Part one here.
How do we Provoke, Scare and Pierce the (Driver’s) primitive Reptile Brain? How do we stay alive?
We look to nature and the development of the brain in the animal kingdom. Evolutionists (which I am not) have no problem with this concept. Yet, observation leads to irrefutable conclusions. Most all organic organisms in nature, no matter how “primitive/paleo” or presumably “advanced”, share common traits… like all have and share DNA similarities for example…
Even the “simple”, primitive, prehistoric paramecium3 (see link below) are highly sensitive and flee from bright light. And likewise, so too our own human visual cortex, directly wired in the brain; via the Amygdala, Basal Ganglia, and Hypothalamus via the Limbic system (or paleomammalian brain)… These gray, and convoluted features are understood (some say known) to be the deepest and most primitive unconscious areas of our human brain (along with the medulla & cerebellum).
While this isn’t a physiology paper, the point to be made is that the “Fight or Flight” mechanism mentioned much earlier, needs to be completely, totally, and unconditionally activated and profoundly stimulated at a very low and unconscious level; in the vehicle driver’s brain.
It turns out that just like paramecium, and many reptiles, ULTRA BRIGHT FLASHING RED LIGHTS are immediately sensed by humans as “threats”. As a life form is “threatened”, certain physiochemical responses are unconsciously activated…. the “Fight or Flight involuntary mechanism. Immediately the higher functions of the cerebrum are bypassed, and the visual cortex “reaches down” to the primitive reptile brain and causes/induces FEAR, and the autonomic, unconscious brain triggers the release of some very powerful stimulant hormones. Now; close your eyes; and imagine that you are outside in the dark tall grasses, and you feel and hear the low strong growling of a nearby lion; hear tires squealing, a loud close Bang!, etc… you get an idea of what the driver’s EYES are seeing…
Why flashing lights?…and Not solid? Flashing create and induces the appearance of Motion. Movement is the key to being detected by the Reptile brain. We want and need to be detected and identified, from the greatest possible distance.
Alternatively; waiting for any driver to see and consciously recognize you riding away, in dark clothing from a distance, then comprehend, and avoid you, turns out to be a quick death march for cyclists.
Flashing Bright Light(s)… Our only reliable solution, “defence against the…?”
“Statistics don’t lie”… my college statistics professor often told us, (countless others have made the same statement/observation). What we learned in school is that (in a fair and well designed study) the numbers are what they are, for a reason. It doesn’t matter what that reason is… The (possible) reasons/explanation that the stock market climbs or drops is incidental and unimportant. Using math to measuring the speed and momentum (emotion) of the rise and fall is what is critical. Why do I mention this seemingly unrelated topic?
(Another) Spoiler Alert: The statistics for riding with Flashing Ultra Bright lights is literally breathtaking, from one perspective, and alarming from another. In addition to the 700 KILLED riding a bike in the US every year, there are over 500,000 cycling injuries. Let’s say the 2/3rs mentioned at the beginning of this article, or roughly 5,000 cyclists in the last ten years alone, were hit from behind, and died… The cyclist had no warning or defense to prevent his/her death. In the other 1/3 of fatal accidents, most often the cyclist either had some visual warning and possible responsibility (steered into traffic, went across a rail road crossing, etc.) in the outcome of the accident, or some warning. Not the case of “hit from behind” fatalities. That again, is where I draw the line.
In now two plus years of research, I have Yet to find a single, confirmed, instance where the killed cyclist was riding with Ultra Bright Lights turned ON at the time of the accident. 500,000 injuries, 7,000+ deaths (without lights) to (so far) ZERO (With Lights)… (EVEN if one or two have been missed, the numbers are far more than compelling.)
Note; as of the week of 6/12/15 there were (2) reported fatalities (bikinginla.com) where it appears the riders did have lights on the rear of their bikes…. See/Read article “Testing to Destruction” for more information… So now the numbers are over: 500,000 : 000002.
The numbers are REAL. In this singular case, my statistics professor was (dead) wrong. It DOES MATTER why the numbers are the way they are. Important Note; Several times I would/have heard it said; He/she (the victim) was “lit up like a Christmas tree”… but later found out from eye witnesses, their cycling buddies, car cam videos, accident pictures, or the police interviewed, that they had no lights at all. Don’t believe everything (anything) you hear until you have verified it for yourself.
