Lightweight

I hate it when decent, intelligent people fighting for the right things go skidding off the runway, smash into a dumpster filled with rotten eggs, and degenerate into harmful blibber-blabber. Sadly, John Schubert of Cycling Savvy has done just that.

Take a minute to read his silly rant against daytime lights. It’s important to understand what he gets wrong, which is mostly everything, but also important to understand what he gets right. The right is easily explicated, and so simple that no one could or, to my knowledge ever has, disputed it.

  1. Safety equipment will help some times, but not others. [No shit.]
  2. Daytime lights can be useful when riding in fog, heavy rain, the sun low on the horizon, confusing lighting, and short sight distances on curvy roads.
  3. Lane position affects how soon you’re seen, often more than any light can.
  4. Daytime lights need to be bright enough to be conspicuous in daylight. [Duh, as they used to say.]
  5. Daytime lights make you more visible, certainly.

If Schubert had stopped here, or better yet, provided insight into types of lights, mounting, number of lights, and ways to use lighting to enhance the conspicuousness of good lane positioning when it’s possible and when it isn’t, he would have done a real service to cyclists. Instead, he uses these common sense starting points as a way to savage a very real and very helpful addition to ride safety, and follows it up with a legal argument that is specious, incompetent, and wrong.

Schubert misunderstands the value of daytime lights

Schubert doubts that lights add much in terms of conspicuousness to lane positioning, but his failure to address the most important areas where lights are key shows that he is either fighting a straw man or is truly ignorant of the hazards of urban riding. Daytime lights are crucial and lifesaving in urban traffic for at least four key reasons, none of which Schubert seems aware of.

  1. Right hooks. When you are in a bike lane or riding in the gutter, or when you are positioned squarely in the lane, a brilliant strobe from your headlight hits the driver’s rear-view and side-view mirrors. This grabs the driver’s attention and stops her from making the right hook. If you’re occupying the center of the lane, it will also stop the guy in the adjacent lane from moving over on you. Using bright strobe headlights utilizes the multiple mirrors in cars to make drivers aware you exist and enhances your visibility greatly when you happen to be badly positioned or if you’re one of those cyclists who never rides in the center of the lane. Anyone who has ridden with bright headlights in urban traffic has seen the effect that bright lights have on stopped or slow traffic in front of you … over and over and over. It’s shameful that Schubert doesn’t actively point this out as a very big benefit to riding with daytime lights; more about that later.
  2. Left hooks. When you are in a bike lane or riding in the gutter, or when you are positioned squarely in the lane, a flashing headlamp square in the face of an oncoming driver will almost invariably catch his attention and cause him to yield the right of way. A recent case in San Diego, where a group of cyclists were left-hooked by a driver on a sunny day and clear road, would have been avoided if any of the riders had been running strobes. Schubert wants you to believe that lane position a-la CyclingSavvy is a “save all,” but that’s false. Lane positioning works most of the time. Most isn’t “all.”
  3. Driveways. When you are in a bike lane or riding in the gutter, or when you are positioned squarely in the lane, a bright strobe gets the exiting driver’s attention and gives her a way to more accurately measure your speed. Time and again, exiting drivers say that they “didn’t see the cyclist” or that they “didn’t know how fast she was going.” Every single ride I’m on here in Los Angeles involves at least one driver seeing my headlight as they’re about to race out into traffic from a driveway, then waiting. Bright front strobes are a 100% bonus safety add-on that you are foolish to eschew, especially in cities or residential areas. Often times, even with good lane positioning, an exiting driver will see you but fail to yield. Bright lights in their face can provide the split second of hesitation that causes them not to race out in front.
  4. Parallel parking exits. Dooring is an urban fact of life, and most of it could be prevented with proper lane positioning. However, and it should come as no shock to Schubert, there are many cyclists who ride in the door zone and do so legally, no thanks to badly designed bike lanes. Bright strobes hit the side-view mirrors and cause drivers to hesitate before opening the door or pulling out into traffic, even when they weren’t initially checking the mirror. Bright strobes again utilize the car’s mirrors to force awareness and conspicuousness that otherwise simply wouldn’t exist. A key problem with Schubert’s analysis is that he doesn’t seem to know very much, or care, about riding in high-traffic areas.

