is it really obnoxious? Is it worth the 65 bucks? I’m tempted.

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        Doug Klotz June 18, 2015 at 1:29 pm

        Rebecca:
        I use my ORP, loudly, whenever I see a driver preparing to turn left or right into my path. Or if they’re at a cross-street stop sign and may decide to go. So I’m pretty much honking at every intersection. It seems to help most of the time. Though I did have a woman still turn across in front of me on Clinton, and another one on SE Madison.

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    SilkySlim June 18, 2015 at 11:13 am

    I am done confronting negligent drivers.

    As an alternative, I make grand gestures to anyone else within sight (drivers, bikers, walkers, etc.) to point out the egregious behavior. Did it just this morning at 21st and Clinton in fact… A car made a speeding, dangerous pass, leading me to disappointingly shake my head, touch my chest startled, and say aloud “Wow, I can’t believe how close that car got to hitting me!”. At least one pedestrian and one driver saw, and I am pretty confident that they will take things to heart.

    Demonstrating the traumatic affect of near misses to a wide audience, that’s how I handle it.

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      Anne Hawley June 18, 2015 at 1:36 pm

      Good point. I’ve had a few moments of sympathetic head-shaking with pedestrians, other bike riders, or other drivers, over the egregious behavior of a driver. There’s a kind of camaraderie that I’d like to think helps cement a positive message in all our minds, rather than an angry, scary, defensive one.

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    Kate June 18, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    I was once biking behind some other bikers, and when we pulled up to a stop light, the cyclist ahead of me whipped out their phone and started recording a stopped driver who was texting. He then started berating her loudly for texting as she had been driving while recording her and stating her license number, presumably to post online somewhere.

    While as person who travel 90% by bicycle or on foot, I totally get the frustration- I still thought this approach was really aggressive and out of line. Frankly, I felt really uncomfortable about the whole thing. If he hadn’t been doing this to a 20-30 something female, I could see the driver becoming really aggressive. I’m constantly fighting against the stereotype to friends and family that cyclists are self-aggrandizing a**holes and that sort of approach doesn’t help, it just adds fuel to the dangerous, aggressive drivers. I think if someone is swerving and you catch them at a light, a tap on the window or something and saying- “Hey, I wanted to let you know that you’re swerving a bit back there into the lane and its making me nervous…” Most people will feel sheepish and embarrassed rather than immediately defensive and pissy.

    My 2 cents.

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    davemess June 18, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    “But when we’re unexpectedly confronted by strangers about our sins, it’s easy for us to shut down, tune out or dig in our heels. When the confrontation is coming from someone on a bike — who is, sadly, often going to be falsely seen as having a feeling of smugness or superiority — that might make the message even harder to accept.”

    I’m curious how this plays out when both people are on bikes.

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      Paul Souders June 18, 2015 at 12:34 pm

      About 10 years ago a fellow rider caught me running a red light (I have excuses but NM) and he shouted “hey dude that light was RED.” I told him to get bent and rode off angry. But when I calmed down I realized: he was right. Haven’t jumped a red light since.

      I am personally not confrontational enough for this kind of stuff, neither am I cool-headed enough to make it zen and loving.

      Sometimes if I can make eye contact with someone driving crazy, I make the gesture I use to calm a strange dog or get my dog to lie down. Sort of a pat-pat motion with the palm open toward the ground. This works sometimes for some reason and they seem more confused than angry.

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      Anne Hawley June 18, 2015 at 1:32 pm

      Oh, I suspect we could manage to “other” each other by bike type, riding style, age, attire, and helmet use.

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        davemess June 18, 2015 at 4:29 pm

        I thought the point of this was to “other” people who are breaking the law?

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    Todd Hudson June 18, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    Unless a motorist does something that directly endangers me or someone around me, I don’t bother finger-wagging. If I played self-appointed-self-righteous-traffic-police with every violator on my bike commute, it would double my commute time and I’d just end up mad at the end of it.

    Sometimes you just have to let go of the things you cannot control.

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    Ted June 18, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    I would suggest focusing on how a driver’s actions put you at risk. If you are actually trying to change behavior, I don’t think yelling and screaming is an effective approach.

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      Anne Hawley June 18, 2015 at 1:02 pm

      Yesterday I was asking about appropriate use of the nearlykilled.me reporting tool, and this invites the same question: was I endangered by some particular action? How near is “nearly”? If a driver’s inattention doesn’t specifically threaten me that time, but I know that driver inattention is a serious overall problem, is that one instance my problem, or not?

