04 January 2013

Reflective Material on Cars. Seriously

Vienna Cycle Chic-007
Out of the many articles on the subject of rationality and logic here on the blog, you may remember our proposal for health warnings on automobiles from a while back.

Another logical idea that we have pitched around is forcing motorists to add reflective material to their cars in order for cyclists and pedestrians to see them better. It usually garners a chuckle and a "yeah, why don't we?!"

But why don't we?

It's not such a crazy idea. According to a study from Monash University Accident Research Centre in Australia (the same people who developed protective headwear for... motorists - do you have yours yet?) black cars are more likely to be involved in crashes, whilst white, gold and yellow cars are least likely to suffer the same fate.

It was a 20 year study using data from more than a whopping 850,000 accidents. That's what we like. Data to back up an idea.

Black cars are 47% more likely to be involved in crashes. Black cars were the bad guys, but the study shows that grey, silver, red and blue cars also faded into the background. That must easily cover 80% of the vehicles on the market.

Even during daylight, black cars were up to 12% more likely to get into a crash than white cars. At dawn and dusk, that figure rises to 47%.

Here's a pdf of the Monash University study.

Enter the Danish Police.

As you've probably figured out from reading this blog, the Danish Police are hardly modern visionaries when it comes to working towards liveable cities. They are one of the primary hindrances to our work.

They have, however, inadvertantly hit the nail on the head.

According to a press release on their website, all new Danish police cars from 01 January 2013 and police motorbikes under 2 years old will feature improved reflective markings. This is seen in other countries already but now it's coming to Denmark.

In addition to making the police more visible in the streets, it will increase safety and sense of safety both the citizens and the police. The cars will be easier to see...." - according to the press release.

Surprise, surprise. Although not surprising that the Danish police have proposed the same idea for all cars in the nation.

Wouldn't that be logical? Rational? Legislation - simultaneous with reduced speed limits and especially 30 km/h zones in cities - forcing cars to dress up like christmas trees and drive slower.

Are we serious about saving lives?

Anyone who works with urban design, planning or bicycle advocacy worth who is worth their salt is well aware of the folly of demanding that cyclists and pedestrians dress up like christmas trees or construction workers. The bicycle boom continues unabated and there are countless people out there trying desperately to make a buck off the trend - this is, of course, nothing new. Products that continue to sell danger and fear and instilling in the general public the profiteers desired perception of danger and fear. It's classic culture of fear tactics. Textbook stuff.

Most of the products have little conclusive evidence to back them up, not least all the ridiculous reflective gear that is swamping the market. We're not talking about reflectors on wheels or on front/bike of bikes here, by the way. We're talking about the shit that's flooded the market recently.

It's all follow the money. Which is old news, we know that.

Unfortunately, there is little money to be made in rationality and logic. As we have banged on about for years here on the blog, placing the responsibility on the most dangerous traffic users - the motorists - is the priority. Imagine if all this wasted energy on useless gear was channeled into serious advocacy to transform our cities into more liveable urban spaces.

Seriously. Imagine.

Rationality is the new black.


Yokota Fritz said...

I'm with you on the idea that covering ourselves with reflective material can be overkill. I think you're being sarcastic in encouraging this stuff for automobiles, but those taking you seriously, this type of stuff for automobiles only ups the ante in the conspicuity arms race.

Erik Sandblom said...

@Yokota Fritz
True, it might drive the arms race. But it also might identify cars as foreign, dangerous objects.

It might address the sense of entitlement that many motorists have, and the deference they are given. I think cars and cities can get along, but the deference to cars is a problem.

Dave H said...

In 1949 CTC members in the UK put up a major fight to prevent cyclists being required to have a red rear light. They argued that the read rear reflector was sufficient, as this placed the onus completely on the person using the following vehicle to have forward lighting at night, sufficient to see ahead and have the reflected indication of the cycle in front.

I have travelled in foul weather when the 7-pin electrical connection for trailers and semi-trailers shorts out leaving the trailer with no lighting at all, and for a large truck viewed from directly behind this effectively makes it 'invisible' at night if the following driver is relying on the rear lights.

I'd thus propose that not only do we revert to having no requirement for rear lights on cycles, but this extends to all vehicles, and instead all vehicles have to have reflective finishes to their rear - facing surfaces. It would give say 6 months of carnage as the population adjusted to the requirement to drive at night at a speed from which you can stop in the distance you can see clearly within your headlight beam. This could well improve the safety of moose, deer, and other animals as well as that of the drivers who crash into them, as a valuable side effect.

Chris Auton said...

Maybe a little alternative reason for making yourself more visible? Link to the original report in the article.


Luis Peters said...

Cars should have a display that shows the same speed that is showed at the speedometer. Anyone outside could see the speed the car is moving, without any other instrument.

Bad Fairground Art said...

@Chris Auton:

If you've read that article and concluded that brighter clothes are the solution, then you should read it again.

The saccades mean human eyes don't see anything between them, no matter how ridiculously it's dressed.

The solution – the only solution – is Dutch-quality separate infrastructure for bikes.

EricW said...

The trend I've noticed here in Los Angeles is to customize the cars completely steath in matte black paint. Does make them hard to see at night - esp if the lights are off.

This trend is followed by the installation of aftermarket super bright LED headlights, which I guess makes stealthed cars more visible. Seems like an excessive fashion style for cars.

Of course my bike headlights are getting brighter and brighter...

William said...

For those who think this is a neat idea, but can't see themselves putting garish yellow-green reflective material on their car, bicycle or person, I'd like to point out that 3M has put out the Scotchlite 680 black reflective tape.

Under natural light, the tape appears completely black, but it will reflect any light back in the direction it came from, and appears very bright.

Many black motorcycle helmets have stripes of this material, where it gets attention, without ruining design.

Herbert Blumpke said...

if you can't see a 4 x 2 m huge moving car, you should get glasses.

Chris Auton said...

@Bad Fairground Art, no, I have read that article, noticed that amongst the suggestions for attempting to capture peripheral vision are

"Recognise the risk of being in a saccade. High contrast clothing and lights help. In particular, flashing LED’s (front and rear) are especially effective for cyclists as they create contrast and the on-off flashing attracts the peripheral vision in the same manner that movement does."


"Ride in a position further out from the kerb as a driver is more likely to be looking in this location."

Or in other words, making yourself more visible...

How you come to the conclusion that I think a decent infrastructure is unnecessary I am not entirely sure.

Sometimes the space between the lines is left blank because there is nothing there, so there is no reason to try and read between them.
Just take the words "maybe" and "little" as written. I could have been more explicit with "yourself" to include your bike and it's lights I guess but I didn't, bad me.

Chris Auton said...

@Bad Fairground Art... and then I have assumed that you think, I don't think a decent infrastructure is important, and you don't actually say that. Again, Bad me :-)

I am going to ride until then though!