A Hi-Viz approach to blaming — and trying to save — the victims

Growing up in Colorado, I quickly learned to wear my brightest attire when venturing into the woods during hunting season, lest someone mistake me for Bambi’s mother.

Not that we look the least bit alike.

But still, there was always the risk that some armed fool might sense movement, raise and fire without first determining just what the hell he was shooting at.

Even riding my bike, I had to worry about hunters mistakenly assuming that deer tend to travel at relatively high speeds on paved roads wearing spandex. And have spoked wheels instead of legs.

Things that should be readily apparent at a glance to even the most sleep deprived, drunken and/or inexperienced idiot with a high-powered hunting rifle. And it never ceases to amaze me just how many of those we’re willing to arm and send out into the world.

But every year, it seemed like one or more people would get shot just because they ventured out into the woods when the beer and blood lust was running high.

And almost without exception, it would be written off as just an accident.

After all, the shooter didn’t mean to kill anyone. Even if the victim would still be alive if the person with the gun had taken just a few more seconds to verify what he was shooting at before pulling the trigger.

Instead, the authorities would inevitably blame the victim for venturing out without high-visibility clothing, even though the hunters themselves were usually in camouflage gear.* Or just being outdoors in the relative wilderness, when anyone with a salt-lick of sense would know they just didn’t belong there.

Maybe you can see where I’m going with this.

Despite the requirement for a license, and a proliferation of hunter safety classes, it was still up to everyone else to stay the hell out of the hunters’ way, rather than on hunters not to shoot those on two legs instead of four.

After all, they’d suggest, you should know there are people with guns out there. And it’s up to you to stay the hell out of their way.

Or at least make sure they see you if you do.

Sort of like cyclists and pedestrians are expected to do everything short of setting off a thermonuclear device to get a driver’s attention.

No, seriously.

Don’t require drivers to pay attention to what’s in the road directly in front of them. Or improve infrastructure to help keep everyone safe.

No, the standard solution is to put the blame squarely on the potential victim, rather than on the ones capable of causing harm.

Or as former competitive cyclist and current OC attorney David Huntsman put it, it’s like handing out longer skirts to prevent sexual harassment.

It was David who forwarded me a link to a New Zealand story praising a local trucking company for handing out hi-vis vests to cyclists.

The article quotes Tony Gare, general manager of Icon Logistics, discussing a collision one of his drivers had with a dark-attired cyclist, who fortunately was only slightly injured.

“If he had been wearing high-visibility clothing instead, the crash might not have happened.”

There were many cyclists in Dunedin who did not wear the visibility gear, he said.

So Mr Gare bought several hundred high-visibility vests, at a cost of about $50 each, to give away to cyclists.

“If, at the end of the day, it’s going to save someone’s life, it will be worth it.”

Clearly, his heart is in the right place.

Even if his efforts could, perhaps, be better directed by improving training for his drivers, rather than getting local cyclists to dress like people hiking through a high-fire hunting zone.

Huntsman, however, is clearly not one to let a matter such as this lie. So he sent the following email to Mr. Gare.

Mr. Tony Gare
Icon Logistics

 Mr. Gare,

The referenced article came across in my alerts this morning here in California.

First I want to say that the purchase of those reflective vests is a nice gesture.

However, as a logistics firm, isn’t your organization better suited to assess and address the education and habits (and any deficiencies) of truck drivers?  I’m curious to know if your firm has taken any steps in that direction.

Of course it would be helpful if all cyclists and pedestrians dressed in day-glo.  But focusing on that aspect of accident prevention distracts from the other side of the equation – the motorists’ side.

Regards,

David Huntsman

Remarkably, the response came just a few minutes later.

Dear David

Thank you for your email regarding the Hi Vis Vests.

As a company Icon Logistics Ltd  is very proactive in its driver training and all safety matters whether it be on road or off. We have regular Training,  Health and Safety sessions, including those with the local enforcement agencies to keep our staff aware of their responsibilities in operating heavy vehicles.

On this occasion our most senior driver, plus the truck turning into the freight yard failed to see the cyclist because he was indistinguishable from the parked vehicles. This accident occurred on a heavy traffic bypass and an industrial area and as a result of this many of the business in the area have asked for changes in where people can park so turning vehicles have better visibility. While we can’t direct people where to ride, they also must take a degree of responsibility to ensure they can be seen and the choice of roads that they use.