My story: Like many, perhaps most victims, I went on a Crusade; to find “the answer”, “the solution”, to prevent what had happened to me, from happening to others. After being released from the hospital and in time regaining some memory and “normal” lifestyle, I set out on this quest. As stated, I have found this characteristic is deeply imbedded in the deepest being and recesses of most victims. Every time I hear of a cyclist fatality, I relive my own accident; I literally feel the glass and metal pushing/smashing through my own face, and body…
Utilizing a previous positive relationship with of a couple PD’s and the L.A. County Sheriff’s department, I started my quest. I wanted to see and learn everything I could about fatality accidents. This process is ongoing and will likely last my lifetime.
What I learned (am learning) from adding up and compiling the numbers, is that 2/3 rd’s of fatality accidents fall in the “hit from behind” category. The problem is that the standard Highway Patrol accident report form, used by all law enforcement departments, is inadequate and lacking in a number of areas. I started with the three fatalities in Newport Beach almost following my accident.
I noticed that none of these first few fatality victims’ bikes had any lights at all. I started to develop a theory. Could it be valid and true? The problem is that the CHP standard traffic collision report form does not have a checkbox for “rear Lights? ON?”
Obtaining reliable information was difficult. What did I do? Reports, Pictures and Questions. Without going into details that would compromise others, I talked directly to officers, or obtained photos of the actual accident scenes. Not just any pics, only those specifically of the bikes, without any people. (I specifically didn’t ask nor want pics with any people in them, and no one offered.)
I continue to search accident reports and witnesses; to see IF the bikes had rear lights, what type, and did anyone know IF the lights were CHARGED and ON at the time of the accident. What time of day was the fatality crash? Where? What were the conditions? Those were/are my questions.
A clear and obvious pattern began to emerge. No fatality accident bikes, had lights at all. Not one. I was also looking for lights that were so cheap/poor as to be worthless, even if they were turned on, but haven’t found any yet.
Time after time, death after death, I found no lights… I knew it was “ game on”…
Then I interviewed drivers, and read the PD reports. As mentioned earlier, what I heard was scarily familiar, ominous, and consistent with every one.“I never saw them”….
Every driver report, and every police interviewed driver, unrelated by age, sex, residence area, or ethnic background… all said the same thing… almost word for word… This clearly wasn’t a coincidence. This was/is a Real phenomena. They had killed a cyclist before they ever knew what had happened. Most of these people would otherwise be considered good citizens. Most (one exception) had no criminal record. Yet Everyone of them had killed another human being. That’s scary.
So why weren’t accidents found with riders using Flashing Ultra Bright lights? That became the burning question. What was mentally, visually and physically happening? I started testing lights, with the help of colleagues and very expensive borrowed equipment from a company that I do business with. Some of the testing was very technical requiring calibrated equipment, and some was done using human subjects in blind (brighter/dimmer) visual studies…
What was true in all light tests, was/is that Brighter is better. (we’re not going to be discussing beam angles, target size, protocols for standardized brightness measurements, etc., in this article, that’s another paper). For the sake of this article, I’m defining Brightens here in strictly relative visual observations; as the ability to see a Flashing light, in broad daylight, from some distance X. The farther away a Flashing light is able to be clearly seen, the “Brighter” it is defined to be… for this article…(more in light reviews).
“Brighter” means that the car drivers can see you from a farther distance. The greater the distance, the more time the driver has to see, recognize, and react to avoid you. Some of my lights, perfectly acceptable at night, couldn’t even be seen in the daylight from 10 yards, not good.
What was the minimum “brightness” between life and death”? How much recognition and reaction time was necessary to make the difference, to prevent a conflict and dead body?
“I never saw them”… started to haunt me. What IF those same drivers had been alerted to the cyclist from a Geat distance, (30-60 driving seconds away)… instead of finding out, only milliseconds before or just after they heard the crashing, crushing horrible crushing sounds?
Rule # 4 Time and Space: Planning time for Avoidance VS. (0) REACTION TIME…
You Hockey players are familiar with the term “Time and Space”… The imperative life/death question boiled down to this: How to effectively and reliably CREATE “TIME AND SPACE” between US (CYCLISTS) AND DRIVERS?
