Want to cycle safely? Stop focusing on high vis!

Boris bike accident

You want to wear high visibility clothing? That’s fine, by all means, it’s a good idea and I hope you continue doing so. My argument here isn’t against high vis clothing. My argument is: Don’t just rely on high vis clothing.

There is something that far surpasses the power of high vis. Road positioning.

At around 8.40am, a lady in her 30’s was on a cycle hire bike cycling near a lorry. Suddenly, according an eyewitness report, she found herself sandwiched between two wheels as high as her head. Fortunately she managed to make a break for it by jumping over the handlebars.

The incident occurred during daylight hours when the rider should have been visible. However, as the below TfL video demonstrates, there is an enormous area where bikes are completely invisible to lorry drivers.

No manner of high visibility clothing makes a difference in the above scenario. However, taking your time and positioning yourself behind the Heavy Goods Vehicle would be a much safer place to be avoiding all sorts of nasty head injuries and even worse.

Sending out the right message

It’s not just around Heavy Goods Vehicles where road position can have a far bigger impact on safety than high visibility clothing. Take for example a ride I took a couple of days ago to Camden on a Cycle Hire bike.

Along the route I maintained a position away from the kerb. This signalled a number of crucial things to drivers.

The first is the distance that I feel comfortable with someone overtaking me. By giving myself extra space on the left I indicate that they should give me a similar amount of space on the right.

The second is that they shouldn’t overtake me when there isn’t enough room to do so. Along the route there are a number of pedestrian crossings with a small section of pavement in the middle of the road. If a car overtakes me here then they’ll have to sandwich me on the left or worse. However, by maintaining a good road position I indicate that it isn’t safe to overtake me.

The third is that a driver is naturally acquainted with spotting large vehicles in front of them. If I cycle too far to the left I am in the corner of their field of vision rather than closer to the centre.

When I came to a halt at the traffic lights I took a position in the middle of the lane to indicate that a driver will have to wait for me to move, before they can continue forward.

I strongly believe these actions contribute far more to my safety than wearing high visibility clothing.

It is a little too easy as a cyclist to get a false sense of safety by riding next to the kerb. I often find myself doing it but try to remember that this isn’t what cycle safety trainers recommend.

Image of Boris Bike via @biggsy321

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

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