Our General Manger, Tony, has kept in touch with the cyclist, to ensure he has had no further health issues, has replaced his bike and ensured he has the proper reflective clothing.

Regards

Glenda

 Glenda Kempton
Administration Officer

And a few hours later, this came in from Mr. Gare himself.

Hi David

Thanks for your e-mail but as far as training goes in this situation the cyclist was in a heavy transport area with-out any hi-viz and the driver concerned and all of our drivers to this point are well trained and equipped in all aspects of the heavy transport industry

Many Thanks for your response

Kind Regards

Tony Gare
General Manager
Icon Logistics Ltd

Evidently, there’s a punctuation shortage down there in Kiwi land.

But don’t get me wrong.

Like David Huntsman, I appreciate the gesture. Even more when it’s done on a more personal basis, simply because someone cares.

I’m also a firm believer in being as visible as practical, if not as possible. I make a point of riding where I can be seen by everyone else on the road, and lighting myself up like a Christmas tree after dark.

And I’ve learned over the years that what I wear makes a big difference in how well drivers see me. Bright reds, yellows and whites seem to result in far fewer close calls, while an otherwise good bright blue jersey seems to mean dodging cars all day.

I call it my cloak of invisibility because it somehow seems to make me disappear from drivers’ view.

But I draw the line at wearing fluorescent vests to ensure that those who should see me anyway actually do. Let alone that we don’t blend in with parked cars, not one of which I have ever seen that looked even remotely like a bike rider.

There is a point at which drivers must be held accountable for seeing other road users and operating their vehicles safely, without cyclists having to light themselves up with neon signs to point out their position on the road.

Just as hunters have an obligation not to pull the trigger until they know what the hell they’re shooting at.

……..

One quick suggestion for anyone who still hasn’t finished their holiday shopping.

L.A.’s own Pure Fix Cycles offers this very cool $1000 table made with their own Pure Fix Urban Forks and custom wheels, in your choice of frame and wheel colors. Or maybe you’d prefer one of their single speed/fixed gear bikes, starting at just $300 — each of which comes standard with front brakes, as well as optional rear brakes.

After all, if comes down to a choice of brakes or wearing a Hi-Viz vest, I’d rather err on the side of stopping.

*Whenever I see someone dressed in camo, I have to resist the urge to run up and say “I can totally see you, you know.”

19 comments

  1. Jim Lucas says:

    You think that it is bad there. Come to Arizona where the only requirements to avoid being charged with vehicular manslaughter after killing a pedestrian or a bicyclist is to; be legal (not look like a Mexican), be unimpaired, and stick around and cooperate with (talk to) the police. It has been open season, all year around, on pedestrians and bicyclists forever. Motor vehicle operators do not have to keep their vehicles under control or to pay any attention to where they are going or what is in front of them. Also, I have never heard of any Law Enforcement Officer enforcing the “3 Foot Law,” during the eight years since it has been passed.

  2. AiliL says:

    Around Seattle they have placed flags for pedestrians to use at various crosswalks as well. It works for a while, then drivers even cease to see pedestrians with the day-glo flags. They become part of the scenery. Just like cyclists who wear day-glo (I am one of them). The burden really is on the driver to pay attention to what’s around them no matter what. As a pedestrian, I often have to step of the curb and wave like crazy to get drivers to stop for me, at legal crossings. Yesterday, I was a pedestrian running some errands. It was 31 degrees out and dark. I was wearing my heavy black wool coat, warm black pants, white sneakers (with reflectivity) and a light colored scarf. My husband drove by me and said that he could hardly see me crossing the street because I was wearing black. I told him that 1) I was aware of what I was wearing and was more careful 2) I didn’t exactly have any warm, decent looking, non-smelly day-glo street wear or construction vest and 3) one needs to drive and look out for people like me.

