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Gear Prudence: I recently saw some knockoff bike advice guy (not GP) say that slapping cars that come too close is actually totally fine. Except that the one time I ever touched a car when biking, it escalated the situation and the guy flipped out and chased me three blocks. I was legitimately scared for my life. Why are drivers so sensitive when people touch their cars? It’s way less bad than running me over! And if slapping cars is unacceptable, what should I do instead? —Come On Prudence! You Can Answer Too
Dear COPYCAT: As a general rule, flesh and the outside of cars should not meet. In fact, pretty much everything you do on a bicycle should be done with this aim in mind. The one exception is when the only way you can save your own life is by touching a car. But even then, touching the car is probably not your most effective option. Yelling also gets the point across, and in truly dire situations, it’s more beneficial to keep both hands on your handlebars and brakes for greater control over steering and stopping. Slapping or kicking a car out of pique is understandable (being nearly run over while biking is deeply unsatisfying!), but it’s likely going to lead to the disproportionate reaction that you’ve already experienced.
Some drivers flip out when you touch their cars because the entire car experience is built on the notion of inviolability. Ensconced in a motorized La-Z-Boy on wheels, drivers move through the world without really being part of it. There’s a reason why so many car commercials are set on empty streets. A thud on the hood is an intrusion upon this fictive sanctuary—a stark reminder that, though caged and climate controlled, the driver is not nearly as separated as he wishes to be. Your selfish efforts to remind them that you’d prefer to not die will puncture their beautiful cocoons, where they are safe from the world around them (though, actually, they aren’t) and safe from the consequences of their inattentiveness (though you aren’t).
Also, people really fucking love their cars. They pay too much for them, they construct their identities around them (toxic masculinity ftw), and they get in fist fights outside of car washes, jockeying in line and waiting to shower the salt off them. People just don’t like it when strangers touch their stuff. Add to this the shock of hearing a loud noise from within the car cocoon, and it’s really no surprise that there’s a feeling of violation. Slap if you absolutely must, but if it becomes a habit, you’re probably overdoing it for reasons that have nothing to do with self-preservation. —GP