Cycling shouldn’t and needn’t be a death sentence
A few years ago, Mark Goodley survived a near fatal collision while riding his bike.
Since then, he’s made it his mission in life to keep others from suffering the same fate. And has put his background as a product design engineer and a licensed pro racing mechanic to use to study how bike collisions happen, and how to prevent them.
He’s written a few previous posts for this site, including a review of ultra-bright bike taillights — one of the most popular posts ever on here — and the recent Testing to Destruction.
Now he offers a detailed examination of how and why ultrabright lights can save the lives of cyclists.
SPOILER-ALERT: The secret is slowly getting out that if you (are smart enough to) ride with Ultra Bright Flashing Lights, (sets that are fully charged and meeting a minimum brightness standard) the odds are ridiculously/infinitesimally small, that you will ever be involved in a “hit from behind” injury/fatality accident.1 Wide experience shows that Drivers will keep a very wide berth, and avoid you like the plague.
Now for the inquiring minds that want to know Why?…
Introduction / Abstract
There are over 500,000 cycling injuries accidents in the US every year. An estimated two-thirds (2/3) of the 700 cycling accident fatalities (35,000/year worldwide) are classified as “hit from behind” accidents; where the cyclist had little to no warning. This article focuses on those accidents where the cyclist was defenseless, and did nothing “wrong” (not those killed running red lights, getting run over by trains, etc.).
Most every interviewed driver who killed a cyclist made almost identical statements… “I never saw them”… As we will see below, this statement is neither untrue, nor a coincidence.
The how and why answers to the “I never saw them” statements are obviously of Great interest, and will be revealed and illustrated in this article… There are scientific and rational explanations for how these statements, repeated (again) by nearly every single (killer) driver are incredibly, both truthful and accurate.
Most importantly, a reliable, affordable, and easy to execute (potential) solution will provide an escape path to avoiding this critical problem. The only real question you will need to answer (to yourself) is: “How much is my/your life worth?”
Let’s assume first that you’re a sane, normal, brain active, and rational cyclist (as opposed to a helmetless macho-man/woman with superhuman immortal powers, invulnerable Kryptonite and 7,500 pound chunks of fast moving steel?) i.e., “You have studied and learned, that man is mortal.” You realize and fully understand that you are responsible for your own welfare (and can’t/won’t “assume” that others will be more concerned about your health and safety, than yourself.)
We might also agree that nothing on this planet is perfect. There are a given percentage of bad drivers that are always going to exist; Whatever their issue, brain dead, blind, deaf, sleep walking, drugged up, distracted, glue sniffing, mentally fatigued, illegal, bleach brained, comatose, and often defensive arrogant @$$%#@holes….
Let’s make the final argument and supposition that the above generality is and will always be true.
That is to say that No amount of DMV/Caltrans fairy dust, driver education, morning coffee, brain transplants, glasses, or better roads will EVER FULLY, and 100% of the time, eliminate Bad drivers from the roads.
Here’s the really scary part. Many of the fatality accidents were caused by “good” drivers as well. Just as there will Always be bad drivers…. “And it must follow, as the night the day…” there will also be good drivers whom aren’t perfect 100% of the time either. How can this be? How can good drivers repeatedly kill cyclists, just like bad drivers? Turns out it’s not too hard… Stay tuned below.
To be clear, I have nothing against improving driver-cyclist education; it’s just not reasonable or sane to expect “education” to be a 100% solution, or even close. We need a reliable, sound strategy against bad, and good drivers alike.
This is our not so trivial task… HOW to protect ourselves and cope with this entirely unacceptable situation? Is “it” beyond our control? If not, What strategies are available to combat the inherent risk to our cycling time on the road?
There is no amount of training or education, that will break through the fatigued, distracted, brain dead, or blind driver; either good or bad. This is just common sense. How are you going to reach any driver behind the wheel on an intellectual or even conscious level if they’re not there already? The answer is obvious and clear. You can’t. It’s Impossible.
Rule #1: IF someone is going to take responsibility for your own Life and Safety, it had better be YOU…it’s Not going come from anywhere else.
We need another tool. One not dependent upon the relative consciousness, awareness, intelligence, clarity, visual ability, or mental (incapacity) state of a driver.
To Reach, Jolt, and SHAKE/WAKE UP EVERY driver, bad and good alike, to our cycling physical presence and location, 100% of the time, we MUST make a HARD strike on an unconscious level. To hope and believe otherwise you might as well self-check yourself into Patton hospital, right now. (link provided below).