Legal fraud

Schubert’s coda comes with the bizarre and misleading statement that the failure to ride with daytime lights can be used against a victim in court. Schubert claims that he is an expert witness for bike cases, but if he is, based on his cluelessness with regard to the rules of evidence I would never ever consider hiring this guy.

Here is what Schubert tries to scare you with:

Imagine yourself, the victim of a motorist-at-fault car/bike collision. You were plainly visible. But the defense counsel brings out a stack of articles telling you what a jerk you were for not using daytime running lights. He asks you to read them aloud on the witness stand. Your emotions go south and your blood pressure skyrockets. After the first dozen articles, he calls for a break, and out in the hall, offers you $100 to settle the case then and there.

My blood pressure certainly skyrocketed, but only from anger at such misinformation. First, Schubert actually thinks that defense counsel can make plaintiffs read “a stack of articles.” If this were how courts operated, then attorneys would simply load up plaintiffs and witnesses with “a stack of articles” and it would be a “battle of the stacks of articles.”

This is silly and false, and either Schubert knows it and should be ashamed, or he’s an incompetent who knows nothing about expert witnessing and the rules of evidence. In fact I challenge him to post a transcript of any case in which he’s been an expert witness in which any defense counsel EVER made a plaintiff read “a dozen articles” “telling you what a jerk you were” or for that matter any article at all. You can’t make a witness read “stacks of articles” in court unless the witness has stated under oath something that the “stack of articles” impeaches. In other words, if an expert witness–not a plaintiff–testifies that based on his reconstruction of the collision that lights wouldn’t have prevented it, and there is a specific article that meets the evidentiary criteria for admissibility (think Daubert challenge and foundation, among others), and that article impeaches the expert’s methodology or conclusion, the expert can be required to acknowledge that such conflicting evidence exists. Depending on the article, he can be impeached, just as he can be impeached with prior inconsistent testimony that he has used in previous trials.

Of course long before the expert witness gets on the stand, she will have been deposed and both sides will know exactly what research the expert relied on, her methodology, what research is out there to contradict her, and that research and the expert will have to survive motions in limine and Daubert motions prior to being allowed to testify (or for the evidence to be admitted) at trial. In fact, the impeaching research will often be brought up in deposition and the witness will be confronted with it then. And of course judges will never allow “stacks of articles” to be read by anyone because it wastes the court’s time and is redundant.

This, by the way, relates to expert witnesses. None of this implicates a plaintiff, as Schubert ignorantly suggests it would, because plaintiffs don’t testify as to whether or not lights would have prevented a collision. That is an expert opinion and not within the purview of a lay witness. And even if a plaintiff did say that lights wouldn’t have prevented his collision, something that would never be admissible, a “stack of articles” wouldn’t make it into court because the articles would lack foundation and because they wouldn’t have any bearing on the case at hand. These involve basic concepts such as relevance and prejudicial effect, and Schubert’s ignorance of them is monstrous. You can’t simply force plaintiffs to read “stacks of articles” about things that “tell you what a jerk you were.” It’s nonsensical and Schubert hopefully knows it. This is also a key reason that you can’t, in general, introduce past collisions to prove that a plaintiff or defendant was at fault for the collision at trial.

So Schubert makes a most unmelodious argument about how using daytime lights could result in victim blaming, failing to understand or deliberately misconstruing even the most basic rules of evidence, and this from someone who claims to be an expert witness, a job that is all about evidence and the admissibility thereof.

But Schubert’s legal incompetence does even worse damage because it ignores the fact that in California you are legally required to have lights on your bicycle after sunset and before sunrise. By not encouraging cyclists to ride with lights at all times, Schubert increases the likelihood that riders will get stuck out after dark and before dawn without lights. This is exactly why lights aren’t optional on cars and motorcycles; they’re with you all the time because you never know when you’ll be driving after dark. And unlike Schubert’s #fakenews example about the plaintiff settling for $100 after being forced to read a “stack of articles,” plaintiffs regularly see their cases go up in smoke at the claims adjusting stage because their collision occurred during a time when they were required to ride with lights and they were unlit, and the traffic collision report cites them as the at-fault party because of that.