      I honestly don’t know the answers, but these questions are important.

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    Andyc of Linnton June 18, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    Thinking about this a lot lately.
    Does anyone know if it is illegal to take photos of people in their cars?
    Scheming on setting up on the side of the road in a chair with my camera and a big sign that motorists can read that says, “I am taking your picture while you use your cell phone.”
    I don’t really wanna be a cop, but since the cops can’t be cops…well, maybe.

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      Anne Hawley June 18, 2015 at 12:59 pm

      It’s my understanding (from Jeff Jarvis’s Public Parts, so not exactly a legal authority) that public means public, and if you’re in the public right of way, potentially having your picture taken is part of the deal.

      If it were definitively illegal, we’d have to shut off all the CCTV, security, and ATM cameras everywhere. Which, I suspect, is why the Powers That Be are reluctant to make it definitively illegal.

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      CaptainKarma June 18, 2015 at 2:41 pm

      I have plastic sign from the hardware store, bright yellow, that says “smile, you’re on video” that i hold up for egregious violators to see. They NOT on video only because I don’t have a camera yet, but they don’t want tp take that chance, so they straighten up their act usually.

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      lyle w. June 19, 2015 at 9:28 am

      One of the local news stations did this a few months ago— set up on a busy intersection and then published the pictures of people that were on their phones.

      I’m assuming they didn’t chase each of those people down and get them to sign a release. So, yeah.

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    Fahzure June 18, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    Video/pic what is going on, then post it to the police FB page as a comment. Just videoing will alert most drivers and, now you’re videoing in case anything happens.

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    Andyc of Linnton June 18, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    Hi Jonathan & Michael.
    There used to be a button you could check that said something like, “notify me of new comments” on a particular story. I did it once or twice, but received every comment on that particular story, some not pertinent to a particular comment or question I specifically asked.
    Is there a way to have a button like that would notify you if someone commented back only on your specific comment?
    I don’t take the internet with me, sometimes leave town, get busy, etc, etc. and miss some follow ups occasionally.
    I ask this is the comments section because there may be others who would be interested in something like this. Thank you.

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    Brian E June 18, 2015 at 1:12 pm

    Personally, I would not confront anyone unless you are willing to punch them in the mouth or get punched in the mouth yourself. Then you gotta deal with the PTSD too.

    In the future we might see news reporters who identify if there is proof that a cell phone call/text did “not” occur within the period the vehicle was operated. Much like “not wearing a seat belt” or “not wearing a helmet” is done now.

    And statements like, “no proof was provided upon request”.

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    Justin Gast June 18, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    If their window is down, I won’t yell at them, but I will tell them in a slightly agitated voice “please put down your phone.”

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      Justin Gast June 18, 2015 at 1:15 pm

      I forgot to mention, I’ll state the same thing to cyclists I see playing with their phone as they ride.

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        Anne Hawley June 18, 2015 at 1:30 pm

        I’m kind of appalled at how many cyclists I see riding along, no hands, busy with their phones. Obviously they’re capable riders who feel no sense of danger. They aren’t endangering me as a rule. But it’s just such short-sighted behavior.

        Kind of like when I see young people smoking. Immortality has a funny way of wearing off over the years.

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          Tom Hardy June 19, 2015 at 2:54 pm

          You must have seen the same one I did. No helmet, texting and wearing earphones going down Clinton. Spooky!

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      • Tony T
        Tony T June 18, 2015 at 3:41 pm

        A cyclist on a phone isn’t going to wipe out my family.

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          davemess June 18, 2015 at 4:28 pm

          Really?

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        ed June 18, 2015 at 6:07 pm

        Definitely do not visit Amsterdam, Copenhagen or other cycling rich places then; you’ll be hoarse from yelling at the multitudes of helmetless cyclists using their phones while riding. Funny how safe it is there eh?

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    Eric June 18, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    No more roadways for you drivers until you all get your act together and follow the laws.

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    Andy K June 18, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    Wow, these comments escalated quickly! Confront drivers, rip phones out of their hands, berate them, throw your u-lock, and pack heat? No thanks.

