Flashback Friday – Cycling Complaints: When Feedback is Appropriate

I imagine that all of us at some stage when riding have encountered some less-than-exemplary behaviour from other road users; just today, a driver turned left in front of me having just passed me… We often can’t do much about the actions of private drivers (unless a serious incident occurred), but there’s more scope to make a complaint when the person is travelling in a clearly marked commercial vehicle of some kind. Hopefully their employer will take serious notice of what happened but, to help ensure that, here is some useful advice from guest blogger Robert (first posted in Nov 2014):

The cycle safety debate continues and road user behaviour remains under scrutiny and comment. Could be time to offer some guidelines about making a complaint, if it feels that your recent ‘near miss’ was way too close for comfort and it was a result of careless behaviour by an identifiable driver.

I prefer the term constructive feedback. In the last few months our household members have written an email on three occasions to companies to advise them of inappropriate driving of one of their employees.  The outcomes will be revealed after the break.

Not a great place to park your truck…

But firstly let’s go back to http://cyclingchristchurch.co.nz/2012/12/08/safety-who-ya-gonna-call/ for the bigger picture and to remind ourselves that robust feedback is a very good way to chip away at changing things for the better.  After all, a lack of feedback to road users who are bigger and less vulnerable to Joe or Jane Cyclist will send the message that all is AOK in bicycleland.

As part of my job I have spent several years in the area of complaints assessment and can share the following tips that will help ensure that your feedback will be treated with the due concern that it deserves.

  • First and foremost be 100% certain that your case is water-tight. Equally important is to keep your story as simple and concise as possible.
  • Start with your name and contact details.  Then convey the date, time, location and a brief synopsis of the incident, including the road conditions if applicable. Try to avoid emotion, exaggeration and embellishment. It may be important to you that your sister-in-law had the very same experience five years ago and has not put foot to pedal since, but it will quickly turn the interest of the recipient to the off position.
  • It may be a good idea to take down details that you remember soon after the incident and write your letter at a later time. Whilst the adrenalin is still sparking at the synapses there is a risk of a rant rather than the facts.  At the very least, wait a day or so before sending it off allowing for a final read when the mood may have reverted back to a settled state. Better still, get someone else to critique your effort.
  • Nowadays, emails are appropriate for such communication, but a well written letter (handwritten or otherwise) will carry weight effectively also. If there has been no reply within a couple of weeks, re-send with a covering note explaining as such. If this is not successful and you are feeling as strongly as ever about the incident, a phone call may be required (be calm, rational and polite).

The rest is in the lap of the gods, but if the response you get is far from satisfactory then probably best to put it down to experience. Telling your friends not to do business with the company concerned may make you all feel better but is unlikely to concern anyone else. And the media?  If you choose to go mainstream, it is at your peril as the story will be more about making a good headline than your actual experience. We all know the pitfalls of social media…

More trouble lies ahead…

My first letter was sent to a distribution company sporting an international food brand on their truck, which had failed to give way at a ‘T’ intersection. The final response came after 6 weeks (delayed for legitimate reason).  My concern was taken extremely seriously, an apology was lengthy and sincere. The driver remembered the incident well and had been concerned enough to get an eye check for new prescription glasses.

Incident #2 was sorted within a short week, thanks to Metro-Bus.  Camera footage showed that indeed the driver had over-reacted (with horn and arm movements) to my being in the middle of the road in order to make an indicated right turn whilst pulling up behind a stationary vehicle also turning right.

Am still waiting for reply #3, but it is early days yet. A gas bottle delivery truck indicating a right turn whilst stationary then moved off to the left leaving an unhappy cyclist with nowhere to go but the gutter.

We all make mistakes, which is why it is so important to make allowances for others on the road, particularly when you are the most vulnerable.  Feeding back what actually happens on the roads is important, bad experiences can be turned around to become teaching and learning experiences, always a good thing.

Important also is the need to cycle within the law, you cannot expect others to do their bit without a conscientious effort on your part.  Cycle Social, a thumbs up and a smile (or a wave) for courteous driving goes a long way to improving our roads for everyone.

Have you had any experiences while cycling that you followed up on? What response did you get?

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