In short, what possible reason could Schubert have for discouraging daytime lights on bicycles, and hyping them as an invaluable addition, and sometimes even a replacement for, lane positioning? Why wouldn’t he see them as a useful and helpful tool in the arsenal of conspicuousness, especially with so many lights on the market now that are bright, cheap, and that have 6-12 hour run times?

Answer: He has a good old-fashioned conflict of interest.

There’s no tread on Schubert’s tire

I have relentlessly advocated for CyclingSavvy and for its fundamentally sound approach to safe cycling, most of which is based on the work done by gadfly and Very Smart Dude John Forester. I’ve subsidized CyclingSavvy classes in my own club and have worked hard to make sure that as many people as possible understand that the first step to safety involves the conspicuousness that comes from properly positioning yourself in traffic. I’ve personally gone through the evolution from gutter bunny to lane control dude.

However, I also recognize that the need for sound bicycling education is far too great and the masses are far too set in their ways to expect that everyone will go out and get CyclingSavvy instruction in time to prevent the next fatal collision. There aren’t enough teachers, the online curriculum is poorly marketed, and many of the riders who need it most DGAF because they don’t think they need education. “I know how to ride!” they exclaim.

This is where lights come in. Beginning about five years ago I began running daytime lights, front and rear, and began relentlessly encouraging people to light up at all times. I rarely if ever have close calls with drivers anymore, and part of that has to do with my increased visibility thanks to lights. And it’s not just me. Riders who couldn’t be dragged to a CyclingSavvy course at gunpoint are now riding conspicuously, with lots of lighting. This is another point to which Schubert is tone deaf: A gaggle of riders with tons of lights are much more conspicuous than without, regardless of where they are positioned. The other fact that keeps Schubert off key is that it’s easy to scold riders for not having lights a few times until they eventually start using them, whereas scolding them to “take a CyclingSavvy class” is an infinitely harder sell.

It’s nuts that Schubert doesn’t see daytime lights for the great thing they are. Riders attend CyclingSavvy, get the lane positioning thing, and start riding with lights as well because they know that a bit more visibility is going to help, just as hi-viz clothing will, and while it’s not a substitute for lane positioning, it is a great add-on. I suspect that this is really what has gotten under Schubert’s skin, and I get it. It sucks to know that despite your best efforts, people think you are a goofball smartypants with nothing of value to offer simply because you ride like a wanker. Lots of people don’t get, and never will get, that it’s the nerds of the world who sign the paychecks. Oh, well.

Welcome to the inbred, snooty, fashion-conscious world of road racing and “serious” road cycling. Most people who consider themselves “racer-ish” already think they know everything and they are never going to listen to some bike safety guru in floppy pants with a helmet mirror. In fact, my good pal Manslaughter has point-blank said that “I think it’s stupid. I know how to ride my bike and am not afraid of gutters, trash cans, grates, roots, drunks, land mines, hand grenades, and smashed-in pavement. In fact, THAT’S WHAT I LIKE!”

But even Manslaughter can be browbeaten into riding with a light, and he does ride with one because even cyclists who think that CyclingSavvy is dumb will clip on a bright light. That’s one more point of light for a driver to see and avoid.

And perhaps that’s what makes Schubert’s song so atonal: The thought that ordinary people who purchase lights, which are cheap, easily accessible to people of all income and educational levels, and which provide lots of conspicuousness, don’t require an East Coast smartypants mansplaining “expert” to tell them how to ride. And frankly, if the legal “expert” knows as little about the rules of evidence as this one, I can’t say I blame them.

END

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10 thoughts on “Lightweight”