  3. I’m absolutely with you on practical visibility. The conspicuity arms race is a losing proposition.

    But has a cyclist *ever* been shot by a “sleep deprived, drunken and/or inexperienced idiot with a high-powered hunting rifle“? Besides Greg LeMond, I mean, and he wasn’t on a bike when that happened. Hunters make a really big deal out of identifying their targets and ensuring there’s a good backstop before they even raise the rifle.

    In spite of the fact that the instrument of his sport is designed to kill, the hunter’s greatest safety threat is during his drive to the field.

    • bikinginla says:

      I recall a few cases where cyclists were shot; mostly mtn bikers, but I’ve know at least one roadie who complained about a bullet whizzing past his ear as he rode.

      You’re right, most hunters are careful to identify before they fire, but just like cyclists and drivers, there’s always a few careless ones in the bunch.

      Can’t speak for now, but when I lived out there, you could always count on at least a few people getting shot before the season was over. Hopefully it’s gotten better since.

  4. Sam says:

    I wonder if a cyclist after a close call “I didn’t see you” crash has attempted to push their luck and rob a bank…

  5. Dennis Alters, MD says:

    My brother in law Ben Acree was killed riding his bike last Feb. He was an expert cyclist. Ben took all precautions. My point although it is a restrictive idea, one that does not appeal to me, it appears that human nature is the overriding power. The logic and education process will take decades. Non cyclists will avoid blame at all costs. They have practical survival reasons for this like hunters who avoid manslaughter penalties.
    I see only one safe solution. Dedicated areas. Develop cylclist friendly routes and communities. Hire police to protect these routes at areas that a panel of cyclists feel are danger zones. Bring back the traffic cops. Human nature will not change easily. We are not collectively evolved to cherish the rights
    and safety of others. This is an uphill battle that cyclists pay for in blood. Bring back the white gloves and whistle.

  6. Barry Wells says:

    Your replies from Mr. Gare seem to focus on an accident that didn’t cause serious injury and make no mention of another accident referenced at the end of the article “A 33-year-old Invercargill man has been charged with careless driving causing death, after cyclist Peter Wells was killed when hit by a logging truck in Castle St on November 14. He will appear in the Dunedin District Court on January 24. ” On this occasion, the cyclist was riding in a bike lane on a bright clear sunny morning and as you can see the driver has been charged with with careless driving. I, for one, await the outcome of that trial. I wonder if Mr. Gare has any comment?

  7. Opus the Poet says:

    How about we start holding drivers responsible for the weapons of mass destruction (as defined by the Geneva Conventions) they are in sometimes marginal control of?

    Start by requiring all wrecks with pedestrians or cyclists be classified as homicides. There are different layers of homicide, but until we eliminate the word “accident” from LEO vocabulary, drivers will be getting the benefit of the doubt, even when there is no doubt to be found. Begin with removing that option to give the benefit of a doubt and requiring that pedestrians’ and cyclists’ wrecks be investigated, even when there are no fatalities, but especially when there is a death involved..

    • Dennis Alters, MD says:

      This is a fine idea but if you refer to my post above most people would not support such accountability. My suggestion of increasing the police supervision has its own inherent budgetary flaws.

      • Jim Lucas says:

        Actually, I believe that part of the problem lies with the educational process, where our traffic engineers are taught that their responsibi;lity is to move the maximum number of motor vehicles through our highways in the smallest amount of time. Over two years ago the following was posted on http://el.pt.seeclickfix.com/issues/11538-death-trap-for-bicyclists
        “Death Trap For Bicyclists
        .McClintock Road has Bicycle lanes South of Guadalupe Road. North of Guadalupe Road, McClintock has three lanes southbound and two lanes northbound, with two sharp curves near the Fire Station. Motor Vehicles, typuically drive at approximately 53-55 MPH in this area and cannot see bicyclist riding legally in the roadway until the motorist is almost on top of the bicyclist.
        Bicycle lanes on McClintock north of Guadalupe are essential to the safety of the bicyclist and to the northbound smooth flow of motor-vehicle traffic.”

        When contacted directly, Tempe Traffic Engineers offer the most rediculous excuses imaginable. At some point, someone is going to get killed at this location. When it occurs, I hope to provide assistance to the attorney who helps the dead cyclist’s survivors sue the City of Tempe, Arizona for all that they can be sued for.

