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Pro cyclist-led lights campaign, endorsed by Tadej Pogačar, “feeds into victim-blaming culture”, says road safety expert

The ‘Be Bright Wear a Light’ campaign aims to reduce cyclist fatalities and injuries on the road by “empowering visibility behaviour”

A professional cyclist-led campaign to encourage people on bikes to use lights at all times “feeds into a victim-blaming culture” which places the onus for safety onto the most vulnerable road users, according to a leading road safety campaigner.

The ‘Be Bright Wear a Light’ campaign, launched this week by pro rider Rachel Neylan and endorsed by two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar and former world champion Elisa Balsamo, has been described by Dr Robert Davis, the chair of the chair of the Road Danger Reduction Forum, as “well-intentioned” but lacking awareness of “what’s required to not being hit by drivers”.

The brainchild of Cofidis rider Neylan, the campaign aims to help cyclists “understand that increased visibility while riding your bike on the road can actually save your life”, and encourages them to change their behaviour and “begin using front and back lights for every ride at all times of the day”.

Earlier this week, the 40-year-old told Cycling Weekly that she felt a “real compulsion” to act after several current and retired pros were killed while riding their bikes in recent months.

> Up-and coming Spanish cyclist killed by hit-and-run lorry driver

In November, the recently-retired Italian classics star Davide Rebellin was killed after being struck by a hit-and-run lorry driver, while just last week 18-year-old Spanish neo-pro Estela Domínguez tragically suffered the same fate while training on the outskirts of Salamanca.

“With the recent year, the string of events, multiple tragedies that we’ve had among the cycling community, I just felt a real compulsion to do something about it,” the 40-year-old said.

“Every time a cyclist gets killed, it’s a knife to the stomach. I can’t watch it happen anymore. I’ve been using lights consistently for the last few years, and I know how much it really makes a difference.”

However, the Australian also noted that she recognises that lights are “not a one-step solution to the entire problem”.

“But the reality is that the roads are getting busier,” she said. “Cities and regional towns are getting busier, every single place where cyclists go, even if it used to be less populated by cars. Especially since Covid we’re seeing a lot more travel, and the roads aren’t safe for cyclists anymore.”

Neylan continued: “When you start using lights, you see that cars give you so much more passing space and you avoid near misses. It can make a huge difference from the front and back. If we can save one life, that’s a win.

“As a community we’ve been through enough tragedy now and it’s time to do something. We’re not saying this is a cure, there are obviously enormous other aspects to this problem, but this is one thing we can control, our own visibility.”

Neylan’s attempt to instil a “culture shift” within the cycling community to use lights at all times has so far been endorsed by a raft of current stars, including double Tour winner Pogačar, Italian champion Balsamo, and 2021 Milan-San Remo winner Jasper Stuyven.

“This is the best safety measure I can take. For the amount of time I spend on the road and minimal investment it takes to use a light it’s a logical part of my daily training now,” Pogačar is quoted as saying on the campaign’s social media channels.

“It feeds into the victim-blaming culture”

However, despite the high-profile endorsements, the campaign has come in for criticism from some cyclists who believe that simply using lights will prove of little consequence in the face of dangerous or distracted drivers.

One of those cyclists, safe cycling campaigner Dr Robert Davis, has described Be Bright Wear a Light’s message as “victim blaming” and evidence of how “racing cyclists can get things exactly wrong” when it comes to everyday cycling and road safety.

Speaking to road.cc, Dr Davis said: “The evidence for drivers being less likely to hit cyclists (or pedestrians) when they wear hi-vis is either minimal or entirely absent. It’s even absent for lights at night with cyclists, although I wouldn’t argue with you that you shouldn’t have them at night. 

“There is certainly no evidence for daytime lights working for cyclists, and comments by what one cyclist (who is already committed to using them) ‘feels’ does not constitute proper evidence.”

> Near Miss of the Day 850: "Lights, reflectors and hi-vis — if they ain't looking they won't see you"

He continued: “Broadly speaking, we have an ‘arms race’ with the most vulnerable and least dangerous to others (walkers and cyclists) being expected to make up for the (illegal) errors of drivers not watching out, which the more vulnerable will not win.

“The problem is that those who take part in such campaigns don’t see that it feeds into the victim-blaming culture which causes the problem in the first place.

“So, we have a major problem with ‘SMIDSY’ [‘Sorry Mate, I Didn't See You’], as Cycling UK have correctly called it – an attitude that if a driver doesn't ‘see’ you because they aren't watching out, it's your fault, and this kind of campaign feeds into it and thereby becomes part of this problem.

