Wednesday, October 26, 2005

High Visibility

Visibility is the primary component of traffic safety. We like to assume that if a motorist sees us he will avoid hitting us. For the most part that is true.

Many cyclists choose clothing in the eye-assaulting color I call Please Don’t Kill Me Yellow. While PDKMY certainly demands to be noticed, it has a few drawbacks that may reduce its overall effectiveness.

First of all, it only stands out because so few things in the natural or artificial world are that color, though some are. A certain species of crab spider that hunts on vivid yellow flowers masks its presence by sporting a variant you could call Please Let Me Kill You Yellow. But these spiders are very small.

If every small, underpowered vehicle followed the logic that bright yellow equals safety, anything smaller than a Lincoln Navigator, Hummer or Cadillac Escalade would blaze electric chartreuse. But then the tiny bicycle would be lost in that hideous sea of jangling color.

Wearing PDKMY all the time IS AS ANNOYING AS SHOUTING ALL THE TIME. PRETTY SOON NO ONE PAYS ATTENTION ANYMORE.

and when it fades to a gray shadow of its former glory it hardly shows up at all.

PDKMY also makes it impossible to make a clandestine visit to the shrubbery when need arises. Hey! Who’s that over there behind that bush, and what’s he doing!? Oh gross! Call the cops! You’d have to be 300 yards into thick woods to avoid detection. That’s when you’ll be glad if your PDKMY garment is something easily shed, like a wind vest.

In the bright months of summer I believe strongly in the power of the dark side. I wear lots of solid black or – because I got the jersey for free – a snappy black, white and red combo. Visibility comes from lane positioning in daylight and from lights at night. It comes from behaving relatively predictably and logically in the traffic flow, so you are where people expect to see an element of traffic when they are scanning routinely. Why be an eyesore on top of it?

Please Don’t Kill Me Yellow becomes useful in the fall, when days are short and commuters in particular may have to ride in the dusk. It’s also excellent in the fog. I got a PDKMY vest this fall, when we had a string of foggy days. In the dusk, when new, PDKMY garments actually seem to glow. They definitely enhance visibility in low light. At that point, aesthetics take a back seat to practicality. But given the chance I will choose aesthetics when I can.

1 comment:

Jim Siesfeld said...

The other day while I was being a motorist I observed a roadie in traffic on an expensive DF wearing equally expensive “name brand” lycra from head to toe, and it was all black (including shoes and helmet). What struck me most was, I didn’t see the cyclist until I past him going in the opposite direction. I remember at the time I saw the cyclist I made a mental note that if all black is a new trend, it is a dangerous trend that will result in more vehicle-bicycle accidents, and had he been wearing Hi-Viz gear I would have seen him much sooner. The thought didn’t come back to me until I read your “High Visibility” blog.

As a cyclist, I am aware, and keep the attitude, that motorists don’t see bicycles. As a cyclist, when I drive I am very aware of people on bicycles. As an Environment, Health, and Safety professional in the Transportation and Utility industries, I have seen Hi-Viz strategies help save lives. I advocate Hi-Viz gear should be part of all bicyclists’ safety strategy while on roads that might be shared with motorists and that PDKMY-type gear is a vital.

While I think we are on the same page, I wonder a little about your comment “PRETTY SOON NO ONE PAYS ATTENTION ANYMORE”. Do you think anyone pays any attention in the first place? For the most part, I don’t think motorists pay any attention to bicyclists. I feel bicyclists must make motorists pay attention to them, and Hi-Viz gear is an important part of the attention-getting strategies.

Mr. Pumpkinhead.