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    Chris I June 18, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    I broach the subject by saying “do you need me to check something for you?” If they still don’t get it, I just tell them that they shouldn’t be doing that, and I can look up the traffic reports or weather, or whatever it is they are doing for them, as the passenger.

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    Nicholas Caleb June 18, 2015 at 2:10 pm

    I usually only ‘confront’ drivers when they almost run me down or speed by me and then get stuck at the next light these days. And most of the time, I knock on the window and gently inform that they are driving extremely dangerously and could hurt someone very badly.

    I used to get angrier, but the strong call out just seemed to make people get angry & defensive and find ways to justify their behavior.

    Like many of the comments above mention, it’s getting to the point where cell phoning while driving is a widespread phenomenon. We can’t stop it with the tools available to us. We just need to be physically separated from the drivers who clearly don’t have concern for safety.

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    GirlOnTwoWheels June 18, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    I don’t tend to confront drivers directly when I see them driving distracted, but whenever I discuss the safety of cycling with people I always mention my biggest concern is people texting while driving. I just got back from a solo cross country tour and was often asked if I was afraid traveling on my own, I always shared that I was far more afraid of someone hitting me while distracted than anyone harming me on purpose. That seemed to really sink in for a number of the people I met along the way.

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    S. June 18, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    I feel conflicted and don’t always confront drivers because doing so would be too stressful. However, if I catch a driver using their phone at a red light, or I saw them using their phone as they sped to the red light, I will say something like, “can you please not use your phone while driving, I had a friend who got hit by a distracted driver.”

    It is difficult to argue against someone who just said their friend (who isn’t identified as a cyclist or pedestrian or even driver, just a friend) got hit by a distracted driver (it clearly identifies who was at fault, the driver, and reminds us why it is illegal). The drivers usually responds showing some degree of guilt, whether or not they actually put the phone away.

    Before using this technique I would yell and be confrontational which sometimes elicited equally aggressive replies of things like “wear a helmet,” “fuck you,” or “get on the sidewalk.”

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    Oregon Mamacita June 18, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    When I am in a car I like to “punk” texting drivers by pulling away ever so slowly and smoothly at lights that they are left staring at their screen as the light turns yellow and the people behind the texting driver hit their horns. I also like to touch the brakes so the brake lights go on and the texting driver is startled.

    Now that my office overlooks a popular SE Portland street and I can look down and see texting drivers- I see a problem. Maybe 10% of drivers are
    texting or have no hands on the wheel.

    Maybe if there wasn’t so much car shaming, people could understand that some of us bike & drive. I will put my 3000k of steel between a bike and an aggressive driver, I will make left turns in such a way that I discourage passing me in the bike lane etc.

    This is the time for law enforcement to step up and sting people. Tickets tickets tickets.

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      Dan June 18, 2015 at 4:29 pm

      Mamacita, I think there is more driver shaming here than car shaming, if that makes sense. Most of us are not complaining about people using cars, but those people who are using cars BADLY.

      Getting more drivers to hop on a bike once in a while, or fully convert to biking full-time, is certainly a worthy goal, but sometimes I think we’ll get more returns by just talking to people we know and getting them to convert to being BETTER DRIVERS. Help them to understand the safety issues with driving, get them to take the pledge, to stop using their phones while driving, to stop speeding, etc. But that alone is a challenge sometimes. I have neighbors in my cul-de-sac who we have been unable to get through to, who regularly come flying into our cul-de-sac, and wonder why we make a big deal about it. We got a ride with them to a concert or something once, and I will NEVER ride with them again – the way he drove was appalling.

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    wkw June 18, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    No answer when you are on a bike. But when I drive and I am on a 4 lane road, if there is someone next to me and they are clearly using their device, I beep the horn. If they return to the device, I stay on the horn. It is effective for the most part.

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      John Lascurettes June 18, 2015 at 10:41 pm

      So while you’re distracted driving, watching them doing distracted driving, who’s honking their horn at you?

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        Caesar June 19, 2015 at 6:45 am

        It depends on what the meaning of “is” is.

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        Pete June 19, 2015 at 8:37 am

        I rode up on a driver who’d drifted to a stop in the bike lane in front of me, and I knocked on her hood as I squeezed past and noticed that she was an older woman wearing her reading glasses to text! All I did was knock and point to where she was, but when the light changed and I started to ride away, the woman in front of her who had watched the brief exchange leaned on her horn, swerved at me, and flipped me off as she drove by. (No, they didn’t seem to be together, she just must have thought I was one of those arrogant, self-righteous bicyclists… which I AM!).