  8. Tony says:

    Here is the UK there is a particular problem with trucks. In London about half of all cyclist deaths are from being hit by a truck despite trucks being only a few percent of vehicles on the roads in London and no other large vehicle – buses and coaches – having a problem not hitting cyclists.

    But to the case in hand, if it was known that there was a risk of not being able to see cyclists against the background of parked cars then the solution is not to hope the cyclists wear hi-viz (I’m aware of no research that shows hi-viz decreases accident rates and no-one seems to suggest all cars should be painted hi-viz to reduce accidents) but to have staff members to act as lookouts and aid the driver turning into the yard until the parking problem is resolved.

    What we have instead is well meaning but misguided victim blaming.

  9. Todd Edelman says:

    The logic of the writer is great and I agree with his perspective until he says, e.g, “… lit up like a Christmas tree.” I think that there is something to be said about limits in what I call hyper-illumination, whether it is extra lights as the writer seems to be using or the hi-viz vest he criticizes. I think there needs to be serious research in this area (and in many different cycling environments, e.g. from Russia or L.A. to Germany and the Netherlands) which could inform legislation on the issue.

    My own view is that when one person is hyper-illuminated, it makes other, even fully-legal cyclists (or pedestrians, who require nothing) less visible, both on the spot (acutely) and in general (chronically, as drivers get used to them, and their brains get wired to expect hi-vizzed cyclists (and pedestrians).

    The pedestrian flag in Chicago is disgusting (and I Tweeted Gabe Klein about it — no response) but also, e.g. in Estonia pedestrians are required to wear something. But mostly it is cyclists who are deciding themselves to wear anything and what to wear, and it seems totally about subjective safety since – as I mentioned – there is not much research in this area (I have nothing to refer to but I assume there is something I have not seen). Cyclists tell me that as a driver they can see a cyclist more if they are hyper-illumed, but when I suggest that the practice is unfair, more thoughtful people realize that the “me first” attitude is not really something to be proud of.

    The most popular entry is my blog is about this issue http://greenideafactory.blogspot.com/2010/09/dont-believe-hyper-illumination.html and since I wrote it I have collected a lot of info, mainly all the hi-viz products out there, mostly introduced in the last year.

    More and more cyclists here in Berlin are using vests, and some even without helmets (not that they should wear helmets of course — it just seems like helms and vests get used in pairs most often).

    Related, the German transport minister recently said that if about 50% of cyclists don’t wear helmets voluntarily he will consider making it mandatory. It would be a tough fight for him against other politicians and the ADFC, and the idiot does not realize that, subjectively-speaking, people wear helmets due to fear (and the reaction is try to be safe) and that of course our neighbours to the northwest do not wear helmets (unfortunately they do in Denmark, but probably less or the same as here).

  10. As you know, I don’t normally drive, but a few weeks ago I rented a car for a weekend, and I felt a little empathy for drivers. Of course, as a cyclist, I am always on the lookout and aware behind the wheel for peds and cyclists, but a lot of roads out here are extremely poorly lit, and they cross a major bike path. Cyclists and peds without lights or any bright clothing were next to impossible to see as they approached the road because it’s so poorly lit. If they had lights, they were much easier to see, with lights and a vest, I could absolutely see them. But these were the cyclists. The peds typically don’t wear brighter clothes just to be seen.

    In the past I would have said, “it is the driver’s responsibility to be aware and alert,” but when it’s dark out, you need to do everything you can to make sure you are visible. I don’t think this absolves a driver of anything, I just mean to encourage cyclists and peds to keep that bright vest around and slide in and out of it when riding in the dark (along with lights). I know after my observations from driving last week that I have definitely become more aware of my visibility as a cyclist.

    Again, I don’t mean to absolve driver’s at all. They should be aware when they are in a poorly lit area and drive cautiously accordingly, but usually they don’t. When I noticed how dark it was, and I knew there were pedestrians around, I slowed down and was extra cautious. I knew this made other drivers angry, but I don’t care. I’d rather drive slow than hurt some one. Unfortunately, most drivers don’t think like this.

    As cyclists, we are torn between principle and practice, so we have to walk a fine line of riding defensively (and that includes our gear and attire) and not giving up our rights to the road.

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