If you've no way to hide then you've nothing to fear

I’ve mentioned before how much I love my yellow cycling jacket, but seasons change and eventually it becomes time to put away clothes better suited for the wet. The sun has started to show a more regular appearance, and I have a dowdier pacamac which I can stash in my panniers for the times when the rain catches me out. I still love my yellow jacket: don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I wear it and pretend I’m in the Tour de France. Sometimes I wear it in bed. I don’t really.

A friend who drove past me one morning advised me that I should consider putting my yellow jacket back on, more regularly than I’d imagined. After all, I was “quite difficult to see” in the clothes I was wearing that morning. I responded—rather quick off the mark, given I’d only just stopped cycling and was trembling faintly from low blood-sugar and adrenaline—that most cars I pass are no brighter-coloured than me, and that I had all the legally mandated reflectors on me and my bike—more than that, as I have a fluorescent right armband which also highlights my right-hand indicating—and it was up to car drivers to do the legally mandated looking. Still being polite, I specifically didn’t tell him not to drive so cocking close to me in future.

Bikes aren’t particularly difficult to see in broad daylight, if you’re looking for bikes, which is what you’re meant to do. Car drivers have a responsibility towards vulnerable road users: cyclists, horses, pedestrians. I don’t really care about this story of a bike who was doing this, or that story about a bike that was doing that. The responsibility is still there, and if I’m using the road in a safe, legal manner then you’d better be looking out for me and my bike. In a county full of horse-riders you’ve even less than no excuse to be going too fast to spot a cyclist.

Fluorescent jackets have a limited effect against a busy background, especially one with bright colours. There’s also evidence that, after the initial visual and cultural surprise, people have become inured to fluorescent jackets. They ignore people wearing them because they’re worn by (to them) inconsequential demographics: security guards, workmen, Witney traffic wardens. Also, a great deal of rapeseed is grown out here, and it’s a short step from saying “I didn’t see him because he was wearing a dark colour” to “I didn’t see him because although he was wearing a bright colour but there was a field of bright yellow flowers behind him.” No: you didn’t see him because you weren’t being observant enough; because you took that corner too fast and made it into a blind corner; because you were too close to one or other edge of the road; because you didn’t think bike.

To suggest that cyclists are somehow neglectful—if not legally negligent—when they wear certain clothes is a bit rich, given that the majority of drivers who pass me of a morning are legally negligent when they overtake, or rev, or threaten me with their horn, or fail to indicate. Cyclists don’t go out of their way to bounce their bodies off cars: they’re usually the victims in any given road accident, in both a medical and a legal sense. Is it really advisable to blame the victim of a violent crime; to decide that what they were wearing contributed to an incident that was entirely beyond their control, and resulted ultimately from a failure on the part of those with legal responsibilities?

What motivates such a decision? Is it merely that people want the return of sumptuary laws, where what you wear is required to reflect your social status? Or is it the same underlying principle that used to apportion blame to rape victims based on how short their skirts were: their clothes were unsuitable, so they must have been asking for it? This principle allows demographics in a position of physical power to deny the legal responsibilities they have, to turn them instead into privileges they occasionally deign to shower upon the deserving weak. It’s power consolidating power, through an undermining rhetoric that glosses over the fact and the law.

Until they start requiring cars to replace sections of the bodywork that car drivers are so precious about—almost they only reason they seem to ever avoid cyclists is the cost of panel-beating—with bright, clashing, wildly fluorescent panels, requiring car drivers to stop as and when certain atmospheric, climatic or seasonal conditions develop and put these measures in place, getting their spanners out and getting covered in oil by the roadside…. Until then, anyone who tries to guilt me into wearing more fluorescent stuff than I’m already doing, just because they’re not paying enough attention, who tries to turn a jacket that I quite like (in its place of course) into a uniform, to be worn even when I don’t want to…. Anyone who tries that will just get the full force of my stilted politeness and a stiff blogpost in retrospect.

