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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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AidanR replied to Simon E | 1 year ago
0 likes

I generally wear bright clothing and run lights (including on my helmet). If you don't want to, that's your choice.

About a year ago I was in a pub car park repairing a puncture, when a lady came up to me and said something along the lines of "I'm happy to see that you're wearing bright clothing. So many of the cyclists around here [the lanes around the Kent/Surrey border] are dressed in black and it can be really hard to see them."

I'm all for better infrastructure, driver awareness campaigns, better driver education etc. But I also help motorists see me, because why not?

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brooksby replied to AidanR | 1 year ago
5 likes
AidanR wrote:

About a year ago I was in a pub car park repairing a puncture, when a lady came up to me and said something along the lines of "I'm happy to see that you're wearing bright clothing. So many of the cyclists around here [the lanes around the Kent/Surrey border] are dressed in black and it can be really hard to see them."

Did you take the opportunity to point out all of the dark coloured cars in the car park?

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AidanR replied to brooksby | 1 year ago
1 like
brooksby wrote:

Did you take the opportunity to point out all of the dark coloured cars in the car park?

No, I didn't want to be facetious.

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Simon E replied to AidanR | 1 year ago
5 likes
AidanR wrote:

I'm all for better infrastructure, driver awareness campaigns, better driver education etc. But I also help motorists see me, because why not?

I don't think you understand the problem with mandating lights, helmets etc for cyclists.

What about pedestrians? Must they all run lights, cameras and hi-viz everywhere? Why are so many car occupants killed and injured every year?

Why are there so many reports and images in the Car crashes into building forum thread (over 1700 to date)? Does every house, shop, sign, bollard and construction within 15 feet of a road require flashing lights and be painted yellow? Will that work? No.

As for your anecdote, that woman is merely reinforcing the idea that your choice of clothing is responsible for your safety when clearly it is the responsibility of other road users to see you and drive appropriately. Did she tell you what to eat and who to vote for as well?

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AidanR replied to Simon E | 1 year ago
2 likes

Who said anything about mandating? I explicitly said in another reply to you that "I'm not suggesting that they should be compulsory."

The lady didn't tell me to do anything. I agree that it's the responsibility of other road users to see me, but why on earth would I not give them a helping hand? It's clearly in my interests to do so.

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marmotte27 replied to AidanR | 1 year ago
3 likes

There are upsides and downsides to this and in the totally skewed road traffic system and, stemming from it, the totally skewed
public attitude/debate (and everything that pertains to it like court judgements, insurance payouts etc. etc.) on road safety, the downsides outweigh the upsides by orders of magnitude. Why is this difficult to understand?
Actually, if the traffic system weren't so skewed we wouldn't even have this debate. At all.

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AidanR replied to marmotte27 | 1 year ago
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Sorry, are you actually asserting that "the downsides [of running daytime lights] outweigh the upsides by orders of magnitude"? Seriously?

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Simon E replied to AidanR | 1 year ago
3 likes

You are missing the point with every single post.

And I see ShutTheFrontDawes still hasn't provided any detail to back up his assertions / expertise in this area. That's presuming they have some.

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ShutTheFrontDawes replied to Simon E | 1 year ago
1 like
Simon E wrote:

You are missing the point with every single post.

And I see ShutTheFrontDawes still hasn't provided any detail to back up his assertions / expertise in this area. That's presuming they have some.

I'm not uploading a copy of my CV, nor my chartership/degree certificates, but I tell you what, there's a SaRS event coming up - a webinar - you can learn something from the comfort of your sofa. You could join, and wonder which of the attendees I am.

https://www.sars.org.uk/events/midlands-branch-development-of-risk-asses...

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ktache replied to AidanR | 1 year ago
1 like

I also get patronised like this too.

As a pedestrian, what bright colours was she wearing?

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Backladder replied to AidanR | 1 year ago
3 likes
AidanR wrote:

I agree that it's not necessarily a simple "yes". As others have said, increased visibility only works if drivers are looking and if they care. But I think the lack of a "no" case is simple. What is the downside in running daytime lights?

the downside is that it is the thin end of the wedge, if this goes unchallenged then in a few years time judges will be deducting from damages awards for lack of DRL just like they currently do for lack of helmet and motorists will carry on just as they do today.

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AidanR replied to Backladder | 1 year ago
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Backladder wrote:

the downside is that it is the thin end of the wedge, if this goes unchallenged then in a few years time judges will be deducting from damages awards for lack of DRL just like they currently do for lack of helmet and motorists will carry on just as they do today.

Speculative nonsense.

I guess I better remove anything that might help my visibility and personal safety just in case it gets used against some poor sod in a court of law sometime in the future.

