Sunday, September 16

Mirrored Reflections on Safety

Wasn't ONE Enough?
My recent post discussed the ways in which mirrors are used and how they might help reduce bad things within the safety pyramid. On my birthday, I received not one, but TWO new mirrors (don’t ask me to explain this), and I’ll start using one of them shortly. I also purchased a new headlight. All of this, in combination, prompted me to ponder two different safety elements; namely that of primary safety and secondary safety, and how they play against notions that might just reflect imagined safety aspects.

Primary safety consists of the things that are really IMPORTANT in keeping you safe. These include things like riding in the same direction as traffic, using a legal headlight and a tail light or reflector at night, not violating the right of way of other people, riding where you can be seen and so on. These primary safety actions are the main riding emphasis in Bike Ed, whether we’re talking about the Bike League curricula, CAN Bike, or Cycling Savvy. Many people violate these principles daily and over long periods of time without ever getting hurt. All that proves is cycling IS fun and safe. Such people are, however, disproportionally represented in the small fraction of people on bikes that DO get seriously hurt or killed. The new headlight I got was a primary safety item. It replaces my backup for “the flamethrower.”

Secondary safety consists of things that many swear by, and others swear at, but they represent a lesser increment of safety over doing the “primary” things right. In the secondary safety category fall things like high visibility clothing, helmets, and MIRRORS. Those that ride against traffic, in the dark, shoot stop signs without looking while wearing a high visibility vests and helmets with mirrors are, IMO, cousins to those asking for a diet drinks with a “supersized” fast food meals. Some know I’m not a cheerleader for secondary safety items. Yes, I wear a helmet on my daily commute. Yes, I wear high visibility clothing if it is what I pull off the shelf – and if everything else is equal, I’ll pick new items with better visibility when I make purchasing choices.
I’ll use this mirror, at least for a while, because it has the potential to provide supplemental situational awareness to me. I DON’T believe that it enables me to ride somewhere in the lane I couldn’t ride without one. I DON’T believe a mirror will enable me to predictably influence the behavior of any road users behind me, nor that it would give me warning if I were about to be run down. My dear departed mirror used flat glass and gave a pretty good view of things. My new mirror is different, and I’m not sure that’s a good or a bad thing. The new mirror has a convex surface and is made of plastic. We shall see. How much secondary safety is enough? I think that is up to the individual and I am reluctant to criticize anybody who chooses to step back from the “I can do more so I MUST do more” mindset – or someone who WANTS that little extra edge. I guess I rate primary safety a lot more importantly than secondary safety, but as long as one isn’t confused for the other, I think both are just fine and probably good.                              
One commenter noted the defense attorney in a trial implied that a mirror is a bike safety item. As you can see from the above, I agree that it CAN BE a safety item. I also agree that wearing a Snell rated helmet is a safety item for a motorist, turning the radio off is a safety item for a motorist, and refraining from texting while driving is a safety item. In truth, few motorists would disagree the items I’ve ticked off CAN add to their safety. However, most would consider such as requirements to be UNREASONABLE. And, by and large, I’d agree with them. Where I get a burr under my saddle is that these same motorists (like that defense lawyer) are sometimes perfectly happy imagining that secondary safety items ought to be necessary for cyclists, or that their omission should represent negligence more than failure of a motorist to wear a Snell 2000 helmet (a requirement in Jaguar Club autocross). These things often get confused in the “safety advice for cyclists” you read in newspapers and pamphlets. Sometimes REASONABLE depends on your perspective.


John Romeo Alpha said...

Mirrors seem to me like a reasonable secondary safety addition. Haven't found any that I love yet though. Looking forward to your reviews of these. At least, until I can get one of those new Cadillac buzzing safety seats to warn me that a texter behind me is lane drifting right toward me.

RANTWICK said...

I think that you make a pretty important ditinction there... good post. I just posted something on running a rear blinkie in the day time, which I would put in the Secondary safety column, but which I now deem worth doing.

cafiend said...

I can't use those groovy roadie mirrors because of my ultra-groovy bar-end shifters.

greatpumpkin said...

I have dual mirrors on my recumbent trike, on which they are helpful--though not a substitute for looking over my shoulder. I've had less success finding mirrors that fit and work well on my bikes. I have an old road bike with Suntour Barcons, and a Dahon with MTB type 24" wide nearly-flat bars with bar ends. As for old sports cars, on my Morgan I have a left side door mirror but no right side mirror. I am often asked why I have only one--I say it's because one on the right on that car wouldn't help much with seeing anything behind it.

Khal said...

Good posts. There is a picture somewhere from Dan Guiterrez about the layers of safety concept. I'd like to post that along side your pyramid of accident visual aid and save a lot of words.

Jon Spangler said...

Well said, indeed!

Jon Spangler
League Cycling Instructor #3175
Alameda CA

Anonymous said...

Yes, mirrors are probably a secondary addition, but whenever I have been out without one, I acutely feel the lack.

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