Now we are getting closer to an answer. We have to go much lower in the brain, Much, Much lower… Lower than cognitive cerebral conscious awareness.
We have to STRIKE at the lowest, most primitive, and strongest physiologically processes possible. We need to go “for the throat”… Straight to the core Survival Instincts that predate conscious thought. We have to go directly, to the primordial, primitive, primeval, Reptile brain.
Almost 100 years ago, this unconscious REACTION was termed “Fight or Flight” by a scientist named Walter Canon. We need to INCITE this innate, subconscious, uncontrollable visceral reaction that operates entirely outside consciousness and thought.
Getting back to the “good drivers” for a moment… We have to Fully grasp and realize something that none of us wants to admit. Even “good” drivers can entirely miss seeing us and cause accidents. “WHAT?” “WHAT ARE YOU talking about???” “The driver’s Always Wrong…!!!…”… you say….!
We ALL have inherent human perception weaknesses and frailties, regardless of our state of mind while driving.
We have to review and outline a few topics to illustrate the Full extent of this “invisibility cloak” we road cyclists all wear.
First; Human visual Perception and Atmospheric Physics…
- Lack of our relative movement and perspective; between traffic and the driver. Humans, like most every member of the animal kingdom, detect and identify movement far easier and faster than identifying the source/nature of that movement. If you’re moving at the same relative speed as the surrounding traffic “pattern”, and or in the same direction, there is every likelihood you will “blend in” and go completely unnoticed; “inside” the driver’s mind, even IF you are clearly in the line of sight and “visible”…
- Bright, cloudless days, and very dark shadows. Do you know what I’m talking about? No clouds means no diffracted light, no gray areas; only distinct very dark and bright light borders. Do you know the average time it takes for a human eye to fully adapt (Adaptation) from bright light to the dark? Astronomers would knowingly answer 20-30 MINUTES ! So what chance do (any) drivers eyes (the rods) have of making the physiological/chemically time dependent change while driving from a bright daylight area, into a dark shadowed area? The answer is very little, in fact almost none… I rode to the scene of a fatality accident not long ago at the exact time of the accident, two days later. Tall trees on the east, created shadows across ALMOST the whole road. On a cloudless day, like the day of her death, the bright light was blinding, and the shadows, very dark… Seeing into the darkened bike lane line, never mind identifying a cyclist wearing black clothing, was difficult for me. And I was prepared for the physiological/perception drawbacks. She was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Now imagine the shadows cast by buildings, trucks, cars, etc… and you can “see” the problem.
- Low blinding sun on the horizon. Most all of us have experienced these phenomena. The eyes become overexposed (and overwhelmed) by direct penetrating sunlight that is much brighter in the early morning and late afternoon (due to the reduced atmosphere and scattering). The windshield with inherent flaws creates bright and dark rays making it very, very difficult to see through.
- Black and dark clothing against black roads… need more be said
- Dirty or wet windshields and windows – “What is this rusty, dusty, dirty-looking thing over your window? Enough said.
- Dark tunnels and shadows/overpasses on clear, cloudless, bright days… (see 20-30 minute Eye Adaptation time above). (Remember a decent US Pro cyclist that rode into a dark tunnel,,, without a helmet OR Lights…?… look at how well that turned out…
- Higher “priority” distractions that forces and takes attention away from road outside (texting/email/phone), sirens, stopping traffic, lane changing trucks, peds, etc.. We will talk about this one in a bit.
- You photographers/videographers already know where I’m going with this. Our eyes/brains process information pathetically slowly. A VERY SLOW incoming 24 frames per second is fast enough to completely fool our turtle slow brains. Adding to this problem is the ironic placement of our visual cortex at the very rear/back of our brain, the farthest possible position away from our eyes… We (read; drivers included) weren’t designed or meant for quick or efficient processing of visual information.
- Our minds generally process less than 5% of what the eyes actually see. Again, pathetic but true… Most of the world around us is seen by our eyes, but unnoticed and unprocessed by our minds. I’m not just talking about the ease with which any skilled magician can fool our minds, but in everyday life observations. How much of what is in front of you, do you actually process and remember…? Very little it turns out…. So also for human drivers. Most people are completely (blissfully) unware of the complexity or enormity of the vision comprehension problem.