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    gutterbunnybikes June 18, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    Texting I’ll just call them out. Though phone calls can be fun when stopped at lights if they have the windows down.

    Make a goofy face and a”phone” with your hand, and talk loudly like you’re talking to them…ie when they’re trying to listen. Interrupts their call, gets their attention, then you show them the magic trick of turning your “phone” into a “bird”.

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    Mark June 18, 2015 at 3:38 pm

    Like many others, I see this frequently. For me, the first rule is to do what I can to eliminate the threat, which may include hand signals or a raised voice to ask them to stop. I’d rather be the subject of scorn and alive than the alternative. Ultimately, I am frustrated and angry that city and state law enforcement does not crack down on this. Citations for this would be easy pickins’ it seems given all of the flagrant offenses. It’s not just a danger for vulnerable road users; it’s everyone on the road.

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      Tait June 19, 2015 at 12:02 am

      When the law went into effect, there were several such efforts. We can see how much good they’ve done now. Maybe everyone just forgot or something.

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    William Knight June 18, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    This activity should be a no brainer by now for ALL drivers.

    Hand gesture… HANG UP. Drivers use it with each other. Lift your hand like you holding a receiver and drop it.

    Facial expression – “Comon are you crazy!?!?! I got kids!!!”

    Then immediately forgive them. I know it’s hard. It can be done. I did it recently and I’m not the type.

    Lady… rolled up alongside me coming up to a stop sign… we were both slowing. Neighborhood street. SE Lincoln.

    As we approach the stop – never mind I am already irritated to be sharing road space side by side – her car starts to DRIFT OVER INTO ME!

    I mean… I AM RIGHT THERE! She must have saw me in BROAD DAYLIGHT as the only moving thing in front of her in the road and ASSUMED she had passed me!?!?!?

    I look in the window. She’s texting in her lap.

    I veered. Hollered “HEY! I GOT KIDS LADY!!! COMON!!!”

    Actually ran the stop sign into the intersection (Lincoln and like 40th) to avoid getting killed and looked back. Hang up sign. Look of appeal, please use your head. Then… I delivered a smile of forgiveness and a nod.

    “Thank you.”

    She let me go on ahead. It’s only 20mph. She turned off before she passed me again.

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    Dwaine Dibbly June 18, 2015 at 6:00 pm

    If you give them much more than a disapproving scowl and a wag of the finger (index finger, not the one next to it!) you risk getting into a confrontation with someone armed with a 2000 pound (or more) weapon.

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    rachel b June 18, 2015 at 7:51 pm

    I hate cell phone zombies, period–walking, standing, biking, driving. I know “hate” is a strong word but I mean it, sincerely. Pull your head up and look where you’re going. Look at things. Look at the world. I’m disgusted at how slack-jawed and glazed everyone looks now–whole parks and bus stops and buses and restaurants and sidewalks and town squares and etc. etc. etc., just teeming with dead-eyed people staring down at these stupid devices. And for no urgent reason. Going down a few floors in the elevator? By all means, whip out the phone! Waiting two minutes for a bus? Sure, you need entertainment, reassurance! Some reward pellet, some little shot of adrenalin–a “like” or a retweet. Feels good. Can’t stop. I remember feeling hopeful when I read that thugs were batting cellphones out of numb zombie hands and running off with them. I thought, maybe THAT will snap people out of it. But, no.

    We really have to make the concerted effort to ween ourselves off the stupid things. We’re just like the Skinner box rats and WILL press the lever that gives us our treat, over 700 times an hour, even past exhaustion.

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      Geoff Grummon June 19, 2015 at 9:03 am

      I completely agree, Rachel. I think mobile device usage is a symptom of a broader trend of people being disconnected from their surroundings. I am astonished how many people are simply “checked out” when they are out in public, whether they are on the phone or not. They seem to have only minimal awareness of the parade of life that is going on around them – people, vehicles, the built and natural environments, the weather.

      I also don’t understand why every day I encounter people who are moving in a different direction than they are looking!