I bought more lights. Lots of lights. From countless observations, I set “standard” protocols to visually test them during daylight, and at night.
Minimum Acceptable Standard (MAS)… 1/10th of a mile minimum visibility looking almost straight at; only 10 degrees off the 10AM morning summer sun. In other words, the worst possible conditions.
In addition to visual testing with multiple subjects, from professional resources, I borrowed high end equipment (worth $50,000+), utilized the optics testing and light meters at the college I teach at. Then applied standard LED FAA aircraft LED testing protocols … Many lights visually tested to ¼ (.25) mile in daylight. That’s 15 seconds warning, even at highway speeds… a very good start…. Some were clearly seen flashing at ½ (.5) mile away… That gives a driver 30-40 seconds to see, identify, and react…. an ETERNITY relative to the previously reported 0 – milliseconds by fatality drivers.
First Quick “Brightness” rule of thumb. If you can even come close to looking at your light from an arm’s length in bright daylight, it is far too weak to be of any worthwhile use. ALL usable Ultra Bright lights are incredibly blinding, retina searing and burning. Think (DON’T actually do) of trying to stare directly at the sun, into a lighthouse, or at your HID high beams for example.
It was all making sense. The reason that people weren’t/aren’t being hit is that drivers had plenty of time to see, identify, and avoid the problem. There is no possibility of a conflict in time and space IF the driver is two lanes away when they pass you.
This has been born out in my life and those of every cyclist I’ve talked to. My wife and I have not had any more accidents or even close calls since we began putting Ultra Bright Flashing Lights on our bikes. Many many many drivers have stopped me/us to exclaim “…WHAT BRIGHT LIGHTS YOU HAVE”… THANK YOU !!!…”
During daytime; I suggest a minimum of three lights backwards and at least two forward for several reasons.
- Three (3) is the minimum number of points in space that a (driver’s) brain needs to immediately determine location, bearing, and speed….without a lot of time consuming and confusing calculations. Remember your geometry? # of points to make a Line and Plane?
- Redundancy; you never know when a light is going to fail, and it will usually be at the worst possible time.
- Battery life; many lights have variable battery life.
- Pattern variability; I like riding with lights that all have different flashing patterns to ensure that someone doesn’t get bored/numb/forgetful that I’m there.
- Loaners; knowing that the likelihood of a problem while riding with lights is miniscule (compared to without), I have been known to share a light with those without… especially kids, Boy Scouts, etc…
- While hitting someone from the front is statistically less a fatality risk than being hit from behind, it will still ruin your whole foreseeable calendar. Riding Ultra Bright front lights is only slightly less important than the necessity of riding Ultra Bright Rear…. Driver’s running red stop signs ahead of you still need their Reptile Brain stabbed….
And I strongly suggest buying/using only rechargeable lights and/or lights that can use rechargeable batteries. Buying and replacing batteries is a time consuming pain, expensive and time consuming pain, hence they are very EASY to forget…and besides, they often leak acid killing your lights.
Once you get into the daily habit of taking your lights off after each ride and plugging them in, it becomes an easy pattern to fall into.
Rule # 5 Drivers APPRECIATE Your Early Warning System…. Ultra Bright Bright Lights.
Take responsibility for your OWN SAFETY and Welfare… No one else is going to.
No one, at least very very few of us ever want to kill someone. And No one, especially drivers, wants to scared to death and shocked to have a cyclist seemingly “JUMP OUT” of nowhere.
Here’s an interesting topic…. Innate Godly/Human factors;
Rather indescribably; Flashing Lights seemingly “cry out”, “I want to Live!”… Human to Human, animal to animal, this is a very strong emotion/instinct/feeling/perception among many living life forms…. Someone has probably done a study on when/why/how this works…? (Please write me if you know of one)…. I don’t… but taking responsibility for your own welfare, and making yourself Highly Visible and WELL Marked, just works…
Repeating, I can’t tell you how many drivers have THANKED me, consistently, for my lights… Some have driven up onto sidewalks and JUMPED out of their cars! It’s actually very interesting to see how often this happens.
Generally now, most drivers just take a Very WIDE berth around us… Because they have ALREADY SEEN us from well over a Half A MILE Away (1/2 mile)… Another example: I take Boy Scouts out for their merit badge rides, and the trailing dad’s in the SAG car JOYfully exclaimed he could see us from a “mile away” (which was probably an exaggeration), but makes the point.