From Discover magazine2:
Vision, of course, is more than recording what meets the eye: it’s the ability to understand, almost instantaneously, what we see. And that happens in the brain. The brain, explains neurobiologist Semir Zeki of the University of London, has to actively construct or invent our visual world. Confronted with an overwhelming barrage of visual information, it must sort out relevant features and make snap judgments about what they mean. It has to guess at the true nature of reality by interpreting a series of clues written in visual shorthand; these clues help distinguish near from far, objects from background, motion in the outside world from motion created by the turn of the head. Assumptions are built into the clues–for example, that near things loom larger, or that lighting comes from above.
The brain must process an immense amount of information as fast as it can, using any shortcuts it can, says Anstis. It has to find a minimum hypothesis to cover a maximum amount of data. So it’s got to use any trick it can. His experiment reveals one of those tricks: We think the brain is programmed to use brightness the way it is in the world. That means shadows are always darker, and light comes from above.
Rule #2. While cycling, like it or not, admit it or not, believe it or not… WE ARE often LITERALLY invisible, to bad and good drivers alike, no matter how alert and conscious they may be. Our presence often just doesn’t register in a driver’s mind. Why not?… is the question, this article seeks to answer.
Rule #3. We MUST find a way to unconsciously BE perceived as a THREAT by the driver to be NOTICED within the subconscious REPTILE brain.
The Reptile brain, first and foremost, identifies threats. We must create Relative Movement and/or change our perspective (frame of reference) relative to the driver. For reasons you are probably already aware, but that will soon be explained.
How can we completely bypass the conscious, perceptual, senses which are too often just plain blind, or dozing off asleep at the switch anyway?…
Let’s get back to the interviewed (killer) drivers’ statements. “I never saw them”. (Where I might also add “… until it was too late”)
The police have a very difficult legal problem here assigning fault to the driver. As I learned from personal experience with the police in my own near murder, a driver not “seeing” a cyclist IS (unbelievably) a valid, legal and very frustrating (for cyclists) defense.
Even though every interviewed driver repeated nearly identical statements, it is impossible for anyone to determine whether this was some mental defense mechanism, (a human rationalization/justification, as many have postulated) or in fact, was visually true. In this case, legally it doesn’t matter. And more importantly, in practice it doesn’t matter either. Dead is Dead.
Let’s get to the core of this legal problem. Wouldn’t it be great for cyclists if this invisibility “defense” variable was taken completely out of the equation?!? It would seem unlikely, and seemingly extremely difficult to make the “invisible” case/claim when blinding lights are flashing from the bike.
Less than a year after my own near death experience, I mentioned that there were three cyclists that were killed in Newport Beach. Together, they outline and illustrate each of the issues.
One of them a well-known doctor, was riding with her husband on Newport Coast, in dark morning tree shadows, at the wrong time. One of them, a young woman, had made a right hand turn onto Bayside Dr. from PCH (S). A following gardening stake bed truck ran her over. What is dangerous about this corner is that the turn is largely blind due to a wall and large tree. The driver, like all the others claimed to police, “I never saw her”… which may have been true… The police had no legal choice but to accept his statement, and not cite him. But what if the driver had clearly seen her, and been warned of her presence a minute, and half a mile earlier, Before she ever made the turn?… and undeniably reinforced it, after he made his turn behind her? Would the outcome have been different? Statistics say Yes, absolutely.
Most of you have been tracking where I’m going with this… and some are saying to yourself, “No, it’s too much trouble”… or “NO, it’s too expensive”, or “No, I shouldn’t have to worry about something that is clearly the driver’s fault/problem?”…
OK; good enough…. I only have two questions for you, to Ask yourself.
- How much is my (your) life worth? Yes, I‘m absolutely serious. How Much is YOUR LIFE WORTH?… to you, your family, your wife, husband, children, parents…? How MUCH? How much is your time worth? IF you’re hit, at the very least, you Will Very likely be missing work, paying medical bills, bike repair bills, be in a LOT of pain, etc… Isn’t it waaay better (AND A LOT CHEAPER) to avoid problems in the first place, than pay for the resulting outcome?
- If you lie BLEEDING in the street, dead or seriously injured, does it really matter who was/is right or wrong?… I’d like to ask every, single, dead, fatality victim, OR their family members, IF they REALLY care who was right or wrong?
Having been there myself, I can tell you definitively the short, quick, two lettered variety answer, for a FACT.
So; now that we have a better understanding of the “perception” issues and problems, for you H. Potter fans; What IS our “defense against the dark arts…”(DADA)… “Unconscious” and blind?
