BICYCLE LIGHTING: BETTER, FRONT AND SIDEWAYS THAN BACKWARDS?
Source: Flickr: The Commons. Photographer: Rolando Taglano.
There is an entire branch of behavioural economics devoted to studying why human beings misjudge probabilities by cataloguing the areas and quantifying the extent to which we seem so naturally “hard wired” to do so.* The by now familiar case of testosterone driven traders on stock market floors around the world and the disastrous consequences they helped create with the help of insufficient regulatory oversight need not recounted here.** Human beings have been since well before the era of wheeled travel been preoccupied with being “hit” from behind. So it comes as no surprise that most bicyclists are similarly concerned about being hit from behind in the post-modern era: for the intuitive reason that we are unsettled by the thought of being hit by something we cannot see, and thus have little chance of evading. It is no wonder that a common sight at night in urban centres around the world today is of bicycles in with only a rear blinky rather than only a front light. This is intuitive because lighting is often sufficient for “to see” visibility without front lights in metropolitan areas. But statistics suggest this is a mistake.
Indeed, statistics suggest that bicyclists should be much more concerned with being hit from the front, the sides or diagonally than from behind. In one statistical overview of bicycling accidents, only 10% of all automobile-bicycle collisions are characterised as “motorist overtaking” with a large difference between proportions in urban areas at 7%, and those in rural areas at 30%.*** In contrast, frontal and side collisions are shown to make up the vast majority of automobile-bicycle collisions with such collisions making up an overwhelming 89% of urban and 60% of rural collisions. Such data and analysis clearly suggests that enhancing frontal and sideways visibility on bicycles is likely to have a better result in preventing bicycling accidents than measures to enhance rearwards visibility – despite what our natural fears honed over the span of human evolution would have us believe.
* See: Charles T. Manger (2005), “The Psychology of Human Misjudgement”, Synthesis of three talks given by Charles T. Manger, accessed 29 January 2013.
IDC staff certainly does not suggest that one should have front over rear lamps because it certainly better to have both. The fear of being hit from behind is understandable but consistently accounts for a lower proportion of automobile-bicycle accidents than those from the front, side and in between. Lighting your rear is arguably less important than lighting your sides. We say be conspicuous front, sideways and backwards.
** Stephanie Baker-Said (2008), “The Risk Maverick: Black Swan author Nassim Taleb has a lesson for Wall Street”, Bloomberg Markets, May, accessed 29 January 2013.
*** Canadian Cycling Association (CAN-BIKE - ????), “Car-Bike Colissions”, Part of Cycling Proficiency Courses for Adults and Children, accessed 29 January 2013.
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