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    HJ June 18, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    Most of the time I just shake my head, mutter a few profanities and continue on my way because I have no way of effectively communicating with them in their noise insulated steel cage.
    That said yesterday I had a great opportunity as I was riding into work. There was a lady stopped in a crosswalk, yakking away on her cell phone with her window rolled down. As I slowly rolled past her I hollered at her that what she was doing is illegal. I got a very guilty look from her. Quite satisfying.
    My usual approach is pretty much that. Skip the moral judgementy stuff as that tends to get people riled up and my opinion is probly already clear by the fact that I’m calling them on it. Just stick to pointing out that they’re violating the laws that we are all expected to follow.
    Mind you, I do this with all people in traffic. Was really disgusted as I was driving to a race at the velodrome the other week and saw a guy, race wheels on his back, riding his fixie, no hands, no helmet, earbuds in, and texting on Beaverton-Hillsdale. When he got to the track I made a point of (admittedly a little noisily) confronting him about his awful behavior.
    Most pathetic part was he tried to act like he hadn’t done anything wrong.

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    Gary June 18, 2015 at 10:52 pm

    Or we could be debating about how to discourage drivers from eating their morning bowl of cereal from behind the wheel! Here’s the article from London: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3128014/Driver-caught-enjoying-breakfast-bowl-spoon-drives-Land-Rover-morning-rush-hour.html
    That’s ‘bloody’ dangerous!

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      gutterbunnybikes June 19, 2015 at 6:57 am

      I’ve seen people assemble and then proceed to eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while driving.

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      Paul Souders June 19, 2015 at 8:29 am

      I see people eating yogurt or breakfast cereal a couple times a year, usually in the lane queued for the Sylvan on-ramp.

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    Scott June 18, 2015 at 10:52 pm

    I am thinking about buying an air horn. One good blast will get anyone’s attention. The only thing is the cannister may run out before my five mile commute through Beaverton is over…

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    Granpa June 19, 2015 at 6:43 am

    I just wish that the police enforced the law. Public shaming of the users of hand held devices is a good theory, but it police should not be depending on citizens to do their job.

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      gutterbunnybikes June 19, 2015 at 6:59 am

      They need to make a signal blocker for cars which can detect and allow emergency call numbers and quits working when airbags are deployed.

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    Kate June 19, 2015 at 8:42 am

    Given the stagnation of traffic at rush hour, the temptation to check ones phone in the car must be overwhelming. I must admit that if I was sitting in my car lined up to get on the Ross Island Bridge for 20+ minutes, I’d be looking at my phone, too.

    That leads to something that we in the medical patient safety/error reduction field call the “normalization of deviance”. It means that we take a shortcut or skim on a known safety protocol in the interest of time or convenience. Problem is, there are no bad results from this MOST of the time. Until there are. Because those protocols are set there for a reason: to reduce the chance of human error.

    Most people can text in stalled traffic just fine. This leads them to believe they can text just fine in slow moving traffic. Then they can do it at a red light…etc. etc…until they push the limit and someone gets hurt.

    Then it’s a “mistake”.

    I suggest we move the conversation further into the realm of, “okay, so we know you are going to text in stalled traffic. How is that going to affect your desire to text in slow traffic, and then text in moderate traffic, etc. and what does that mean for your risk of killing someone in real life?”

    Stop expecting people to NEVER make shortcuts, and start acting them specifically to understand the risks of what happens when they do. As if driving (like giving people medical care or drugs) is a job and a responsibility, not a god-given human right.

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      jacque June 19, 2015 at 12:17 pm

      “Given the stagnation of traffic at rush hour, the temptation to check ones phone in the car must be overwhelming.” I agree.
      In my observation…people can not keep from being on their devise when there is even just a pause in a conversation. It needs to be addressed as an addiction would be addressed.
      How ’bout a DUIOD?? Drive under the influence of a devise… and you lose your license to drive.
      God, I’m so bored hanging out with people that have fingers that can not keep still and eyes that can not meet mine… it really is an addiction at this point.

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    William June 19, 2015 at 9:21 am

    If I can talk at them, I try compassion and say “Are you OK? Your driving is erratic. Do you want me to call for help?” Or for Door openers I say, “Wow! I almost hit you! You could have been hurt. I don’t want to ruin your day. Look before you open the door.” Generally the driver is shamed or embarrassed or just egotistical enough to thank me!

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    Gil Johnson June 19, 2015 at 11:55 am

    My initial response to the question of how to confront a texting driver is “U-lock through the windshield.”

