'Road Rage' Case Highlights Cyclist Vs. Driver Tension Bicycling magazine called it "the road rage incident heard 'round the cycling world." A driver in Los Angeles was recently convicted of using his car as a weapon against two cyclists, who were injured. And the case is focusing attention on the often uneasy relationship between motorists and bicyclists.
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'Road Rage' Case Highlights Cyclist Vs. Driver Tension

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'Road Rage' Case Highlights Cyclist Vs. Driver Tension

'Road Rage' Case Highlights Cyclist Vs. Driver Tension

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Now, an extreme example of how people in cars and people on bikes find it difficult to share the road. A Los Angeles driver faces sentencing tomorrow after being convicted of using his car as a weapon against a couple of cyclists.

As NPR's Mandalit Del Barco reports, that incident is focusing attention on a different kind of road rage.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: It happened last year on the 4th of July on a steep, narrow road in L.A.'s Mandeville Canyon. Cyclists Christian Stoehr and Ron Peterson were riding side by side when a car driven by a doctor, who lived in the neighborhood, came up from behind.

Mr. CHRISTIAN STOEHR: And there was an exchange of words, he then accelerated to the front of us, and within five feet pulled over and slammed on the brakes.

BARCO: Stoehr says there was no time to stop. He was thrown over the car and landed across the road. But Peterson wasn't as lucky.

Mr. STOEHR: And he went right through the back window of the car and had his head stuck in there. And I think they found his teeth in the back seat.

BARCO: The impact severed Peterson's nose and separated Stoehr's shoulder. Christopher Thompson, the driver of the car and a former emergency room doctor, was arrested and put on trial. The jury found him guilty of a half- dozen felonies, including using his car as a deadly weapon. Thompson now faces 10 years in prison. Ron Peterson, one of his victims, says justice was served.

Mr. RON PETERSON: For someone to do this to you on purpose, it's unfathomable, really.

BARCO: Peterson, who is a cycling coach at UCLA, says he still can't feel his nose. He now wears false teeth and forever will have scars.

Mr. PETERSON: I think all of our hope is that this brings to light just how vulnerable cyclists are out there.

BARCO: During the trial, other cyclists told the jury of previous incidents with the same driver. A police officer testified Thompson admitted he deliberately slammed on the brakes to teach the cyclists a lesson.

Ms. LOREN MOONEY (Editor, Bicycling Magazine): The road rage was so egregious.

BARCO: Bicycling Magazine editor Loren Mooney says this may be a landmark case in protecting cyclists and pedestrians.

Ms. MOONEY: It's the intent. It's the actual road rage that is part of the conviction in this case.

BARCO: She says what's different about this case is drivers who injure or kill cyclists are rarely punished.

Ms. MOONEY: It's very easy for a driver to say, oh, I didn't see you; oh, you know, you're small, or you're traveling slowly on the roadway. It was an accident. It takes an enormous amount of evidence to get a conviction for a reckless driver - or in this case, a driver with an intent to hurt somebody with a vehicle.

BARCO: What happened in L.A.'s Mandeville Canyon is an extreme example of the daily conflict between cyclists and motorists around the country.

Mr. SCOTT: These bicyclists are extremely rude, and they take up the road � four, five people at a time.

BARCO: This caller to member station KPCC, Scott, says he lives in Mandeville Canyon, and he has had it with cyclists.

Mr. SCOTT: When you pull up alongside them and ask them to stay out of your way, they yell at you. They're extremely provocative. They're asking for trouble, and this is not the worst case that's going to happen. Someone's going to get killed. And to be frank with you, the residents aren't going to feel too bad about it.

BARCO: Another Mandeville Canyon resident, Tom Freeman, is sympathetic to vulnerable cyclists. But as president of the homeowners association, he hears complaints.

Mr. TOM FREEMAN (President, Homeowners Association): I'll hear about how bike riders are riding two, three abreast and if somebody tries to pass them, they give them the finger. If they catch up with them at a stop sign, they'll kick their cars. Somebody got spit at. It's the few that cause the problems, and they help create a perception.

BARCO: East Hollywood boasts what's known as a bicycle district with a bike shop, cafe and bike repair co-op. Here, cycling activist Stephen Box complains that police officers don't take bike crashes seriously. And he says he faces resentment by frustrated car drivers.

Mr. STEPHEN BOX (Cyclist Activist): I've been left-hooked and hit. I've been hit from behind and then left in the streets. And they expect cyclists to ride where it's unsafe. It's unsafe to ride through potholes and the gutter; it's unsafe to ride through broken glass; it's unsafe to ride in the door zone.

BARCO: That's why his wife, Enci, says some cyclists ride aggressively just to survive.

Ms. ENCI BOX: When I see the light turn red, I try to race as fast as I can through it because I know I will have a block of peace and quiet, where there won't be cars behind me.

BARCO: These cyclists point out that it's actually legal to ride side by side in the streets of L.A. But the rules of the road can be confusing. That's why Alex Thompson wrote what's known as the Cyclists' Bill of Rights.

Mr. ALEX THOMPSON: Cyclists have the right to travel safely and free of fear. We have the right to the full support of the judicial system. These are all rights that cyclists already have, but we need to reaffirm these.

BARCO: But even Thompson and another bike blogger, Ted Rogers, disapprove of reckless bike riders, who maneuver through traffic as if playing a video game.

Mr. TED ROGERS: Oh, we hate these guys. We absolutely hate them because the driver that you tick off is the one who's going to run me off the road.

BARCO: Bicycling Magazine suggests drivers pay more attention, and cyclists not escalate tensions while on the roads they share.

Mandalit Del Barco, NPR News.

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