Gosh. It’s like points on your licence, except this copy is occasionally so tedious that my punishment might actually have a preventative effect.

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4 Responses to If you've no way to hide then you've nothing to fear

  1. Brennig says:

    In reading this I am reminded of the old public safety advert that contained the line ‘The Beachy Head lighthouse is always illuminated and they’re not going anywhere’.

    As well as a motorist I am a horserider and a motorcyclist (and an advanced motorcyclist qualified to instruct others). I would never consider going out on the road on a horse or a motorbike without a fluorescent jacket; it is an insurance policy.

    I also feel that until (pedal) cyclists have to pass a competency test and until insurance for cyclists is mandatory, (pedal) cyclists continue to place themselves at risk.

    In 24 hours last Christmas in the centre of the city of Oxford, Thames Valley Constabulary issued more fixed penalty notices to cyclists ignoring red lights, disobeying instructional road signs and not using front and rear lights, than the police had issued to motorists in the whole of the previous month.

    This simple statistic isn’t a symptom of an ‘oppressed’ road user, it is indicative of mass negligence and ignorance.

  2. sbalb says:

    The police in Oxford do occasionally go on a binge and target cyclists jumping red lights, although I’ve never seen them announce precisely the same campaign against taxis, even though it’s a rare bus journey in when I don’t see one break the law.

    I’ve a few ideas of my own why the neds in Textured Vegetable Policing allocate their time in such proportions, but no idea whatsoever why you’d mention that particular phenomenon of constabulary policy in the context of what I actually wrote, unless you didn’t actually read all of it (including the bit about me cycling within the law.)

    I’m a motorist and a cyclist and a onetime motorcyclist too, but that has fuck-all to do with this blogpost.

  3. K says:

    Brennig, you can’t use TVP’s statistics to judge whether cyclists are more likely to break the law than motorists. They periodically go on targeted missions to catch Oxford cyclists breaking road laws, but they rarely do the same for motorists.

    Yes, we all have a responsibility to obey road laws, but where in the post does it say that cyclists don’t? The point of the post, as I read it, is that cyclists are not responsible for making motorists see them if those motorists refuse to see them.

    The last time I was involved in an accident, I was wearing a fluorescent jacket and I had my lights on. Even though it was daytime. The woman who hit my bike admitted that she couldn’t see anything at all because the sun was in her eyes, so she was driving slowly and hoping there wouldn’t be anything in front of her. There is nothing I could have worn or done differently to stop that happening. Mandatory insurance and a compulsory competency test for cyclists wouldn’t have stopped it happening – except by keeping me from cycling at all, so the driver could carry on her merry, blind journey without any irritating cyclists in the way. And I suspect that’s what you’d really like.

  4. sbalb says:

    That’s funny. The last time I was involved in an accident a coach driver saw me pull up into the cycle box, in front of him at the T junction on George Street. I slowed and came to a stop as I passed in front of his huge windscreen, because the lights had changed to red long since.

    But he assumed I would jump the lights – maybe he’d been listening to the TVP’s myths about cyclists too! – so he decided that I would just magically disappear.

    He pulled out of the coach station without looking ahead of him, crossed the road, entered the cycle box – to jump the red lights himself – smashed into me, dislocated my wrist and landed me in hospital. No amount of fluorescent material would have helped, because the cunt didn’t even look.

    What a coincidence! Two dangerous and unobservant drivers causing accidents in which the cyclists had no hope of avoiding them by changing their sartorial habits. What an astonishing fucking coincidence.

    Maybe now we can stop talking about cyclists – or coaches – jumping red lights and get back to the point of my original cocking blogpost, which is that drivers use talk of fluorescent jackets and bad cycling in order to excuse their own phenomenal shitness, in the same way as violent men use talk of short skirts and flirty women to excuse rape. Sometimes they use those same arguments in irrelevant comments on blogposts too.

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