Wednesday, December 09, 2009

To wear a bright safety vest or to not wear a bright safety vest: That is the Question!

I'm a member of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals, APBP for short (yes such an organization exists and it is growing rapidly). Members have access to a member listserve where some of the brightest minds working in the field of bicycle and pedestrian safety exchange ideas.

A recent discussion came up if cyclists should wear bright retro-reflective safety vests under all conditions. Some professionals came out in favor, other were ambivalent, while some were downright opposed particularly if the bicycle is already equipped with a full legal (varies by state) complement of bicycle lights.

Image via Bike Nasbar Catalog.

I fell into the ambivalent category (wear 'em if you want to but I don't) until I read a response by one of the more respected members of APBP, Mighk Wilson out of Orlando, Florida:
When we start portraying such safety items as very necessary at all times, we run the risk of the contributory negligence problem. While it may not be explicitly written in law that failure to wear brightly-colored clothing is contributory negligence, we might foresee a time when that might be the common belief, and juries might unfairly rule against cyclists in some cases for that reason.
Once Mighk brought up this possible scenario John Sigurjonsson of Cycle Chatham-Kent of Ontario, Canada informed the group that:
Police reports in Ontario note the color and reflectivity of cyclists clothing (e.g. “dark, non-reflective clothing worn by smeared cyclist”)
So, since you the cyclist DID NOT dress like a 1980's neon prom queen, you had it coming to you because the helpless (hapless) driver couldn't help but NOT see you. Unfortunately this is already a common excuse when a driver hits a pedestrian who was otherwise walking along or crossing a street in a perfectly legal manner. "The pedestrian victim was dressed in 'dark clothing'" is often cited as the PRIMARY reason why a crash happened at night or other dark conditions.

Hmmm... Last I checked my finest cloths are all fairly dark (my best suit and overcoat are all black). Most police uniforms are mostly black too but I have yet to hear of the "dark clothing" being an excuse when a driver hits an officer of the law.

31 comments:

Robert Hunt said...

Flashing super bright LED lights front and back are far better than bright vests in daylight because they are a source of light on the bicycle or rider. Vests do not show up in dull conditions or in dark shade on sunny days. They don't show at all from the front or back when a rider is leaning forward.
A cyclist in Perth, Australia, riding fast in heavy shade in a tree-lined street hit a car that turned across in front of him into a house driveway. The driver was found not guilty of dangerous driving because the court was shown that he could not see the cyclist in the heavy shade. The cyclist was leaning forward and his brightly coloured top could not be seen from the front or the back.
Half-watt or one watt LEDs running on AA or AAA batteries can be seen for 1000 metres (yards) in daylight. I run mine on NiMh rechargeable batteries. A second set on the helmet makes a rider visible to vehicles further back in the traffic.
The research on this type of visibility goes back to the early 1950s. Cyclists and motorcyclists do not have a big area to reflect light. It's the reason why it's compulsory for motorcyclists in this country to have their headlights on low beam in daylight. It's also why long-distance buses travel with headlights on low beam in daytime, they stand out against the background. Bus companies here pinched the idea from Greyhound in the early 1950s. Double and triple trailer road trains here also have lights on in daytime, it's amazing how a 150 tonne, 50 metre (yards) long vehicle can disappear against the background on country roads.
A lot of cars built in Australia in the past five or so years have headlights locked into the ignition so they are always on when the car is running.
Some road workers are now equipped with flashing lights in daytime.

cycler said...

I am also in the ambivalent-leaning-towards-opposed- camp. I have a retroreflective sash that I wear whenever I have a dark shirt or jacket on because I do think it helps people see me, but I am reluctant to make people feel that they have to have "special" clothing or equipment to hop on the bicycle. I wish I could find a stylish jacket in white, or a nice dark jacket with discretely integrated reflective piping.

One nice thing about the sash is that it's small and quickly removed, so that once I get off the bike it goes in my pocket and I look like everyone else instead of sticking out as "a cyclist in safety gear".

If cyclist clothing color is considered a liability in a criminal case, I wonder if dark colored cars are similarly noted and blamed for being less visible than taxicab yellow cars?

Honestly though, no amount of reflective clothing is as important as decent lights. I run my dynamo lights day and night.

Andy B from Jersey said...

Gentlemen,

You both seem to suggest daytime (all the time) running lights for bikes are a good idea. I'll run lights on my bike during the daytime when they are otherwise required for cars (rain, snow, fog, etc.) but really don't like the possibility of requiring them (I know neither one of you actually said this but I'm using the idea as a thought question).

What would be next? Requiring lights on pedestrians, day and night?

Thanks for you comments! Most informative.

lee said...

I think that people have already documented that AS IT STANDS NOW, pedestrians and bicyclists are ALREADY judged partially at fault for failure to wear bright, reflective clothing.

So from the comparative fault perspective alone, bicylists and cyclists should take steps to enhance visibility, so that in the event of an accident, they can't be told that their failure to be visible contributed to the accident.

Additionally, from the collision-avoidance angle, bicylists and peds should wear reflective stuff, as it probably does increase visibility in some cases.

True, you look like a dork.

Anonymous said...

If you want to kill cycling dead, then by all means require flashing lights, reflective vests, a dunce cap on top of the helmet, and throw in a fanny pack and mom jeans for good measure.

Anonymous said...

Everyones rides are different but for me flashing super bright led's may blind/dazzle motorists I ride around. I prefer my lights to not blink. I aim em straight out too, not into motorists/ped/other bikers eyes. I generally dont like bright colored clothes for biking unless its really crappy out, I rely on my lights. Dynamo lighting rules! IQ Cyo from Peter Whites website is awesome for general road riding. I do have alot of reflective tape all over my bike, especially the moving parts...crank arms, rims. My trouser band is also reflective.

Bobbi Holberg said...

I use my bike when I'm going to school. Before, I ignored my mom's suggestion to wear the safety vests of my dad. My dad has a lot of ansi class 2 safety vests and he's using those every morning he's jogging with my mom. I really don't get why they wore those. I asked my closest teacher about the reason why people wore those. He's also wearing safety vests. He said that wearing ansi class 3 safety vests for example, help you to avoid accidents because its colors are easily noticed by drivers, especially when you're heading to roads with lots of cars. Now, I understand the importance of safety vests. Recently, I heard a lot of news about accidents on roads, because some drivers hadn't noticed a biker who's heading his way.

BeachwoodNJ said...

Sir with all do respect, Police officers wear a reflective vest or jacket with reflective trim when they know they will be exposed to high amounts of vehicular traffic (such as a traffic accident and they are performing traffic control or during checkpoints), and bicycle officers themselves wear a brightly colored shirt (either yellow or white) or a piece of garment that is highly visible. Officers who are performing a traffic stop have their vehicles bright flashing lights to alert motorists of their presence.

Andy B from Jersey said...

Yes police do use safety vests in certain circumstances which they should but how ofter do you see a beat cop wear one (for that matter how often to we see beat cops anymore)? Would it be a legitimate excuse for a driver to hit a beat cop wearing his "all blacks" while crossing the street as it seams to be when a civilian is hit while wearing all black? Somehow I don't think the police would be as willing to pin the blame on the victim for wearing all black in this situation.

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