High visibility in the glare of a spotlight

Bright is alright, but it ain't everything.

The inquest into the deaths of eight cyclists on New Zealand roads started yesterday in Palmerston North.  The takeaway reported in the Dominion Post article suggested the need for mandatory high visibility gear among cyclists.  Fortunately, Patrick Morgan of Cycling Advocates Network was on hand to counter the notion.  He wisely pointed out that such a requirement would likely deter current and potential riders, would cast cycling as a much more dangerous activity than it is, and could shift the responsibility in a car against bike accident to a rider without her flouro.

Aside from the battle waging in the comments following the article, what intrigued me was the report of Coroner Gordon Matenga’s shock at CAN’s position.  I suppose I sensed an allegiance to an ailing status quo in his perspective.  I suppose I interpreted his perspective as an inclination to wrangle a bunch of risk-hungry outliers– that would be the cyclists– into a framework that will relieve other road users of concern for them.  I suppose I wish he saw that the growing number of people on bikes, intentionally or not, will change the dynamic of road use.  I suppose I’d like him to acknowledge that change and validate the right of the cyclists to be on the road.

And maybe he did.  I wasn’t there.

I’ll let folks chime in with their own opinions on the issue but here’s two paltry cents:

What I hope grows out of the tragedies leading to this inquest, instead of a mandate that we all swallow radium before we ride, is a recognition of the diversity of riders comprising the cycling community and the environments in which we roll.  Some of us whizz around on roads alongside 100kph traffic.  Some of us putter along footpaths.  Some ride in mud; others prefer the comparable cleanliness of the cycle paths.  Many of us do all of it and most of us prize our own lives sufficiently to keep ourselves safe as we go.  And, sure, some of us could stand to learn how to protect our fragile selves a bit better.

While visibility is a key factor in cycle safety, it’s important that we don’t deliver an imprimatur on bad or even reckless driving around cyclists by failing to legitimize the presence of bikes on our streets.  Being extremely visible doesn’t guarantee that we are seen; being seen also requires that drivers are instructed to keep their eyes open for bikes.  We all play a role in sharing the road; I don’t think it’s appropriate to relieve any road user of the responsibility to care for all other users out there.

Okay, now, let me have it.


2 thoughts on “High visibility in the glare of a spotlight

  1. Alastair

    Perhaps I should share the reaction of an experienced cycle commuter (riding to work since 1974, wears a $2 shop hi viz vest) to the reported comments by CAN: “they’re crazy”

    As you can see on any of the commuting routes into the city, many commuting cyclists use hi viz. It’s useful to head off attempts to make hi viz compulsory, but it’s important not to be seen to be negative about a useful part of cyclists overall risk management strategy.

    In any case, I suspect it would be hard to make hi-viz compulsory – how bright does the hi-viz have to be, what area has to be visible, etc.


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