1Roughly 500,000:000002/10 years (about the same as getting hit by lighting)
mark d. goodley
Near Fatality Survivor
Product Design Engineer
USA Cycling Licensed Pro Race Mechanic #325244
Part 2 here.
And yet, interestingly enough, in countries that do not accept the “invisible cyclist” defense and call such claims for what they are, confessions of inattention, cyclists are not hit from behind with anywhere near the frequency as they are here in the US where “blindness” is a legal defense. That is partially because hitting a cyclist is an almost automatic loss of license with a very expensive path to getting it back, and partially because “not seeing” a cyclist is an admission of guilt.
Oh come on, education “won’t come close” to solving the problem? Flashing lights is the be all end all solution to not getting hit from behind? I beg to differ on both counts. I do agree about the shadows and contrast, and as such I run bright lights 24/7 (solid at night, flashing in daylight). But honestly my lane position makes motorists much more likely to see me from a far distance than do lights. I’d be willing to bet that 100% or nearly so of those hit from behind deaths were of cyclists riding in the gutter, the edge, shoulder, bike lane, or some other position generally towards the right of the travel lane.
And then of course there are all the other benefits of staying off the edge, like cleaner pavement, and much reduced risk of other crash types like right hooks, drive outs, etc.
Personally I would like to know where this 2/3 figure comes from. The LAB said 40% but even that number is suspect.
One thing that never fails is if I want to find awesomely important work I might of never encountered all I need to do is procrastinate in my personal matters so I stand to lose six figures I’d I volunteer a day for others, and then, like magic, a work of art like this gets discovered and I literally am at peace with paying whatever fee dropping everything to answer it as my duty entails.
I already noted in my comment to the conclusion that this guest piece is just discovered, and that a close reading will elude me tonight.
However what I already observed is confirmed above. This argument is sociopathic. I so appreciate the evidence based indirect devastating prior comments from others with standing as survivors etc. As well that point out the not possible to repeat too often, drivers who can not see are at fault and are in control of being so or those who allow them to drive are.
The guest though conducts a thought experiment that assumes we are free to trigger fight or flee stress in all who share the road with us if we can reduce our personal risk by doing so.
This is a quit smoking if you don’t like lung cancer notion of sorts. It is not the right of individuals to survive at any cost to others if they simply decide so. In the recent film Noah the line goes as one species after another is wiped out by a hungry stowaway chomping them down like grapes, “but there is only one of me!” Which is written false of course, as he is a man, and on the arc are already a breeding pair of him. Further his is gluttony, not survival, he eats others for pleasure and appeals to the adolescent audience who aids his sabotage of the project, of getting those rotten among us off the world for good.
It is not OK to exploit loopholes in regulation of blinkers because it seems to further personal gains. Publishing such advice can cross into terrorism and more specifically proving we all could be scene by any almost driver for sure without actually changing much only enables greater slaughter, just not those who listen to the me me me drivel.
There is a collective, a need for the meek to be assisted in all they humbly seek. Moderation is called for in blinking and not just for those on bikes behind us.
Dark spots are municipal responsibility, night and day to light. We must be proactive in making our streets safe for all not have a war of rhythms, a endorsement of narcissistic extremes with technical legality or practical prosecution avoidability being the issue.
One rule for all- if your use of roads is unsafe to others, then it must be phased out, either on your end or the roads. Do not assemble multiple lights sold as systems complete for USe on one bike for that spits on potential good regulations box by box relief.
Assemble raw componentry with balance of risks and consultation beyond any individuals if it is to be replicated. Accept that per mile there should be some risk, much smaller then now, but we say zero for preventable deaths, not those that if avoided cost multiple lives, not whacamole gone viral, but prudent plans, for money saves lives and it is wrong to spend more then a certain amount per life saved, especially if the decider is sparing a life special to themselves, a son,wife, self.
It should be illegal period to spend a billion right now, or more, to save one life- for that investment many many can be protected from certain death or worse.
Change is coming, cars are going away, we will overcome, especially wretches among us who have bought, sold, owned, given, designed, etc., any such aid so mad, sooner the more of us who ride with pride aware our life is expendable if it is the wrung needed for real safety to grab onto.
This is about values as much as engineering. Safety is for government to require, not risk takers to steal only for themselves. The people who have survived for being obnoxious have the blood of legions to drown in, that is the lesson of statistical analysis in reality son.