Interview with Leon James for Bicycling Magazine


Thu, 20 Apr 2000

> I'm Doug Donaldson, an editor with Bicycling magazine, and I was putting

> together an article about road rage and cycling. I was hoping you could help

> me with a few questions.

> 1. Why do drivers get so angry when they see people on bikes?


Dr. James:

Drivers get angry when their traffic emotions are challenged beyond the

coping point. Since traffic emotions education is not part of the driver's

training procedure, most drivers now have a low frustration tolerance and

whenever that line is crossed, they react with anger. One such challenging

situation is having to share the road with legitimate others. Most drivers

have not trained themselves to become aware of their intolerance. Their

parents showed intolerance for years as they were driven around, and years

of reinforcement through TV scenes and commercials in which hostile and

intolerant attitudes are portrayed as going on without bad consequences.

In summary, then, drivers get mad at cyclists because the drivers have not

trained themselves to accept the slowdown due to the cyclists sharing the

road. This intolerance is generational and universal, in my opinion. For

example, the same people who use cars and bicycles at different times and

for different purposes, WHILE DRIVING will be intolerant of bicycles in

some one else's neighborhood. The same applies to pedestrians and drivers,

by the way.

About my interview with Bicycling Magazine in 1998

> 2. Do you believe that drivers see cyclists as living outside the rules and

> thus is cause for road rage?


Dr. James:

Drivers see cyclists as interfering with their flow in a place where cars

have precedence--so they perceive it. They feel lgitimate in expressing

hostility to cyclists because cyclists are invaders in their eyes. This

intolerance is part of our generational socialization process. It becomes

personal only when individuals begin to reflect upon the fact that their

anger against cyclists is an act of non-sharing, an act of hostility, an

illegal act. In other words, a moral act in relation to character and

violation of human rights. However, to realize this, drivers must go

through several steps of self-change. For more information on this process

that I call Driving Personality Makeover, please consult the Web site at


> 3. What are some signs of road rage a cyclist might see in a driver?


Dr. James:

Common warning signs to look for in drivers:

a) How close they drive by (closeness=hostility most of the times but not


b) How fast they drive by (fast and furious=hostility and

impatience--they've reached the limit of their emotional coping and

they're now driving in an emotionally impaired state--very dangerous).

c) How fast they approach, scary fast or gentle and slow (slow=caution and

compassion--how nice!)

d) How close they follow when they can't pass (tailgating=hostility--their

cup is beginning to overflow--be cautious--dangerous)


> 4. What's should a rider do when they spot a driver with road rage,

> specifcally directed at the cyclist?


Dr. James:

Two things. First, act in a deferent manner, that is, non-challenging.

Second, keep up a friendly demeanor no matter what. Both of these

strategies have the same purpose: for the cyclist to retain control of the

situation. As soon as the cyclist does something other than these two,

there is a dangerous loss of control because one never knows how the

driver is going to react. Do not take chances. Remain in control--that's

the prime imperative. And you remain in control of the situation by

assuming a non-challenging stance and maintaining civility. The civility

and the non-challenging behaviors are the two most powerful weapons

cyclists possess to influence drivers in a positive direction.

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