The big three

I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of cyclists last night at Cynergy Cycles in Santa Monica. It’s the kind of talk I do whenever asked, because I get to cover the three things near and dear to my heart:

  1. Daytime lights, front and rear, run all the time.
  2. Underinsured/Uninsured motorist coverage. Max it out!
  3. What to do if you’re hit by a car (and still conscious).

Over the last five years or so there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people who ride with daytime lights in the South Bay. On the rides I regularly attend, which include the Donut, the Flog, NPR, and Telo, many cyclists are lit up, and with powerful lights to boot.

It is purely anecdotal, but as these local rides and local riders become more and more accustomed to riding with daytime lights, the number of my friends hit by cars has fallen dramatically. In fact, one of the few recent cases in which a South Bay rider I know personally was hit, the rider was one of those guys who has always been too cool to ride with daytime lights. He got clocked on a busy weekend day and suffered severe injuries.

It’s funny how pride, coolness, and being a weight weenie (not to mention a cheapskate) suck so many cyclists into the death trap of riding without daytime lights. These are often the same people who don’t practice lane control and who dwell in the gutter/door zone.

In any case, I attribute the decrease in car-bike collisions among people I ride with to the continual messaging here and on the bike: Get daytime lights, and make sure they’re bright. Drivers may not like you, but they don’t want to hit you. They really don’t. They’re simply scapegoating you for their own inattentiveness. Here’s how it works.

  1. Driver is distracted.
  2. Driver sees you at the last minute because you are inconspicuous.
  3. Driver takes emergency evasive action, sometimes hitting you, sometimes not.
  4. Driver is scared shitless that he almost hit you/actually hit you.
  5. Driver blames you for his bad behavior.

With daytime lights, here’s how it works:

  1. Driver is distracted.
  2. Driver sees you way in advance.
  3. Driver avoids you.
  4. Driver honks/flips you off, but never comes close to hitting you.
  5. Driver continues on, leaving you in peace and intact.

Light yourself up. Really. Do.

END

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22 thoughts on “The big three”

  1. “the number of my friends hit by cars has fallen dramatically. ”
    Very impressive

    Other extremely uncool things:
    Smoke alarms
    Seat belts
    Helmets

  2. I don’t know your opinion on this, Seth, but I also have a rear view mirror. The first week I got one, it saved my life as it allowed me to take evasive action when the driver never saw me until after heard me screaming at him. I’ve vowed never to be hit from behind and, so far, it’s working. I think of it as the “last resort” safety piece against drivers.

    Keep up the good work, sir!

    1. I agree! I particularly prefer a helmet or glasses mounted mirror because I can direct the mirror to what I want to look at with slight movements of my head. Plus I can still see what’s in front of me via periphery vision. I recommend Tiger Eye Bike Mirror, it’s made from a bike spoke, very sturdy, stays adjusted, great optics.

  3. You and I think much alike. I’ve been running front and rear lights for years, because as a woman who often cycles alone on country roads I want to be visible, predictable and avoidable, and so far that’s worked well in my favor. So, thanks for advocating for lights.

  4. As to your second of the “Big 3,” what do you recommend for those of us who live car-free and don’t have insurance of that type?

    1. You can get no-driver UM/UIM coverage from most carriers. Call a broker, explain you don’t have a car but want UM/UIM in case a car hits you on your bike, and they will sell you a policy.

  5. Sometimes, when a conversation with my non-biker friends turns to bike safety, I mention that I have “obnoxious” lights, front and rear. I always imagine that they perceive my description literally, as in “my lights are obnoxious”. However, in my own mind, I perceive my description as in “my lights are about right”.

    1. For them to see it, it really does have to be “obnoxious.” Which is so much better than being an inoffensive corpse.

  6. I agree. That’s why I have redundant lighting even during daylight. White LED Strobe in the front and in the back + red LED blinker on the bike and on the helmet. Even when I drive a car I always get surprised by cyclists without lights.

  7. Good post. I’ve been using lights day and right, rain or shine for years, but per your “lottery ticket” post a few months ago I did up my insurance to the limit. I was the victim of two hit and runs, one in Colorado and one here (both in my car, not on a bike fortunately) so the UIM has already been used.

    1. The umbrella theory of protection. Too bad it doesn’t work for condoms.

  8. Many bicycle headlamps are being sold these days which are appropriate as daytime running lights or for off-road riding where overhead tree branches are an issue, but a lamp that is bright enough to be conspicuous in daylight is bright enough to blind oncoming motorists or bicyclists at night. A proper bicycle headlight for use at night has a flat-topped beam pattern which cuts off just below the horizontal, like a car’s low beam. For daytime use, it can be aimed a bit higher, in which case it is more efficient than a headlamp with a round beam pattern.

    A taillamp which is bright enough to be conspicurous in daylight, same thing, but its brightness at night needs to be controlled electronically.

    More about these issues is at http://sheldonbrown.com/LED-headlights.html.

  9. Mention has been made of front and back lights. What do you think about a helmet that has integrated light fibre all the way around the helmet so you are visible from all directions? Many accidents are from the side. The head is the highest and most visible part of the body; some would argue the most important aswell. I have a vested interest – we make this helmet and we are interested in your feedback on this important topic. If you need/want to buy a helmet may aswell buy 1 with integrated light ready to use.

  10. Another aspect of insurance to consider is disability insurance. If you’re covered by an employer, lucky you, but not everyone is, plus if you get laid off, it will be gone. Consider how you’ll pay your rent/morgage/other bills should you be injured and off work for a significant period of time.

    +1 for the cycling mirror. It may be dorky (as if a full kit isn’t), but you’ll be amazed at what you see happening behind you. It enables you to take an active role in protecting yourself rather than passively hoping/praying you’ll be seen and avoided. Lots of folks (Amy Dombroski to name one) have been hit from behind and I always wonder whether a mirror might have prevented it, or at least allowed them to get out of the way.

    1. I see people with mirrors all the time. Generally they are unaware of me until I pass. Most problems are in front, not behind. Lane position and lights don’t require that you look behind. Also, evasive action for a bike is tricky at best. But … if they help, by all means use them.

  11. I was at Synergy. Thanks for a great talk!

    I would like to add the voice of the generator bike people: lights are good! Full time is easy with no batteries to run down, and many gen lights have the (see John Allen above) German legal standard cutoff to lessen blinding others. Can be important in medium heavy traffic!

    It does seem kinda like a… lumens war of front lights sometimes. Cut ting off the upper height of the light per Sheldon Brown is a good thing. I just set the back light for “stun” myself, and keep the front one pointed down on the road ahead.

    Also, I will be increasing my insurance now…

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