Sometimes we cyclists really don't help ourselves, do we?!

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Backladder replied to AidanR | 1 year ago
5 likes
AidanR wrote:
Backladder wrote:

the downside is that it is the thin end of the wedge, if this goes unchallenged then in a few years time judges will be deducting from damages awards for lack of DRL just like they currently do for lack of helmet and motorists will carry on just as they do today.

Speculative nonsense.

It has already happened with helmets, why don't you think it will happen with DRL and high viz?

AidanR wrote:

I guess I better remove anything that might help my visibility and personal safety just in case it gets used against some poor sod in a court of law sometime in the future.

No! you can ride with as much high viz and lighting as you want, just don't campaign for all of us to have to do it.

AidanR wrote:

Sometimes we cyclists really don't help ourselves, do we?!

No you dont.

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CyclingInGawler replied to AidanR | 1 year ago
1 like

But no knowledge of the hierarchy of controls for hazard reduction, which I find a bit odd for a supposed safety professional.

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ShutTheFrontDawes replied to CyclingInGawler | 1 year ago
1 like
CyclingInGawler wrote:

But no knowledge of the hierarchy of controls for hazard reduction, which I find a bit odd for a supposed safety professional.

The hierarchy of controls means that elimination typically has a greater benefit/cost than substitution, which typically has a greater benefit/cost than engineering controls (administrative, PPE). It does not mean that you should do ALL the available elimination controls then ALL of the available substitutive controls (etc).

It tells you where to focus effort; it's not a step-by-step.

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Backladder replied to ShutTheFrontDawes | 1 year ago
4 likes
ShutTheFrontDawes wrote:
CyclingInGawler wrote:

But no knowledge of the hierarchy of controls for hazard reduction, which I find a bit odd for a supposed safety professional.

The hierarchy of controls means that elimination typically has a greater benefit/cost than substitution, which typically has a greater benefit/cost than engineering controls (administrative, PPE). It does not mean that you should do ALL the available elimination controls then ALL of the available substitutive controls (etc). It tells you where to focus effort; it's not a step-by-step.

As opposed to the current situation where we are doing all the PPE first?

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bob zmyuncle | 1 year ago
1 like

Appears to be an article about running daytime lights illustrated by a photo of riders cycling in the dark. That's before we get to the photo caption -  'See Sense ICON3 Rear Light'. Come on conspiracy theorists get onto this.

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Oldfatgit | 1 year ago
7 likes

It seems more and more that the cyclist is asked "did you have lights on?".
I was asked this while giving a statement from my bed in HDU by the officer who attended the scene after I was thrown from my bike in broad daylight after being hit by an octogenarian driver.
He followed up with "it's not a legal requirement in daylight". I told him that no, I didn't have one on the front, but i did have a rear flasher on as that's where I expected the danger to come from.
He didn't need to ask about hiviz as his evidence bag had the remains of the bright, fluorescent light green jersey i had been wearing that had been cut off me so the paramedics could get my heart restarted with the defibrillator.

The questions were asked as a gauge to contributory negligence on my behalf.

It had nothing to do with road safety, and everything to do with assessing how much to blame I was for being on the correct side of the road and in the wrong place at the wrong split second.

The more of us that have lights on in the daytime (while it is still not a legal requirement) , the more it will become contributory negligence for insurance companies to weasel out of paying you full dues should you need it.

At night, in a busy town or city, a single red solid light melts in to the background of twin bright sides, or sides and brakes.
I've found a solid and a pulse / flash is the better answer for both front and back - especially if the pulse is irregular as it will make it harder to zone out. You still get twats - but you'll always get twats and the best defense against them is an RPG ... however that are *slightly* illegal in the UK ...

DTRL ... I tend to use them only around rush hour when drivers attention may not be fully on the ball.
And the only reason is to reduce the risk of contributory negligence and has nothing to do with road safety.

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NotNigel | 1 year ago
0 likes

Just the same context of story to stir up the same response that the pedestrians in hi-vis story had a couple of days ago, and strangely it works.  Is there a specific term for when a word or phrase is used that often that it actually loses some of it's effect-gets watered down?  

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yupiteru | 1 year ago
1 like

The article mentions pedestrians and it brought to mind me watching 1967 and 1973 UK Govt public information films that were on TV at the time, encouraging pedestrians to wear or carry something light or use reflectives strips on bags, particularly at night.

'Wear Something Light at night' (1967) and 'White at night' (1973) are both UK Public Information Film that are available on youtube.

The point is victim blaming or not, it is definately not a new concept.

