A coroner has called for the compulsory use of high-visibility clothing for all cyclists after a high-ranking police officer was knocked off his bike and killed by an overtaking truck. According to the coroner, the victim was wearing a jacket which had reflective stripes only. In a related incident, Wellington's mayor was knocked off her bike and injured by a following car. She was wearing a high-vis vest at the time.
I'm keen on riding for fitness, and I am sometimes accompanied by my wife and daughter on weekend rides. Because of the dangers of sharing the open road with Kiwi motorists, some of whom seem to have little tolerance for cyclists, we try to stick to off-road areas or trails, but occasionally we have to cross a public road. I recently went down to the local Two Dollar Shop and splashed out on a fluoro safety vest to wear. I thought I was doing the right thing but there was a downside to wearing a high-vis vest that I didn't anticipate. We got a severe mocking from two of our friends who saw us out and about, one praising our fashionable colour-coordinated apparel. Yeah, safety is hilarious, Marcus.
Recently, I've stopped wearing my bright orange vest. And no, it's not because I'm worried about further ribbing if I'm spotted getting exercise by my "friends" again. I started thinking about why I was wearing it in the first place. My original thinking was that it's easy to be overlooked by motorists and a fluoro piece of clothing would help grab their attention. This would certainly be the case in twilight or poor weather.
But then I started thinking about the driver training I've been doing over the years which is based on some excellent hi-tech research. All the training is based on getting the driver to look to where they want to place their vehicle. The theory we follow is that your hands will guide you to where you are looking, so you must look where you want to go, and not fixate on that piece of road directly in front of you.
Hmmm, so if a motorist is travelling along and is about to overtake me, will their eyes be attracted to my fluoro vest and will they subconsciously steer closer toward me? Wouldn't it be better for that motorist to focus on the road ahead and use their peripheral vision to judge their passing distance as they normally would?
It's a dilemma for me. I'm now not sure if the benefits of those bright vests are as obvious as they appear (no pun intended). Is it all as simple as the coroner thinks?
Tell me what you think. Excluding low light or poor weather conditions, should I wear the vest or not?
Stu Owers is a New Zealand Autocar contributor
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