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

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

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?

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