“I’m sure that the people behind this campaign don’t want this to happen, but I have to be concerned with the harsh reality of what happens on the roads.

“And people who haven’t familiarised themselves with the ideological anti-cyclist bias of ‘road safety’ ideology won’t understand just how negative this kind of approach is.”

This anti-cyclist bias, Davis has argued in the past, manifests itself in the “red herring” of stressing the importance of culturally-defined safety measures such as lights, which he claims “can act as a diversion from what needs to be done for real road safety”.

> "Don't give it air time. Don't answer stupid questions": Chris Boardman shuts down cycling registration 'debate' 

That the campaign stems from professional riders, whose experience of riding their bike can sometimes be worlds apart from the average commuter cyclist, only exacerbates this problem, Davis argues.

“Racing cyclists are often very bad judges of what’s good for cyclists (especially ‘ordinary’ everyday utility cyclists) from Jacques Anquetil onwards,” he says.

“If they’re committed to supporting everyday cycling and prepared to consider all the evidence they can change – the perfect example being Chris Boardman, to some extent Sarah Storey, and hopefully Ed Clancy.

“I’m afraid Pogačar is wonderful as a racing cyclist, and the campaigners are no doubt well intentioned, but they don’t get it when it comes to what’s required to not being hit by drivers.

“And no, before you suggest that ‘other measures can be used as well’, this kind of approach reinforces victim blaming and impedes any positive measures, of which there are few if any.”

> Police ask pedestrians to wear hi-vis following spate of road deaths in Scotland 

Davis’ comments come in the same week that Police Scotland found itself at the centre of its own victim-blaming row after a chief inspector urged pedestrians to wear “reflective or fluorescent” clothing following the deaths of six pedestrians on the country’s roads in just 13 days.

Ch Insp Lorraine Napier argued that in light of the incidents, officers should encourage all road users to keep safe, first asking pedestrians to stay visible. And in response to a request for comment from road.cc, Police Scotland confirmed the force had “nothing to add”.

“Pedestrians are considered vulnerable road users and, in winter, particularly when it is dark, pedestrians should wear reflective or fluorescent clothing,” she said.

“I would also urge pedestrians to be mindful of their surroundings and to ensure they are not putting themselves at risk.”

Napier’s comments prompted several accusations of victim blaming, with one Twitter user asking: “How have we got to a point where pedestrians are being advised to wear reflective or fluorescent clothes, in case they need to cross a road?”

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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163 comments

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chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 1 year ago
2 likes

Maybe out on an unnecessary recreational trip? I see them round here after dark, literally flying all over the place. I mean, you can hardly see them in dark colours like that.

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chrisonabike replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
2 likes

An ornithologist friend has corrected me - aparently the ones out and about at night are a different kettle of squirrel.  I still think they should make themselves more visible - it's all well and good in daylight, but after dark...

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Jetmans Dad | 1 year ago
10 likes

The problem with campaigns like this from pro cyclists, or the Police (as per the Scottish example last week) is that all it does is provide drivers with another excuse when they hit, or almost hit, a more vulnerable road user. 

"If the police are saying they should be wearing high vis, and pro cyclists are saying they should be running lights all the time, how can it possibly be my fault that I ran into them when they weren't?"

You know ... the sort of thing that courts accept as mitigation every day of the week. 

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mike the bike replied to Jetmans Dad | 1 year ago
1 like

If court cases involving motorcyclists are anything to go by Mr Jetman, you have nothing to worry about.  A prominent lawyer who specialises in traffic accident cases writes monthly in Bike magazine and recently said that he has 'never' had damages reduced because riders have not been wearing the protective clothing recommended by the Highway Code and others but which are not legally required. 

Why should this be?  Because the other side have no solid statistical evidence to back up such a proposition and judges will not rule without such firm data.  Common sense simply isn't enough to sway the learned mind.

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cmedred | 1 year ago
8 likes

Oh, how I wish Neylan's experience that "when you start using lights, you see that cars give you so much more passing space and you avoid near misses'' had been my experience here in Amerika. But it hasn't. I use the lights to prevent being blamed if rundown while actually using a motor-vehicle traffic lane, but my experience with them while in bike lanes is that they make no difference or might edge toward pulling drivers toward the white stripe. On one occasion when a battery failure forced me to ride home n the dark without lights, I noticed that passing traffic seemed to stay farther from the white line than it did when I was all it up. But admittedly that sample size is small. Still, I would expect that, especially at bends in the road, drivers might be inclined to use as much of their lane as possible right up to that white stripe if they can see what is on the other side of it while doing the opposite if they suspect there could be something in the lane they don't see. And I have to wonder how that sort of thinking might be influenced by creating the notion that if they do cross the white line and hit a cyclist who isn't using lights, it's the fault of the cyclist and not their bad driving. 

