You Need to Watchout for Me!
© Dec 2012 by P.A. Stuart
Updated July 2, 2018

Before I go into my rant, let me say that throughout this paper, you can interchange cyclist with pedestrian, or vice versa, unless I’m specifically referring to an event. I looked at various titles, for example, Safety is Boring Until….

“You Need to Watch Out for Me,” seems to be what most people feel and expect. It’s a real shame that this attitude pervades our society these days. You can see it everywhere in the behavior and manners, or lack of, that people exhibit in their interaction with others. I cannot count the number of times a cyclist/pedestrian has crossed in front of me without looking, while my vehicle was still in motion. Their attitude seems to say, “I dare you to hit me; I have the right-of-way.”

It was mid-November 2011, around 5 PM and getting dark. Seeing in general was difficult and most cars had their headlights on. I was on my way to do some shopping on a main thoroughfare that had a speed limit of 55 mph, when I noticed a dark figure up-a-head that appeared to be moving. It was a cyclist. He was very difficult to see because all his clothing were dark colors that blended in with the background darkness. His bike did not have proper lights or any reflectors. From a novice I would expect this, however from a rider that appeared experienced it is truly unacceptable.

When I see cyclists that don’t take necessary safety precaution; it never fails to make me angry. As I passed him, I had a strong urge to roll down my window a yell at him, For an experienced rider you’re a real moron, why don’t you wear proper nighttime clothing and fit your bike with lights and reflectors.

The worst case I experienced of a, “You Need to Watch Out for Me,” occurred one night when I went for takeout dinner. As I was leaving a small mall parking lot, I approached the sidewalk slowly and stopped just before crossing it. I was turning right to enter the flow of traffic. It was late at night, very dark, the street lighting was poor, and there was no moon light. When I saw a break in traffic, I checked my right to see if anyone was on the sidewalk. I checked to be sure traffic was clear and lifted my foot off the break. The car began to move slowly forward and just before I moved my foot to the accelerator, a cyclist sped by in front of me; he gave me a dirty look. I quickly reapplied the brake and froze with fear. I was very thankful I hadn't hit him. After several minutes, I regained my composure and tried again. I was successful and proceeded on my way. Once I settled down, I reviewed what had happened. I realized that I was not at fault. If the cyclist had been one second later, literally one second, I would have hit him, or he would have crashed into the car. And it would have been his fault. The cyclist did several wrong things:

Most important, he didn't check to see if I saw him before crossing in front of me. He was wearing dark clothing, not one item was light colored. He did not have any lights. He was riding on the sidewalk. He was traveling in the wrong direction.

I know that he felt that I was responsible by the way he looked back at me and gestured. If I would have hit him, I believe the police would not have cited me for any wrong doing and it is not likely he would have collected anything. Even though he was completely wrong, I know it would have haunted me for a long time, probably the rest of my life, if I had hit him.

I’m not sure but I believe that California law require bikes to be equipped with proper lighting if use on streets, roads, and highways. That bikes should be ridden in bike the lane in the same direction as traffic. I suspect this is the case in most states, however, it just good safety practices.

Another example of, “You Need to Watch Out for Me.” I was getting ready to turn into our street, as we returned home from dinner. It was after 6:00 pm, Feb 2012, and dark outside. The corner I was turning at is poorly lit. I began to slow from 35 mph.

I saw a man walking toward my corner, in the same direction I was going. He was dressed in dark colors and very difficult to see. He was about ten feet from the corner and we were on a collision course. I know I would have hit him had I been distracted and not seen him. He stepped into the street without looking or hesitation. It wasn't until he was in front of us that my wife asked, where did he come from? Had I not been paying attention, been intoxicated, texting, or otherwise distracted, I surely would have hit him. I know it is my responsibility to yield in this case to a pedestrian. Common sense should tell us that we should always look before crossing.

Please don’t misunderstand me here. I am not trying to take the responsibility away from a vehicle driver. My point is: While in the overwhelming number of cases the vehicle driver is probably at fault, it just doesn’t matter who’s at fault, if the rider ends up crippled or dead. I would bet that people injured in an accident would give up any settlement to have their lives back the way it was before the accident.