  1. I posted your article on my home club’s FB page and this is what happened: from John Schubert

    Conflict of interest? Oh phuleeze. Because I make money not selling lights? Or because of the $80 paycheck I got for five days of work (and about $400 in travel expenses) teaching Cycling Savvy last November? (The course does not include any anti-daytime running light component, by the way.)
    Your points about rules of evidence in court are well taken, but just as I made a mistake there, so did you. In civil trials in Pennsylvania, there are no expert depositions before trial. In New Jersey, expert depositions occur about half the time. So much of what you say about court proceedings is not always true.
    I continue to insist that riding in the door zone or coffin corner can’t be made safe. You want to put a band aid on it by saying, “Sure, ride there, and they’ll see your light in the mirror.” Uh, if you’re in the blind spot, you can’t be seen. Neither can your light.
    Nor should you be encouraging cyclists to ride in an inherently hazardous roadway position, relying on other drivers to react as you want them to, to a light that is often not visible. Even when that light is theoretically visible, it is far outside of their foveal vision and customary scan. It is where they usually don’t look, for the fraction of a second that that light is both visible and relevant.
    For a refresher course on how huge the blind spots in trucks are, direct your search engine to “bicycle truck blind spot.” There’s a one-minute video from England that will clear your sinuses. The blind “spot” is more like a blind quarter acre. (Of course, you have to reverse left and right for the video to make sense to an American driver.)
    What chance has an invisible cyclist in the coffin corner’s massive blind spot? His light can not possibly save him.
    I don’t cater to the arrogant people. I’m not amused by their clever snarks or cutesie nicknames. They appeal to each other, but they turn off the vast majority of Americans to cycling. Maybe you could help us find the sales pitch to get them to stop leading each other to serious personal injury or death with their “I already know it all” attitudes.
    People of “all income levels” can buy lights. But I know many people for whom the eight-buck headlight/taillight combo at Wal Mart is a week’s discretionary spending. They have to spend a big multiple of that to get lights that will be actually effective in daylight. That’s a distinction worth noting, because a dim light in daylight is no more useful than a rabbit’s foot.
    So, Seth, here you go: use your brilliant legal mind to write, “When is it not found negligent for a motorist to strike a plainly visible cyclist who is riding lawfully and predictably and conspicuously?” Spoiler alert: When the newspaper blogs, cops, and bicycling bloggers all say lights are a panacea (which is what drove me to write that article in the first place, as the first few paragraphs make clear). Popular perception drives legal outcomes.
    As you point out, we will always have riders too arrogant to learn how to ride safely. We will also always have riders who never use daytime running lights. And then there will be people like myself, who occasionally use them.
    I don’t want my legal rights any more precarious than they already are. Your screed here is on the problem side of that divide. You’re welcome to climb over to the solution side.
    John Schubert
    Coopersburg, Pennsylvania

  2. In the younger day my weekly ride was Samo > PCH > Topanga > Old Top. > Mulholland > Little Sycamore > Yerba Buena > Cotharin > Deer Creek > PCH.

    That was the ride. But I had to get back home, so I took the boring 30 mile ride on PCH back to Samo. Sometimes I’d punctuate the ride home with a cruise up Decker and down.

    So, one time on this return ride on a descent, cruising along the southbound side of PCH, a Prius came along, pulled over and stopped directly in front of me. I had almost 0 time do decide whether to
    swerve into the traffic lane
    or try to squeeze between the Prius and the row of parked cars
    or take on that flat back-end of the Prius.

    I hit the front brake too hard and the back end came up. Once I regained control I had even less time to decide.

    Then all of a sudden the Prius takes off. Prius people really are nice after all.

    My point of this regail is — I bet it was my bright white flashers (I used 2 at the time) in the rearview mirror that alerted the nice driver. I’m a roll-on-the-floor believer in lights.