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Rik Mayals unde... | 1 year ago
1 like

I invested in a Garmin radar rear light last year. Unless I have been very lucky, I don't feel like I have had anywhere near as many close passes, in fact it is noticable how many drivers hold back until it's safe to pass, and give me decent room too.

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Oldfatgit replied to Rik Mayals underpants | 1 year ago
3 likes

Do you have a big sign on your back advising of the radar .. that's the only way the Garmin radar unit will be influencing other road users behaviour.

A more likely explanation is that the Garmin radar is influencing *your* behaviour - at possibly a subconscious level - and it's your actions that are making the changes.

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Rendel Harris replied to Oldfatgit | 1 year ago
1 like

I think he's talking about the influence of the daylight running light element of the Garmin rather than the radar? When I've ridden behind someone with one it certainly does appear to have significantly more daylight visibility than a standard light.

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Hirsute replied to Oldfatgit | 1 year ago
0 likes

That's what I thought at first but then I think it is a reference to the light always being on. I think it's only the latest version (715) via a widget that allows the light off.

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mark1a replied to Hirsute | 1 year ago
1 like
hirsute wrote:

That's what I thought at first but then I think it is a reference to the light always being on. I think it's only the latest version (715) via a widget that allows the light off.

For interest, all models I've had (RTL500, 510, 515, 715) have supported a radar-only off mode. However the availability of the widget may depend on the head unit.  

I've still got the 515 and have just put it into off mode to demonstrate. 
 

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Hirsute replied to mark1a | 1 year ago
1 like

It definitely depends on your head unit !

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HoarseMann replied to Oldfatgit | 1 year ago
5 likes
Oldfatgit wrote:

Do you have a big sign on your back advising of the radar .. that's the only way the Garmin radar unit will be influencing other road users behaviour.

The Varia radar light changes its flash pattern when a vehicle approaches: https://youtu.be/yt-PBBFOw78?t=77

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mark1a replied to HoarseMann | 1 year ago
4 likes
HoarseMann wrote:
Oldfatgit wrote:

Do you have a big sign on your back advising of the radar .. that's the only way the Garmin radar unit will be influencing other road users behaviour.

The Varia radar light changes its flash pattern when a vehicle approaches: https://youtu.be/yt-PBBFOw78?t=77

It certainly does and as a long-term user (7+ years), on rural lanes, I've known noticeable audible changes in vehicle sounds as the driver presumably has had their attention drawn to a cyclist in front. 

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IanMSpencer replied to mark1a | 1 year ago
4 likes

That, often momentary, change in engine note is one of the most important indicators to me of whether I'm going to have a problem.

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Simon14 | 1 year ago
1 like

Cat burglars. Ninja Assassins.Police Tactical Firearms Units.S.A.S. They all wear black for a reason. Also, what colour (mostly) is tarmac? You guessed it, black. So, wearing black literally camouflages the rider against the tarmac. Duh. Apart from looking cool, and being more forgiving off much and stuff, the black thing goes back decades to when road racing on bikes was illegal. Of course there is little or any decent research to show it one way or the other. You would need 1000 or so identical riders riding the same route with the exactly the same drivers of the same cars etc etc. Half in Ninja. Half in dayglo.proper research can never happen. Next time yiur out driving, especially one of those sunny days where it is shady under the trees notice who shows up better; someone all in black, or someone in brighter clothes/flashing red light.

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Hirsute replied to Simon14 | 1 year ago
2 likes

Grey.
Contrast is very important. You could wear light clothes and blend in.

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IanMSpencer replied to Hirsute | 1 year ago
0 likes

Wet or dry? Wet is black and dry roads can be virtually white.

It's why I like orange, not quite so hi vizzy, and our club kit is red white and blue which is also very visible in different conditions.

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Hirsute replied to IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
1 like

Funnily enough I came across a runner in blue and dark red this morning. I was in the car on an nsl. What I did pick up on was some movement not any colours and immediately slowed, then signalled in case others had not picked him out.

The sun was low, so he was partly silhouetted - not sure if lighter colours would have made a much of a difference. What would have made the biggest difference would be to run on the right, facing traffic !

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Awavey replied to Hirsute | 1 year ago
0 likes
hirsute wrote:

What would have made the biggest difference would be to run on the right, facing traffic !

sometimes I think that, but they scare the hell out of you when you meet one coming towards you and you're unsighted.

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Hirsute replied to Awavey | 1 year ago
1 like

I meant from their perspective - they are no longer in conflict where they are harder to see. They are still at risk, but at least the sun is shining in the right direction when on the right.