Here’s another example: As we were leaving the coffee shop parking lot on our way to an appointment, a bicyclist, oblivious to our car leaving and dressed in hard to see clothing, sped by us without a hint of concern. Had I been doing any one of the things that drivers do that distracts themselves, like—talking or texting on a cell phone, smoking, eating, putting on makeup (I don't use makeup), reading, or a myriad of other things that would shift a driver’s attention, I might well have interfered with the cyclist and cause an accident. Yes, I would be at fault, however, I would not have received any physical injury as he might well have. Cars get damaged, minimal, and riders get injured. If I caused him to swerve into traffic, he might have been killed or very seriously injured.

I remarked to my wife, that I thought the cyclist was stupid. He took no precautions (defensive riding) to avoid being hit, e.g., look at the driver to see if the driver sees you. Further, he was wearing dark colors that blended with the surrounding, even in broad daylight which is was, and did not have any warning lights—front or rear. I have seen riders with bright blinking lights on the front of their bikes, which makes them standout and easily seen—from a long way off. The front light is particularly valuable when a driver is making a left turn. My wife concurred, adding a few comments and off we went. My wife returned to working on the daily crossword puzzle. I began to think about how we all do dumb things and still manage to survive, although there are quite a few who don't. Visit “The Darwin Awards Site,” to see just how stupid some people can be.

While thinking, I flashed back to when I was doing my graduate work in business administration. One of my classes required that we write a paper and make a presentation on a topic of choice—I chose safety. After the presentation, the other students were given a sheet to fill out that critiqued the presenter. The only negative comment I can remember receiving was, “Safety is such a boring topic.”

As I thought about the comment made many years ago. I had to agree, safety is boring. You present a multitude of statistics and a list of do this or don’t do that, blah, blah, blah. It’s hard to find something funny in preventing injury or death. So, if I were to present that paper again I would change my approach. To begin with, I would title it, “Safety is Boring, Until...” Like the title would be now, “Safety is Boring, Until…, your one of those people above that I might have missed seeing and seriously injured or killed.

While I was watching the evening news there was one segment about a cyclist that was killed in an accident. The reporter was interviewing a few cyclists that were in a club that was protesting riding conditions in a particular area. I got angry at how many of the riders were dress “Unsafely” and how many of the bikes were lacking proper safety gear. It is easy to see the absence of lights and reflectors. What is really upsetting is that this was an organized club, a group of experienced riders. I wonder if any bike club has a position for overseeing safety in its group or even provides its members with safety guidance?

Dec 10, 2012: On the evening News it was reported that cyclists killed in accidents has risen to nine percent. When I watched the report I immediately thought, “How many of the drivers said, I didn’t see him or her.” For reference a car traveling at twenty-five mph will cover eighteen feet in one half second. Twenty-five is a typical city street speed limit. On main streets, divided thoroughfares and highways the speed limit is higher thereby increasing stopping distance.

There is a saying, “Never point an unloaded gun at anyone.” I would add, “Always, always take every safety measure you can.” It is an unfortunate reality of the times that, 24/7, vehicle drivers are frequently tired, distracted by a multitude of things that they shouldn’t be doing or are impaired because of things they shouldn’t have done. Add in darkness and the affect is compounded.

The first and most important thing to do is to change our attitude to, “I need to lookout for myself.” Don’t expect the other guy to lookout for you, they’re just too busy worrying about themselves. If you going to ride you should at a minimum:

Make sure the bike’s mechanical systems are operating properly. Check the brakes to make sure they work. The wheels are aligned, and tires are inflated to the correct pressure. The seat and handle bars are set at the correct position. That moving parts are working properly and are lubricated. And that the bike is structurally sound.

The bike has proper safety equipment. Front light that has a steady beam for night travel and a flashing mode for daytime. A rear red light; one that flashes is more eye catching to a driver. In both cases, front and rear, the bigger, the brighter, the better. Reflectors—front, rear, and on the sides. If you are allowing a child to ride, add a flag to the rear—one that is on a pole. Appropriate mirrors. If available, side amber lights. There are lights that attach to the tire valve stem that light when the wheel is spinning—they’re very eye catching.

Dress properly. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, wear bright colors and one of the highly visible construction type vests that has reflective strips on it. A vest doesn’t add much weight, cause any movement restrictions, or cost very much. Wear a helmet.

