Hi-Viz for cyclists and pedestrians: and the case of the motorists who can’t see where they’re going


The Traffic Master jersey for cyclists – the way to “master traffic”?

Our last post has generated more visits than any other. I refer to some comments received and a couple of news items below:

The post stirred memories for Charlie Lloyd of Australia in the 1960s where thousands of free yellow raincoats were handed out by the police (“I have a vague memory that this campaign was dropped after a year or two due to no measurable effect on casualties”) along with a catchy song. That in turn reminded me of “Wear Something Light at Night” I can half remember the tune of this campaign from the 60s – Be safe be bright, wear something light, Wear something light at night! – the advice to carry out a rolled up newspaper or “ a shopping bag will do as well” and my schoolgirl cousin distraught that she did not have the recommended white raincoat.

Of course, this could just have stuck with me because I have a professional and academic interest in “road safety” publicity. But I think the point is that this kind of material, presented to impressionable young people leaves an imprint, plays a crucial role in the construction of “road safety” ideology. In this case assisting in the usual shift of responsibility from those with the greatest potential lethality to those most at risk from it is about “being seen” As Julian Beach put it with a specific example and an associated thought experiment:

There seems to be a gradual shift from looking to making things more visible, and a consequent shift in responsibility from the person who should be looking to the people who need to be seen. Daylight Running Lights on cars are probably the worse example of this, because they make those without DRLs less visible; particularly cyclists, who get lost in the mass of glaring white LEDs. Perhaps if we replaced high-output car headlamps with candles, people would drive more carefully!”

Fonant raised an interesting point:

“The problem of high-viz becoming “normal” may well cause problems the other way too: what should the emergency services wear to distinguish themselves from members of the public? This could already be a problem: in a crowd of people you can no longer expect the people in high-viz to be emergency service professionals, they may just be cyclists or school children.”

And with another example:

“Clearly, as with many “road safety” initiatives, the encouragement of high-viz is just another “arms race”.  We used to have speed limit signs with a red border round a white circle with the limit. Then they added bright yellow backgrounds to make the signs “more visible”, and then they started painting roundels on the carriageway too. Now we even have roundels with red backgrounds on the carriageways, and motorists hardly notice the original speed limit signs anymore!”

Finally, echoing the central cautionary point we were making:

We have to stop pandering to the inattentive motorist, so that they are allowed to become even more inattentive, and we must start punishing motorists who don’t look where they’re going properly”

Let’s see how this relates to a story that was reported two days ago.

A case of impaired vision?

The Evening Standard reports

: “The family of a journalist who was hit and killed by a short-sighted driver who was not wearing his glasses have branded the justice system “ridiculous” after his dangerous driving charge was dropped.

Laurence Gunn, 32, was struck and hurled into the air by Mohammed Rashid’s Ford Focus in the centre of a zebra crossing in Hampstead on March 3 last year. Mr. Gunn, from Maida Vale, was knocked unconscious when he landed and died in hospital from head injuries the following day.

Rashid, 23, was not wearing his glasses at the time — a condition of his being allowed to drive. Judge Aidan Marron QC ruled last week at Blackfriars crown court that the prosecution had failed to bring enough evidence to prove Rashid had caused death by “dangerous” driving. Instead, Rashid pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of causing death by careless driving.”.

Now, consider this report from December 2012 in road.cc :

Nearly 6000 drivers had their licences revoked in 2011 because their eyesight was so poor, a 10 per cent rise on the previous year – and among bus and lorry drivers a 39 per cent rise. 5,285 licences for cars and motorbikes and 685 lorry and bus drivers’ licences were stopped last year because holders could not pass a standard eye test.

Transport minister Stephen Hammond told the Mail Online: “Licensing rules have an important part to play in keeping our roads safe. We must make sure that only those who are safe to drive are allowed on our roads while at the same time avoiding placing unnecessary restrictions on people’s independence. “

“All drivers must meet certain minimum eyesight standards. There are additional checks for drivers of large goods vehicles and passenger carrying vehicles, which we strictly enforce. This is to protect the driver and other road users given their size, the number of passengers and the likely additional distance and time spent on the road.”

Labour MP Meg Munn said in Parliament: “A recent report showed that in 2010 road accidents caused by poor driver vision resulted in an estimated 2,874 casualties.These figures provide information on how many drivers who have come forward and reported problems with their vision to the DVLA had their licenses revoked or refused.“I will be continuing to seek further information to ensure that robust measures are in place to check drivers’ vision, so we can continue to improve road safety. For most people it is simply a matter of getting their eyes tested to ensure they have glasses or contact lenses if required.”

The responsibility is on drivers to state when their eyesight is too bad to drive, but police can undertake roadside vision tests.Under Department for Transport rules, all drivers should be able to read a number plate from 20 metres away, with glasses or contact lenses if necessary. They should also be able to pass an eye test with an optician and have an adequate field of vision. (my emphases).

In my book “Death on the Streets: cars and the mythology of road safety”  I referred in my chapter on this subject to evidence (p.145) that between one and million motorists were then estimated to be unable to pass the existing eyesight test. As the case has not been tried (and is sub judice) we don’t know if not wearing glasses was the reason for Mohammed Rashid driving into Laurence Gunn.

What we do know is that there is no evidence to suggest that the number of one to two million has come down. It is indeed the case that “police can undertake roadside vision tests” – but how often does this happen – have you been stopped in a random check by police? I doubt that this happens in an effective way, no doubt because the motoring lobby (along with the “road safety” lobby) is “at the same time avoiding placing unnecessary restrictions on people’s independence”. (Which “people”, we might ask).

But the issue, in my view, is not so much the inability to see because of defective vision, as the inability because of driving too fast or other forms of rule and law breaking.

Even that is only part of the problem: the real issue has to be watching out for other road users.

And how much of this is less likely to happen because of the process of shifting that responsibility away from drivers as part of the hi-viz advocacy and associated campaigning?

1 thought on “Hi-Viz for cyclists and pedestrians: and the case of the motorists who can’t see where they’re going

  1. Pingback: Transport for London’s “Cycle Safety Action Plan”: Still getting it wrong | Road Danger Reduction Forum

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s