    OK, that’s probably not the best response. But if the texting or calling driver is moving erratically, I call 911 and report a drunk driver, describing the car, it’s direction and as much of the license plate number as I can see. Getting pulled over by a cop for suspected DUI should put some fear into the driver.

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    Tom Hardy June 21, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    The best way is to have the on duty motorcycle policeman’s personal cell # on speed dial. Give him the license number and color and make and model of offender.

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    Middle of the Road guy June 21, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    So what do I say to the guy biking with ear buds in playing with his phone while biking?

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      rachel b June 22, 2015 at 12:47 pm

      The same as you’d say to anyone not paying attention–“Hey! PAY ATTENTION!” or “HEADS UP!” Frown, shake head, wag finger. Distracted bikers piss me off, just as distracted drivers do. And distracted walkers. Distracted drivers the most, though, as they’re piloting tons of metal at high speeds right next to me.

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    Texas August 4, 2015 at 9:43 pm

    I am glad others are thinking about this important issue of distracted driving. First let me explain that I am not a cyclist and I live in Texas. My morning commute takes about 15min and while driving I spot dozens of distracted drivers either talking or texting.

    Last year my city passed an ordinance banning hand held phone use while driving. I will admit at first I was on the fence about the city taking this action and felt it may be over reaching a bit to dictate private behavior in people’s cars. That is until I was nearly T-boned by a young women who ran a red light while I was making a protected left turn, she never looked up and probably is unaware of how close she came to killing me and herself. Then I began reading some studies done on distracted driving and learned that using a phone while driving will cause a 20 year old driver to reach as if they where a 75 year old driver.

    The city ordinance cares a $75 fine but is poorly enforced and the problem of distracted driving seems to be growing. Not only are these drivers inconsiderate, potentially dangerous, but they also waste the time of other drivers with slow starts and keeping very long following distances.

    My irritation level with distracted drivers continued to rise and I began honking at them when I saw them and would make a hand signal, not the one you may be thinking of, with my pinky at my mouth and thumb by my ear and then pretending to hang up my hand/phone.

    This was not very affective at changing their behavior and once my honking startled a driver in front of me who hit the breaks hard. After that I worried that I was contributing to the problem more than I was helping it.

    I have recently changed tactics, now I try my best to ignore distracted drivers until I get to a stop light. At every stop light I look around and there is almost always someone on the phone beside me. I give my horn a very short honk to get their attention and motion for them to roll down the window so we can talk.

    Then I will politely ask them “Sir/madam would you please wait until you can pull over to make that call?” I tried this today while driving to work and during the 15min commute I had this interaction with 3 drivers.

    The first said nothing to me but he did hang up his phone and got in the turn lane I assume so he could pull over. The second refused to roll down her window to talk to me but did hide her phone from view. The third stated “my phone call is over bluetooth, thank you! (extra snotty with the thank you) and then speed off as soon as the light turned. She did not seem to understand that regardless of the bluetooth I saw her manipulating a phone with her hands before I initiated the conversation.

    My take away from all this is that if you can safely confront distracted drivers, you should. The culture around this bad behavior must change. Currently drivers feel entitled to use their phones while driving. They have no more of a right to do this than I have a right to chug a 6 pack of beer and jump on the interstate.

    I know things are different for cyclist in regards to safety and vulnerability to road rage and I am not sure if I would do this on a bike. In Texas it is lawful to carry a gun in ones car and I do almost every time I am on the road. On the very remote chance that a driver wants to turn my polite personal appeal into a violent confrontation I will put a stop to it very quickly.

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    stephenomist February 5, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    “Please see me!” Three simple words that thoughtless drivers (and we’re all thoughtless drivers from time-to-time) would positively respond to.

    Cars are evil, drivers are thoughtless & I’m in danger when sharing the road with them. Bike lanes & traffic laws are less important considerations than the laws of physics – which don’t favor my bike. I don’t expect these truths to change as a result of screaming self-righteous, supercilious cyclists. In fact, such obnoxious, impotent mobile-moralizing only makes cycling more dangerous. “Please see me!” seems to me to a reasonable response to encounters w’ thoughtless, texting drivers. As an impassioned request from a vulnerable person, it deserves to be honored.

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    Orion July 27, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    If they’re talking on their phone with the window down, I CRANK my music up. It’s also worth a mention that this music is almost always AC/DC

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