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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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PRSboy | 1 year ago
4 likes

I really hate this notion of 'victim blaming'.  Yes I get it that others have responsibility to not cause accidents or crimes, but you can tip the odds in your favour through your own behaviour.

It wouldnt be my fault if I walked through a dodgy area of town waving an expensive watch around and got mugged, but my behaviour contributed.

As a driver in dark or poor conditions I can see a cyclist or pedestrian who is using lights a lot better and sooner than one who isnt.

 

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marmotte27 replied to PRSboy | 1 year ago
4 likes

Yes, and the women in short skirts who get raped... /irony off.

You don't understand the first thing about victim blaming it appears. Have a read here for starters: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victim_blaming

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ShutTheFrontDawes | 1 year ago
0 likes

I think all road users, especially cars, should have lights on at all times.

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chrisonabike replied to ShutTheFrontDawes | 1 year ago
10 likes

And be looking where they're going (and in appropriate directions they will be moving in / lanes and paths they will be moving across).

I believe that "everyone with lights all the time" may help in some places but actually be counter-productive in others.

Where there is not much traffic / visual clutter, lights are important AND can make a lot of difference (be seen and *noticed*).  Lots of visual noise / road users?  More lights won't necessarily help - indeed can be adding to a problem.

The problem is not just "visibility" in physics terms - it's "salience".  Humans have only got so much attention; and once you've "seen" something you then have to prioritise and possibly keep track over time.  We can improve a bit via training and particularly experience but once you've got a certain number of moving lights to identify and prioritise you're overloaded.  (This is why not everyone can be an air-traffic controller, and marine collisions tend to happen more in busier seaways).  Additionally - we get tired.  We can't keep the same level of attention and the harder we have to concentrate the shorter we can do well at it.

Personally I find moving through areas with a lot of lights (say the centre of a city at night) quite a high cognitive load.  Much worse if busy - Christmas in town is stressful for several reasons!

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Simon E replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
1 like
chrisonatrike wrote:

Where there is not much traffic / visual clutter, lights are important AND can make a lot of difference (be seen and *noticed*).  Lots of visual noise / road users?  More lights won't necessarily help - indeed can be adding to a problem.

This is unfortunately true. The proliferation of DRLs and daytime use of dipped headlights means many things are less easily seen/perceived than they would otherwise.

Driving or cycling towards a string of cars, all with bright lights, it can be very difficult to see anything else such as a pedestrian about to cross the road. I've found that it also means that a cyclist within the string of traffic, or even in front of a single car with bright lights, can easily be missed, even by an attentive road user with good eyesight.

Riding with lights makes sense in some circumstances but is not a solution... though it will surely help sales of models that have heavily promoted 'daytime' modes.

But it seems that "I am doing the right thing, I ride with lights" is being pushed as the answer (which suggests that by riding without lights you are somehow negligent).

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Mybike replied to ShutTheFrontDawes | 1 year ago
1 like

In Canada all cars have DRL You can see the car from a much farther distance and it does reduce accident. Light my not be the answer but if it helps why not

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marmotte27 replied to Mybike | 1 year ago
3 likes

Did you actually read what @chrisonatrike has written?

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

I think all road users, especially cars, should have their eyes open at all times.

ftfy

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Velo-drone | 1 year ago
4 likes

As always, neither extreme of the argument is compelling. As I drove along a narrow country lane the other day in the dark, I encountered a pedestrian walking ahead. There were no pavements. I was not driving fast, but nevertheless I was actually glad that they were wearing a light on their back. It was genuinely helpful.

Day-time lights on bikes though is pointless. Drivers do not give you more passing space with lights on. Or with high vis. All you do is risk hitting night time with a dead battery.

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ktache replied to Velo-drone | 1 year ago
2 likes

I occasionally encounter horse riders in the dark on a bit of bridleway on my homeward commute.

You can get some crazy lights for horses.

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chrisonabike replied to ktache | 1 year ago
2 likes

Can you get lights for Crazy Horses though?

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jaysa replied to Velo-drone | 1 year ago
3 likes

"Day-time lights on bikes though is pointless. Drivers do not give you more passing space with lights on. Or with high vis." 
Agreed, but some drivers don't look carefully / don't look for bikes, and daytime flashy lights and high-vis help them not to collide with me ...

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Velo-drone replied to jaysa | 1 year ago
6 likes

You may feel that they help, but there's little to no evidence that they actually so.

The truth is that by far the greatest factor is that cyclists tend to be outside both the physical and mental line if vision that most drivers default to.

They tend to focus on the parts of rhe road that they expect to see cars in - and they tend to look for things that look like cars. So even if a cyclist in high vis and with a flashy light is there to be seen, it can simply not register in the brain because that's not what they're looking for.

Similar principle to the very famous video psychology experiment, where you watch a film of a basketball team and are asked to count how many times they pass the ball.

