Conspicuity

ConspicuityIt was dark.  It was early.  I was tired.  In fact, I was barely awake as I drove my car out of my subdivision that very early Wednesday morning.  There weren’t any streetlights nearby.  Despite my sleepiness, I was in a hurry.

As I came to a stop at the highway bordering my neighborhood, I gave a quick look to the left in a routine search for headlights.  Incredibly, I didn’t see the young man on his mountain bike crossing directly in front of me from my left to the right.  I hit the gas.  Fortunately, he caught my eye at the last possible moment before impact.  Sensing his fate, he swerved into the highway to avoid me.  It was enough for me to avoid catastrophe.

I learned a lesson that day that I thought I already knew: Always be on the lookout for bikes and motorcycles.  Assume them nearby.  Anticipate them.  As a personal injury attorney, I have seen more than my share of horrific accident photos.  In my thirty-year career, I have reviewed countless medical records of clients who have suffered life-changing injuries.  I should have known better.

I was tired: STRIKE ONE.

It was dark: STRIKE TWO.

I was in a hurry: STRIKE THREE.

Lesson learned.  Every day since that almost-crash, I have taken better care as I exit my neighborhood.  I come to a complete stop and carefully, I look for everything and anything that might be crossing my path.

I recall seeing the terror in that young man’s eyes as I braced for impact.  Perhaps he learned a lesson that day as well:  He could have done more to make his presence more obvious.

Believe it or not, there’s a science dedicated to “conspicuity,” especially as it relates to vehicles on the highway.  “Conspicuity” entails the extent to which an object is visible; that is, how obvious it is.  “Looked-but-failed-to-see” accidents often involve bicycle versus car.  That’s where the driver looked in the direction of the bicyclist, but somehow did not see him or her.  Many times, these accidents even involve experienced drivers.  So, how conspicuous was that young man as he peddled along that dark moonless morning?  Not very.

There are measures a bicyclist should take before each ride, whether it’s in the darkness of night or in broad daylight:

  • Wear a reflective bicycle helmet.
  • Wear bright reflective clothing.
  • Equip the bike with a headlight.
  • Equip the bike with front and rear reflectors.
  • Equip the bike with blinking lights, especially red or white.

According to the International Association of Traffic and Safety Sciences (“IATSS”), only 31% of bicycle fatalities occur when it is dark outside.  Of course, other factors play a part, including the layout of the road and traffic conditions, but those precautions can certainly help.  IATSS even recommends wearing a fluorescent or high visibility jacket and other bright colored accessories to increase bicyclist conspicuity and safety at night.  These measures are less effective in daylight, but can still make a bicycle more obvious on the road at any time.

Undoubtedly, any of these measures would have made that young man more obvious to me and any other driver on the road that memorable morning.  Using all of them would have been even better.

According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, 2020 saw 5,919 bicycle crashes in Florida.  Of these, 157 resulted in loss of life.  How many could have been avoided by taking simple measures to increase conspicuity?

March is Florida Bicycle Month.  With the increase in bicycle enthusiasm due to the worldwide pandemic and the great weather we expect to see as winter makes way for spring here in Florida, we at Perenich Law would like to “shine the light” on bicycle safety.

Stay safe out there.

Timothy B. Perenich, Esquire

Contact our Tampa Bay Bicycle Accident Attorneys today.

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