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marmotte27 replied to yupiteru | 1 year ago
4 likes

The 60s/70s were the zenith of road deaths. The measures that really helped to bring them down were not always as victim blaming as these campaigns, but tended to make motorists safer at the expense of everybody else.
There is one country though that managed to draw some correct conlusions from the situation. And it's to my knowledge the only one that still today does not resort to these constant victim blaming fests.

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Awavey replied to yupiteru | 1 year ago
2 likes

Get yourself seen...who didnt take a brush to their bike in the 70s  1 https://youtu.be/1MFuSMz1zh0

Strangely I dont remember it causing much of outburst of angst at the time.

the campaign has appeared on a couple of podcasts where the people/riders involved explain it a bit more, maybe worth a listen before dismissing the whole thing out of hand

as I kind of think Dr Davis is reacting to something the campaign isnt really trying to be.

do I run lights in the daytime, occasionally where I think theyll aid my visibilty more, does that mean Im being pragmatic or victim blaming myself ?

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giff77 replied to yupiteru | 1 year ago
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I still have my armband from school when they were tinkering with BST. Just reinforces the fact that the drivers of the 60's/70's needed as much help to see other road users as the motorists of the 21st century do today. 

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JN35000 | 1 year ago
2 likes

There's a nice survey of the causes of cycling accidents and ways of preventing them in this document from the French health service "ÉPIDÉMIOLOGIE DES ACCIDENTS DE VÉLO ET STRATÉGIES DE PRÉVENTION POUR LES ÉVITER" (https://www.santepubliquefrance.fr/content/download/225152/2481995?version=1). It's well worth a read if you can understand French or use online translation as it references academic articles from around the world. Somewhere in it, I read that lights and light-coloured clothing reduced accidents rates during daytime according to one study but they increased accident rates at night.
"Wearing a helmet, clothing that improves conspicuity, or greater experience in cycling would not protect against the occurrence of an accident (23, 54). We can nevertheless cite the work of Hagel et al. showing that light-colored clothes (OR=0.57 [0.32-0.99]) and the use of a light (OR=0.71 [0.52-0.97]) reduced the probability of occurrence of an accident in daytime traffic. In night traffic, red/yellow/orange clothing (OR=4.11 [1.06-15.99]) and the presence of a rear light (OR=2.54 [1.06-6, 07]) are accident risk factors. The authors justify this last point, which seems surprising, by hypothesizing that drivers underestimate the distance which separates them from the cyclist due to the presence of light which seems to them to be of low intensity (55)."
I get the impression that clothing and lights are not the first priority if you want to cut accident rates for cyclists; there are other more effective things to do. Still there is probably not too much harm in using daytime lights, if only to squarely place the blame on the motorist at fault.

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Muddy Ford | 1 year ago
3 likes

I agree lights should be on at all times. And helmets. And gloves. But that's from my 40yrs of city commuting, making me feel safer though I have no proof it ever did. I think the biggest safety improvement will come from proper punishment of dangerous drivers. Stop this nonsense 'warning letters'.

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Hirsute | 1 year ago
9 likes

It used to be that motor cyclists just had a light, then they stuck out. Now we have DRLs and cyclists need lights.
So everyone has lights but cyclists will be magically seen? It's just noise instead of certain users standing out.
Car led headlights make it worse as they are overbright and can be misaligned meaning it is hard to see ahead or see vulnerable users.
It's just becoming an unhelpful 'arms race '.

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grOg replied to Hirsute | 1 year ago
0 likes

It's been the norm for some time in Australia for racing cyclists in training to use lights at all times and is very common with commuter/utility cyclists as well; it's not controversial with Aussies that lights help with being seen by motorists, but then the Poms are stereotyped over here for being whingers..

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brooksby replied to grOg | 1 year ago
2 likes
grOg wrote:

It's been the norm for some time in Australia for racing cyclists in training to use lights at all times and is very common with commuter/utility cyclists as well; it's not controversial with Aussies that lights help with being seen by motorists, but then the Poms are stereotyped over here for being whingers..

Thats okay - we Poms have our stereotypes about the Australians too yes

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giff77 replied to grOg | 1 year ago
2 likes
grOg wrote:

It's been the norm for some time in Australia for racing cyclists in training to use lights at all times and is very common with commuter/utility cyclists as well; it's not controversial with Aussies that lights help with being seen by motorists, but then the Poms are stereotyped over here for being whingers..

Its pretty much the norm in the U.K. to run front and rear lights. Some more powerful than others. The issue is that motorists in the main are not paying attention to their environment and regardless of how visible you make yourself there will be some who are incapable of seeing you and even if they do they would rather bully you off the road. 

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ubercurmudgeon | 1 year ago
5 likes
Quote:

Be Bright Wear a Light is an independent movement led by professional cyclists and proudly supported by our good friends across the bike industry.

So... a lobby group funded by light manufacturers then.

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