At the end you are asked if you saw the person in a gorilla suit walk in to the middle of the court and gurn straight at the camera. You watch it again and it's right there - but you didn't see it because your brain was focused on looking for something else. It's pretty perturbing.

Back to cyclists... you can have whatever kit you like, but until drivers learn to actively look for cyclists, their brains will still discount them even when they are right in front of their eyes.

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chrisonabike replied to Velo-drone | 1 year ago
4 likes

Yes.  In certain circumstances lights may be very helpful (not much distraction / mental load for driver; where a light would be highly salient in the visual environment).  However my last couple of would-have-been SMIDSYs were in daylight and for at least one I know the driver could physically see me.  Not because I had lights or hi-vis but because I was looking them in the eyes as I suddenly realised "nobody home".  Or rather "looking but not seeing" / "just not looking for 'cyclist' ".

I should add - I guess it was possible they were actually blind, or that the sun (on an overcast day) was reflecting off me and dazzling them...

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IanMSpencer replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
5 likes

I think we have the "looking but not seeing", but also we need to add to that the "seeing but not caring", or perhaps "seeing but not understanding" as I think there are two additional groups:

- the malign who see you, are confident that you won't hit them and vica-versa, but are guessing you are not suicidal to make that judgement, so they see it as acceptable to force you to avoid them;

- the incompetent, who really have no grasp of how cycling works, and how you need a bit more care to judge what they are doing because they are not cars and work differently.

I've had numerous examples of that, where a driver is baffled at having to deal with a cyclist or group of cyclists, and really don't know what to do, so they do stupid things, like overtaking a group of 12 cyclists with the outer 6 all sticking their hands out because the scenario is beyond their experience and they innovate.

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Mybike replied to Velo-drone | 1 year ago
0 likes

So your glad the pedestrian had a light because he was easier to see and helpful for you But you won't use one in your bike ? If it was helpful to you while you were driver won't it be helpful to other drivers too

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marmotte27 replied to Mybike | 1 year ago
3 likes

Again, do you actually read the comments on here? I mean all of them, not just those that confirm your view?

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matthewn5 replied to Velo-drone | 1 year ago
3 likes
Velo-drone wrote:

As always, neither extreme of the argument is compelling. As I drove along a narrow country lane the other day in the dark, I encountered a pedestrian walking ahead. There were no pavements. I was not driving fast, but nevertheless I was actually glad that they were wearing a light on their back.

The lesson to take from this is not 'wear lights', it's 'drive slower in the dark because there may well be a pedestrian/dog/cow without lights next time'.

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ktache replied to matthewn5 | 1 year ago
1 like

Don't forget those pesky fallen trees...

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AidanR | 1 year ago
2 likes

If this was a government campaign with broad marketing heard by all, then I agree it could be seen as victim blaming and possibly counter productive. But it's being led by pro riders, so it's clearly narrowly aimed at road cyclists.

Many riders massively underestimate daytime visibility issues. I've been out riding in fog, and seeing other riders emerging unlit from the mist left me feeling very concerned for the safety. More subtly, going into the shade of trees on a bright sunny day renders a rider almost invisible to those still in the sunshine.

Just because there's not evidence for daytime lights doesn't mean they're not beneficial. It most probably means it's not been studied.

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chrisonabike replied to AidanR | 1 year ago
7 likes
AidanR wrote:

If this was a government campaign with broad marketing heard by all, then I agree it could be seen as victim blaming and possibly counter productive. But it's being led by pro riders, so it's clearly narrowly aimed at road cyclists.

Hmm... I'd like to see it that way - and their website has mostly pictures of sports-folks, but it says exactly:

Be bright Wear a Light wrote:

Our mission is to reduce Global road cycling fatality and injury by empowering visibility behavior

Our vision is that all cyclists adopt the use of front and back lights at all times of day

My emphasis - seems to be pretty clear there.  All cyclists, always.

I hear you when you say people underestimate their visibility, but as we know for visibility to prevent e.g. a crash with a motor vehicle a) the driver has to be looking b) the driver has to be in control of their vehicle and ideally driving to conditions / carefully and in a few cases c) has to care.

That's a fair bit of circumstance outside your control.

AidanR wrote:

Just because there's not evidence for daytime lights doesn't mean they're not beneficial. It most probably means it's not been studied.

Au contraire - the campaign has at least linked some research.  It does appear to come from Australia though - not a country noted for either an excellent road safety record or (IMHO) a cyclist-positive outlook on the issue.  That ought to be entirely irrelevant of course... On the other side in the linked article the chair of the Road Danger Reduction Forum did a back-of-envelope calculation with stats he had + STATS-19 that in one London borough cycle crashes after dark which a factor of "Not displaying lights" was recorded were in the minority.

So it may not be cut-and-dried even for night.

