The Times Colonist: Lightless cyclists playing Russian roulette
BY DAVE OBEE, TIMES COLONISTNOVEMBER 3, 2009
The past couple of evenings have been scary, and it’s not because of ghosts and goblins and Halloween hijinks or those lost souls who took pleasure in trampling on the rights of others in Cook Street Village during the Olympic torch relay.
There is danger lurking in the shadows — swift-moving forms as hard to see as if they were wearing the best invisibility cloaks dreamed up by science fiction writers.
Blame the time change for making things worse every year at this time. There is less light during the evening commute and that always seems to catch some people unprepared.
But honestly, we should blame stupid or selfish people as well — the ones who believe they are allowed to ride bicycles on our streets without using lights of any sort.
Just like the Olympic torch protesters, they seem to know about rights, but have not been able to connect the dots to the responsibilities that come with them.
I know, I know. I sound like my mother, 50 years ago. Wear your mittens and all that.
But like my mother, sometimes I despair — what will it take before more cyclists get the message?
They are putting themselves at tremendous risk, but are unwilling to take the simplest steps to be safer. If they were homeless and in the cold, we would likely do something about them. But they are brainless and in the dark, so we let them ride on. It makes no sense.
For the record, this is not the rant of someone who hates bicycles. I have one and have used it to get to work in every month of the year. I love riding at night, too.
But my bike has some of the best lights I could buy, front and back, plus reflectors on the wheels and on the frame. I wear reflectors on my wrists and ankles, too. All this protection was not cheap; the lights alone cost more than $100.
I could do even more — I have friends who wear reflective vests when riding at night.
My thinking is reinforced by the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition, which helped produce Bike Sense, the free British Columbia bicycle operator’s manual. It’s online at www.bikesense.bc.ca or you can get to it through the coalition’s website at www.gvcc.bc.ca.
There aren’t any surprises in the guide. Just common-sense reminders, things that should be obvious to anyone who straps on a helmet. (You do wear a helmet, right?)
And the guide says after dark, all cyclists are required by law to have a front white headlight visible for a minimum of 150 metres, a rear red light that should be visible for a minimum of 100 metres and a rear red reflector visible for 100 metres when directly illuminated by a car headlight.
The idea is that a cyclist needs to be conspicuous. Make sure the drivers and other riders can see you.
On a bike, it is easy to see other bicycles, and that can give a false sense of security. In a vehicle, it can be next to impossible to see a bicycle, especially in the dark and in the rain.
Most cyclists take responsibility for their own safety, but too many still do not.
They need to stop relying on drivers or other cyclists or luck for their survival. They need to take charge — and yes, that can mean fully charged batteries for their lights.
Police should take responsibility as well. They could start by stopping cyclists who are riding at night without lights. If someone is standing on a ledge, threatening to jump off, the police would help. Riding without a light can be just as suicidal and demands the same type of response.
And every time a cyclist dies or is seriously injured in a night-time collision, the police should tell us immediately whether the bicycle had a light and whether it was on at the time.
Maybe the release of that information would help motivate other cyclists to see the light.
Of course, many drivers out there could not see a bicycle no matter how many lights were on it, or would still turn in front of a brightly lit cyclist. That’s another problem.
The first line of defence is up to the cyclist. It’s unfortunate that so many think their safety should be in someone else’s hands.