Tuesday, November 16

Hazards in the Dark

I think most readers of this blog are familiar with the term “Ninja;” referring to a cyclist riding in the dark without lighting. Recently, I’ve encountered many runners, joggers, and walkers in the dark, some of whom run in the roadway without lights or reflective equipment of any sort, and some who run on multi-use paths. Certainly, these are at less risk than a cyclist doing the same thing – humans have the capability of jumping sideways while a bike is constrained by its wheels, but a runner near the edge of the road, might well be missed by other road users.

As a cyclist, I have a duty of due care towards these pedestrians, just as a motorist would have. The motorist also has a duty of due care towards me. The peculiar thing is that it is illegal for me to operate my bike in the dark on roadways without lighting, while it is fine for a pedestrian to do so. Supposing a motorist collided with me when I was operating my bike without that equipment; the motorist would probably (and, IMO, correctly) attempt to claim I was partially responsible even if I technically had the right of way. In the recent Reed Bates trials, without any supporting evidence at all, the prosecutor attempted to claim that Reed was at risk because bike lights are “harder to see.” Can that same claim be made when a legally operating (but unlit) pedestrian gets hit? Certainly, that pedestrian would be easier to see if he/she were carrying lights. If you cross a street, without lights attached to your body, and get hit, are YOU partly at fault because you COULD have brought lights along? After all, the unlit pedestrian is no easier to see than the unlit cyclist. If so, taking that logic further, would pedestrian or cyclist failure to utilize other, available, non-mandatory safety equipment like High Vis clothing and a helmet reduce the motorist’s responsibility? Would a pedestrian’s choice of the road over the adjacent sidewalk reduce the motorist’s liability and obligation to exercise due care? It seems to me that this is a slippery slope, but it is the same slippery slope the prosecutor started down when she prosecuted Reed Bates for reckless driving for not riding on a shoulder legally available to him, but not mandatory…


Hugh said...

Hey Steve,
Interesting article, good food for thought.
If anyone is interested, the Nathan clip-on l.e.d.
safety strobe is 6.95 on Amazon. If you want to purchase it with the Jog-a Lite it is 16.91 for both. A small price to pay to make yourself more visible when Walking or Jogging or Rollerblading.
These could also be used to enhance your current bicycle lighting system.

Anonymous said...

Up here in Vancouver, when its both rainy and dark, its double trouble and a lot of pedestrians who don't drive or ride bikes (and thus "don't get it") tend to wear dark clothing and carry a dark umbrella. Its nuts. When you see some reflective coating or someone trying to be visible you cheer, even if its to yourself. Some very smart dog walkers are starting to put mini bike lights onto their dogs' collar and/or leash, and that helps a lot too. Otherwise, you may sight the pedestrian but have no idea they are out walking their dog.

John Romeo Alpha said...

As a cyclist I think it's my responsibility to employ the brightest lights possible which enable me to see non-reflective items, people, pets and cyclists in my path at night. Also, to use them so that motorists and other cyclists see me. Candlepower forums can give you all the info you need to match your needs and financial situation to the right light, so I'm not sure what the downside is to riding at night with lights so bright they make people squint and laugh. If I can spot a roving toddler wearing a black caterpillar costume at 100m, the light is about right.

Trevor Woodford said...

Hi Steve
Some good points made in this posting.
I think that it is important for every road user to take responsibility to be seen and be seen. Although even when I have been dressed all in Hi-Viz and my bike lit up like a Christmas tree there have been occasions when I have not been seen and almost squashed or knocked off.

Rat Trap Press said...

I once came across a collision between walkers and a poorly lit cyclist once. Because of that I carry a flashlight with me when I (occasionally) jog at night.

Here's my post about the incident:

Apertome said...

Living in a college town, I very frequently encounter pedestrians and people on bikes without lights. I am very vigilant and pay attention to such things, but sometimes even I can't see them. Not a safe situation!

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