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richliv replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
1 like

Australia was one of the first countries after Sweden to introduce DRL as "recommended" on the main highway from Sydney to Brisbane, when I lived there 89-90. Maybe they are extrapolating again. I was never convinced but today in UK, nearly everyone runs DRL on motorways. So not sure how unbiased the ř research really is there. I think for cyclists it is useful in rural areas but is probably not even noticed in towns.

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AidanR replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
0 likes
chrisonatrike wrote:

Hmm... I'd like to see it that way - and their website has mostly pictures of sports-folks, but it says exactly:

Be bright Wear a Light wrote:

Our mission is to reduce Global road cycling fatality and injury by empowering visibility behavior

Our vision is that all cyclists adopt the use of front and back lights at all times of day

My emphasis - seems to be pretty clear there.  All cyclists, always.

All cyclists on the road. But my point is that this is not a campaign that is aimed at the general public, it is aimed at "the cycling community". We're reading about this on a cycling website; nobody is reading about this in the Daily Mail.

chrisonatrike wrote:

I hear you when you say people underestimate their visibility, but as we know for visibility to prevent e.g. a crash with a motor vehicle a) the driver has to be looking b) the driver has to be in control of their vehicle and ideally driving to conditions / carefully and in a few cases c) has to care.

That's a fair bit of circumstance outside your control.

I can't control those things, but I can control my visibility. I've run daytime lights for years for this reason. Why would I not? Why are we even arguing about this?

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

I've run daytime lights for years for this reason. Why would I not? Why are we even arguing about this?

Because you are not interested in the other point of view. You are convinced you are right.

It's like a cycle helmets v2.0. People are not saying you shouldn't use lights but that they are not necessarily the solution to cyclist road casualties. We know this already. For example, Jeremy Vine posts frequent videos of being cut up etc by drivers even though he runs lights with a really bright pulse mode.

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IanMSpencer replied to Simon E | 1 year ago
1 like

I think that needs qualification. Using lights in poor conditions is highly recommended. The case we are debating is lighting in reasonable visibility.

And perhaps there is a disconnect here between the requirements of urban daytime riding and rural riding, where many experienced riders can attest to the visibility problems caused on shaded lanes.

Let's not over-egg the arguments one way or another. Knowing humans are incompetent observers by design, there are a broad set of conditions where lighting could be beneficial. I would certainly recommend habitually using lights. That being said, the majority of cyclists are reasonably visible in most conditions, and insisting on lighting up in those conditions doesn't seem right, much as lighting cars is not mandatory for cars outside the construction regs for daylight running, and the long term inability of the lawyers to define poor light for headlight use.

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

I think that needs qualification. Using lights in poor conditions is highly recommended.

I'll switch my lights on in the day if it's raining or foggy or crepuscular, but I wouldn't bother if it's basically daylight. If they can't see me, or notice me, in daylight then they have no business being on the road, IMO.

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

I'll switch my lights on in the day if it's raining or foggy or crepuscular,......

One of my favourite words, crepuscular, if only because of the insult "crepuscular intelligence" which most of the people it is aimed at take as a compliment.

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Hirsute replied to IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
3 likes

I never imagined using lights in the daytime until lockdown and then being stuck wfh. I then did my trips at lunchtime to discover in winter that on the NSL to get home, when it was bright and sunny and low in the sky, the road would line up with the sun. I then decided at my age that I was too risk adverse not to have a rear light at that time of year on my way home.

I'm still concerned that there are too many lights on the roads, reducing the ability for a cyclist to stand out and I'm with brooksby on "If they can't see me, or notice me, in daylight then they have no business being on the road".

 

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IanMSpencer replied to Hirsute | 1 year ago
0 likes

Indeed, there are roads I am very reluctant to ride on at certain times of day. We know motorists adopt a "hope based on experience" approach to driving in such conditions. We had a fatality last year where a cyclist was knocked off by one driver then driven over by a later car, which was almost certainly attributable to driving without consideration to the possible hazards when driving into the sun. In such cases, a rear light can't compete with the blinding effect of sun shining from below a sun visor.

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

I've run daytime lights for years for this reason. Why would I not? Why are we even arguing about this?

Because you are not interested in the other point of view. You are convinced you are right.

It's like a cycle helmets v2.0. People are not saying you shouldn't use lights but that they are not necessarily the solution to cyclist road casualties. We know this already. For example, Jeremy Vine posts frequent videos of being cut up etc by drivers even though he runs lights with a really bright pulse mode.

I'm always interested in different points of view. If you can give me a convincing argument why I shouldn't run daytime lights then I'm all ears.

I get it, running daytime lights is not a panacea for road safety. I'm not suggesting that they should be compulsory.

It's perfectly possible to lobby governments and council's for big, systemic changes such as better infrastructure and lower speed limits, whilst at the same time suggesting to cyclists steps that they can personally take on each ride to make it a bit less likely that they are killed.

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