  3. Conflict of interest? Oh phuleeze. Because I make money not selling lights? Or because of the $80 paycheck I got for five days of work (and about $400 in travel expenses) teaching Cycling Savvy last November? (The course does not include any anti-daytime running light component, by the way.)
    Your points about rules of evidence in court are well taken, but just as I made a mistake there, so did you. In civil trials in Pennsylvania, there are no expert depositions before trial. In New Jersey, expert depositions occur about half the time. So much of what you say about court proceedings is not always true.
    I continue to insist that riding in the door zone or coffin corner can’t be made safe. You want to put a band aid on it by saying, “Sure, ride there, and they’ll see your light in the mirror.” Uh, if you’re in the blind spot, you can’t be seen. Neither can your light.
    Nor should you be encouraging cyclists to ride in an inherently hazardous roadway position, relying on other drivers to react as you want them to, to a light that is often not visible. Even when that light is theoretically visible, it is far outside of their foveal vision and customary scan. It is where they usually don’t look, for the fraction of a second that that light is both visible and relevant.
    For a refresher course on how huge the blind spots in trucks are, direct your search engine to “bicycle truck blind spot.” There’s a one-minute video from England that will clear your sinuses. The blind “spot” is more like a blind quarter acre. (Of course, you have to reverse left and right for the video to make sense to an American driver.)
    What chance has an invisible cyclist in the coffin corner’s massive blind spot? His light can not possibly save him.
    I don’t cater to the arrogant people. I’m not amused by their clever snarks or cutesie nicknames. They appeal to each other, but they turn off the vast majority of Americans to cycling. Maybe you could help us find the sales pitch to get them to stop leading each other to serious personal injury or death with their “I already know it all” attitudes.
    People of “all income levels” can buy lights. But I know many people for whom the eight-buck headlight/taillight combo at Wal Mart is a week’s discretionary spending. They have to spend a big multiple of that to get lights that will be actually effective in daylight. That’s a distinction worth noting, because a dim light in daylight is no more useful than a rabbit’s foot.
    So, Seth, here you go: use your brilliant legal mind to write, “When is it not found negligent for a motorist to strike a plainly visible cyclist who is riding lawfully and predictably and conspicuously?” Spoiler alert: When the newspaper blogs, cops, and bicycling bloggers all say lights are a panacea (which is what drove me to write that article in the first place, as the first few paragraphs make clear). Popular perception drives legal outcomes.
    As you point out, we will always have riders too arrogant to learn how to ride safely. We will also always have riders who never use daytime running lights. And then there will be people like myself, who occasionally use them.
    I don’t want my legal rights any more precarious than they already are. Your screed here is on the problem side of that divide. You’re welcome to climb over to the solution side.
    John Schubert
    Coopersburg, Pennsylvania

    1. Mike, my original article was all about nuance — something sadly lacking in Seth’s oddly vituperative post here. The questions I was addressing was are daytime running lights ALWAYS important, and what are the ill effects of saying they are?
      From my third paragraph: “Safety equipment is an area where “always” and “never” don’t exist, and where emotional baggage leads all of us to want to cling to a magic solution.”
      From my first paragraph: “Two recent tragic bicyclist deaths in Florida resulted in a local newspaper column extolling the importance of daytime running lights. Without going into detail about these tragedies, I’ll say one thing: It’s doubtful that either death would have been prevented by daytime running lights.” If you blast through a red light into the maw of fast moving cross traffic, your light won’t save you. Like that.
      Frankly, I’m appalled that Seth suggests that we ride in the door zone and coffin corner (inherently unsafe activities) and rely on lights to alert others to compensate for our unsafe behavior.

      1. Starting out on a ride, I do not sit and make a decision “Well, will this be a ride that would be made safer by use of vituperative lights?”

        Just use the damn lights. I don’t have a crystal ball to predict what will happen. Just use the damn lights.

    2. Mike,
      This is also what people say about helmets. But unfortunately not one day goes when someone’s gotta make a comment about a bicycle rider not wearing a helmet that fact gets linked to them causing the crash. Sure they do a good job in reducing head injuries (sometimes) but the reliance on them as a catch all safety tool is highly overrated when there are other things a bicyclist can do to enhance his or her safety. Even in cases where there was absolutely nothing the cyclist did wrong, is it appropriate to comment on whether they were wearing a helmet or not? If a meteor falls out of the sky and strikes a cyclist, the public would be making comments about whether they were or were not wearing helmets.

      Schubert’s post was about running bright daytime lights, not about lights at night. The requirements for what is considered a good and effective light for daytime use differs from that of at night and to get good bright lights that are supposed to be useful in the daytime you’ve got to spend some money. Cyclists who have the disposable income to purchase these may do so with little problem but imagine someone who doesn’t have that income on their department store bike being told they need to go guy lights that cost them a week’s wage?

      We don’t want daytime lights to turn into “Helmets 2.0.” By all means use them (before I bought dynamo lighting I’d carry two set of lights but only use one set at a time, then the second set was available as a backup) but don’t let those two items be the only things you buy and use to enhance your safety.

      (John Allen goes into the nitty gritty detail of lights here: https://sheldonbrown.com/LED-headlights.html , it’s worth a read)

  4. Thanks for this. It’s always good to remember how many different kinds of bicycle riders are out there, and daytime running lights are good for all of them.

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