Just Ask Jack — Overly Courteous Drivers?

Quinn sent in the following question:

“Commuters know about the ‘right hook’ — what about the opposite? By that I mean those drivers who creep behind you for a city block, when if they drove at speed they would clear the intersection before you got there. How do other commuters deal with them?”

This is another manifestation of the “overly courteous” driver. I’m sure many of us have been in similar situations…the driver hanging back instead of passing us, the driver waving us through at a four-way-stop intersection even though it is clearly their turn to proceed, etc.

What this stems from is that many motorists are blissfully unaware of the laws regarding bicycles on the roadway. In most (if not all) states, bicycles are considered vehicles, and have the same rights (and the same responsibilities) as motor vehicles such as cars. Or, if said motorist IS aware of the laws, they are just trying to be nice by being excessively cautious.

While these behaviors are not usually dangerous, they can be quite annoying.
Really, the best way to deal with these situations is with a smile — if you had time to talk with these motorists and to teach them the ins and outs of sharing the road with bicycles, that would be great, but folks rarely have that kind of time. It’s better to just heed that wave-through (giving a thank-you wave of your own) or deal with the creeper. I’ve heard of cyclists stooping over to retrieve a waterbottle, pretending to be so engrossed in getting a drink or looking around that the opposing motorist at that stop sign just gives up and goes through…but that technique has its own share of issues.

In short, be gracious, be thankful and above all, do it with a smile — facing an overly-courteous motorist is a million times better than facing a road rager!!

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.


  1. Drew November 11, 2007 6:04 am 

    I am finding that more and more of the drivers you describe are actually overly distracted rather than overly courteous. The majority of the drivers whom I encounter performing the wave through and hanging back instead of passing are too busy talking on their cell phones to proceed safely. At least they are aware that they shouldn’t be passing without putting their cell phones down! I have to believe that those who wave me through intersections are actually selfishly taking the extra time to get more conversation in without the distraction of driving. Perhaps they are really trying to be courteous, but they seem to be concentrating so much on their conversations that I have a hard time believing it.

  2. Ghost Rider November 11, 2007 6:40 am 

    Hmm…I hadn’t considered that. There DOES seem to be a lot more distracted drivers out there, that’s for sure!

    In my encounters with what I call “overly courteous drivers”, they are almost always making direct eye contact with me and smiling, giving me every indication that they are trying to do me a favor. I really don’t know what to make of it!

  3. Quinn McLaughlin November 11, 2007 7:31 am 


    that is a good point, although there have been times, when the intersection just becomes a clusterf*** because the drivers don’t know the law, and I almost get run over.

    The day I asked this question, it was because, I was riding up the BIG hill, on a 3 lane road, and this car crept behind me for probably 200 ft, with another 100 infront of me. I pulled over, waved the car on with a “wtf” look.

  4. Moe November 11, 2007 1:24 pm 

    Ahh, the ‘stalker’, I’ve dealt with a few of those… People driving behind me not knowing what to do… After they’ve followed you for a while, they kind of give me the creeps, I usually try to find a ‘clearing’ between cars and wave them thru. I guess they are better than the ones that pass you with an inch on the side to spare…

  5. Crazy Commuting Cyclist November 11, 2007 2:10 pm 

    When I run across the Overly Courteous Driver I tend to count my blessings rather than be creped out or annoyed by it. My usual driver I encounter could not give a flip about which one of us has the right of way. In their mind they have the machine that could crush you like a bug; therefore they have the right of way.
    I know that I have the same rights as any other vehicle on the road but because I do not have the same size or weight, I tend not to push the issue. It is better to yield to the bigger moving objects in the road, and live to ride another day than to push a bad position and pay a heavy price. I have been hit by a car once and I don’t intend to have that happen again.

  6. Marge November 11, 2007 4:55 pm 

    my faves are the drivers that stop either to your left or to your right, meanwhile traffic is speeding through in the opposite direction. didya stop so you can watch me get smashed to bits? think about it.

  7. Gunnar November 12, 2007 9:42 am 

    I’ve learned to be extra cautious when accepting the wave through at intersections with other cars, as the other cars may not see you, or have any idea why this one vehicle is stopped, and proceed through in frustration (ie: extra speed and anger).

  8. Pages tagged "courteous" January 26, 2008 6:37 pm 

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  9. evan March 20, 2008 7:35 am 

    I used to accept a wave-through until the time I did—and another car passed the Overly Courteous Driver on the right, nearly hitting me. They couldn’t see me, didn’t understand why OCD had stopped, got frustrated, and nearly killed me as a result.

  10. Sungsu July 4, 2008 11:30 am 

    Remember, the “stalker” could simply be pulling into a driveway half way down the block, or be looking for a parking space.

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