It is extremely rare that we have any issues, any more…and I have heard the same repeated by countless others than ride with Flashing Ultra Bright lights. In fact, I haven’t heard a negative feedback yet…
So, if you follow this advice, the odds/chances of you being (fatally) hit from the rear will be largely eliminated.
However, to make full disclosure beware, we’re not wholly out of the woods quite yet. There are other very dangerous types of accidents… even if statistically not fatal most of the time… they will still ruin your day-week-months, your body, and your beautiful bike.
- Be vigilant and on the alert for the bleached brain (and hair) blonde that tries to changes lanes or makes left hand turns into your path, without looking… like almost happened to me just the other day…
- Stay far away from parked cars. NEVER get closer than 4-6 FEET from a door that can suddenly open and (door) kill you. You may even have to fight for your space. (A motorcycle officer on PCH, once yelled at me and pointed to move over. I politely (honestly, ask my wife) nodded and responded by slowly opening my hand towards him, and then drawing it back in front of me, inviting him to (by all means) lead the way… he loudly scowled something unrepeatable and raced off).
- Only cross over to the left, from right hand turn and bikes lanes (you’re going straight) AFTER looking several times first. STOP and WAIT if you have to…LET the cars pass. A few seconds isn’t going to change your life, but it may end it if you don’t. This is the last fatality to mention. A very well known woman cyclist was riding on PCH (W) near Crystal Cove when she was killed. A group of cars were merging right onto a high-speed “highway onramp” when the last driver didn’t see her. He wasn’t cited either. And she is dead.
- Like above: Don’t expect a thin, white painted line is going to protect you. ONLY after looking several times first, cross over into LARGE protected (by light poles, etc.)hash marked traffic islands at stop lights….. Often, I choose to just pull over and wait… If others are more brave….?… You know the old joke about the old wagon trail scouts (cycling leaders)? They’re the ones with the arrows in their backs… which really hurts… and can end your day(s)….
- Keep your ears open, and eyes ahead…sounds so simple doesn’t it?
- If you aren’t very comfortable with keeping a straight line, while turning around in both directions, to see what’s behind, perhaps consider more practice, before riding on the road with others… Too Many rider-rider cycling accidents and injuries occur when someone changes their “line” without first looking back. Just a thought.
There are a lot of excellent rear and front lights out there now… And you need both.
When Purchasing, Consider:
- Published “Lumens” is only a start. Take out the lights in the store and check them out at a distance. The relative brightness will be quickly apparent.
- Flashing pattern variability… or the same mind numbing on/off “beat”
- Are they rechargeable? Getting into a daily habit of charging your lights is critical
- Beam Pattern. Some lights are very bright with a narrow beam; others have very wide beam pattern “signatures”, but not apparently as bright. Strongly Suggest you ride with both.
- Mounting options: Can you mount your lights on the seat tube, seat stay, handlebars? Do they have a clip for your helmet-saddle-saddlebag?
- Mount orientation: As riding is almost always on the right side of the road (we hope), Rear lights should be slightly directed backward and to the left, towards traffic, not straight backwards. I ride the road with front lights on my handlebars, and both forks… (being a pilot I follow protocol and ride with red on the left)…. Front lights have saved me pain a number of times from left/right turners ahead of me.
- Cost; good lights are going to run $50-$300…each… and I suggest you want/need five to eight for a lengthy road ride. Too much? Ask yourself again. How MUCH is Your LIFE and physical well being worth? Any number greater than ZERO is a GOOD START…
- Battery Life. There is a huge variability in battery life and charging time. Best to cover your bases… Some rides may only be an hour and a half, safe for most lights, others might last 4-7 hours…
- Be considerate to other riders: While Ultra Bright Lights should ALWAYS BE ON if you’re riding on the street… They are blinding to group riders close behind… IF you’re in a group ride, maybe you can ride last in line if you (should) feel more comfortable with all your Rear lights on… (anywhere in the group with Flashing Headlights… Not the most macho position perhaps, but there are advantages in guarding the rear.
mark d. goodley
Near Fatality Survivor
Product Design Engineer
USA Cycling Licensed Pro