When we go on country walks, we swap right and left sides of the road depending on the layout to avoid this sort of surprise to both parties.

 

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Backladder replied to Awavey | 1 year ago
0 likes
Awavey wrote:
hirsute wrote:

What would have made the biggest difference would be to run on the right, facing traffic !

sometimes I think that, but they scare the hell out of you when you meet one coming towards you and you're unsighted.

Walking/running on the right is so that they can see you and take avoiding action if necessary, they shouldn't have to but it does give them the option.

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brooksby replied to Simon14 | 1 year ago
7 likes

That must be why you can't buy any cars in black or dark grey...

Oh! Waitaminute... 

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CyclingInGawler replied to Simon14 | 1 year ago
2 likes

Black! The very colour the RAF, after extensive research, painted their Hawk trainer fleet, because (gloss) black was found to maximise visibiity.

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quiff replied to CyclingInGawler | 1 year ago
0 likes

I don't imagine that was to maximise visibility on the ground though. 

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ooblyboo | 1 year ago
6 likes

I run rear and front lights on every ride at any time of day. Doesn't do any harm. But does it make a difference? Er, not really no.

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Piratepete | 1 year ago
1 like

For me before every ride it is Lights, Cameras, Action. But this will never stop close passes if I ride in or close to the gutter. The only way to reduce such incidents is to take a proper position on the road.

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huntswheelers | 1 year ago
6 likes

Makes little or no difference as does Hi Viz.... I get more close passing with bright orange or lime hi viz and flashing rear light than if I wear dark green or black kit and no lights..... I submitted a video to plod after they requested it from a recent report..... I had a 300 lumen flashing light, Orange jersey, Orange helmet on....... 5 close passes in less than a mile. passing on hatched lines and junctions and passing a busy garden centre...... all had a NIP from plod.....  doesn't matter what bright clothes you have on or lights.....  bad drivers will use those as markers to skim by you and squeeze past. Ride buddy was knocked off at a roundabout.... lights front and rear, hi viz top, white helmet, dry day, bright......  driver never slowed....obvs a regular journey for the driver and my pal was not usually there when he traverses that roundabout 

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kil0ran | 1 year ago
0 likes

I nearly always run a rear light.Still get close passes but still gives me piece of mind, particularly riding in summer or times of high contrast where you can be obscured by shadows from high hedges etc

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eburtthebike | 1 year ago
8 likes

Yet another "safety" campaign with the wrong premise of treating the symptoms not the cause: why does this always apply to road safety, but no other facet of human activity?  All H&S starts from the presumption that reducing the cause of the problem is the most effective and must be done first, and only if that has failed, do you move on to making the victims take more care.

I can confidently predict that if all cyclists had lights all the time, there might be a small effect on collisions temporarily, but the status quo would quickly be re-established, and the only effects would be to make lots of money for light makers and impose costs on cyclists.  Eerily like helmets.

Dr Davis is right, and we need to address the cause; dangerous driving.

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ShutTheFrontDawes replied to eburtthebike | 1 year ago
3 likes
eburtthebike wrote:

Yet another "safety" campaign with the wrong premise of treating the symptoms not the cause: why does this always apply to road safety, but no other facet of human activity?  All H&S starts from the presumption that reducing the cause of the problem is the most effective and must be done first, and only if that has failed, do you move on to making the victims take more care.

I can confidently predict that if all cyclists had lights all the time, there might be a small effect on collisions temporarily, but the status quo would quickly be re-established, and the only effects would be to make lots of money for light makers and impose costs on cyclists.  Eerily like helmets.

Dr Davis is right, and we need to address the cause; dangerous driving.

Gee, correcting your made up tales is turning into a full-time job. I don't think I've got the energy - can't you just keep it to yourself?

Addressing both causes and effects of hazards is recognised good practice across a variety of industries. The Safety and Reliability Society (SaRS) have lots of information on the subject. Priority is usually given to the barriers that have the greatest effect per unit cost, until risk has been reduced to the extent that further reductions would have a disproportionally low benefit to their cost. Your suggestion that addressing the 'symptoms' (the fact that you don't even know the right word is very telling by the way) is abnormal is incorrect; it is normal. Your suggestion that 'all H&S starts from reducing the cause' is similarly incorrect.

Your suggestion that daytime lights would only result in a temporary road safety improvement, is straight out of the Eburt story book. As is your comparison to helmets. Pack it in.

As someone that advocates for improving road safety (at least I presume that's your intent behind the last para), it really is surprising that you argue against lots of other road safety improvement measures.

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