When crossing in front or behind a vehicle, make sure the driver sees you. Look them in the eye.

Obey the rules.

Remember, don’t expect the other guy to be looking out for you; you need to look out for you. Ride defensively.

Again, don’t expect others to look out for you – you need to look out for yourself. Take the necessary precautions. Yes, safety is boring until you’re a victim, someone you care about gets hurt or you injure someone. When you drive, check out just how difficult it is to see a rider that is dress in dark clothing without lights – day or night. Ask yourself when did you first catch sight of the rider and was the rider easy or difficult to see?

Regardless, if we walk, ride, drive, or whatever we do, we should think about doing it safely. In general, “Safety is Boring, Until…”:

You're the mother that left a child in a car to run into a store for a few moments only to return an hour later to find the child died of heat exhaustion. It happens more than occasionally.

You are the captain of a small sailboat that took a group of people out for a tour and the boat capsized and two people die. The boat was possibly overloaded and the two that died did not have life jackets. This story was reported on the San Diego, CA evening news March 28, 2011.

You're the foreman or manager of a project requiring trenching and you decide to skip the side plating that prevents a collapse; which is required by OSHA. The sides fall in and kill a worker. You end up being prosecuted and sent to prison for criminal negligence. True story.

I could provide more than a hundred personal examples, I mean those that I investigated or happened where I worked. And I'm not exaggerating. On the news, March 29, 2011, they reported that traffic deaths were the lowest since 1949, when they began recording that data. The report further went on to say that it was largely due to air bags, seat belts, and better engineering. I guess the accident rate remained the same or is still growing. They hope to make more improvements to bring down the current thirty-thousand highway fatalities annually. That about 82 per day. I would guess that the injury rate per day for all accidents is in the thousands.

Most costs that are not directly related to production or performance are considered “sunk costs,” necessary but will yield no returns. Included in these costs are human resources, purchasing, payroll, administration, training, safety, etc. Of all these costs only two will end up paying for themselves—training and safety. Without discussion, at this time, proper training will increase performance/production and hence profits or service. In the book “Smart Training,” the writer points out that in studies of profits before and after, substantiated that the profit increase after training were greater than the cost of the training.

I continually hear on the news and read report of numerous pedestrian and bicycle accidents. I wonder how many could be avoided if the pedestrian or cyclist took precautions to prevent them. As I’ve said before, don't misunderstand me, vehicle drivers are responsible for at least half of them. However, pedestrians and cyclist are the ones that get hurt.

I was on my morning run, Feb 2012, when I was about 10 feet from a driveway, when I noticed that the truck parked there was running and that it's backup lights were on. So, I pause and jogged in-place and waited to see what would happen. Without any apparent hesitation the vehicle began to backup and had I continued would certainly been hit. It was obvious that the driver did not check to see if anyone or other traffic was coming. The truck windows were fogged over and even if the driver were to look he would not have been able to see me.

Feb 15, 2012, on the NBC news at 6:00 pm there was a video report of a woman walking in a mall parking lot during a substantial rain. The woman was crossing an open parking space, when a car began to pull in and it pushed her aside. She wasn't hurt. What I noticed was that the woman was wearing dark clothing, hard to see in general, and carrying a dark umbrella. She did not appear to be alert or looking around. The driver stated that he did not see her, although he did see the parking space. Makes me wonder about his driving ability. It was fortunate that the vehicle was moving slowly and that the woman had all but finished passing the space.

My point is, "How many people could have avoided getting killed or injured if they looked to make sure a vehicle is actually going to stop before they crossed in front of it?"

Things pedestrians should do:

Wear easily seen clothing. At night wear a reflective strip of material and carry a flash light.

Walk facing traffic if there is no sidewalk.

Look, and look again to be sure it is safe to cross.

Make sure a vehicle is going to stop or give you the right-of-way. Not all drivers are attentive or courteous. There are a myriad of reasons a driver will not stop when they're supposed to. Being right is not as important as being alive and uninjured.

Make eye contact with drivers that might cross your path of travel, e.g. when your walk in front, behind or alongside.

Things cyclist should do:

Ride defensively.

Wear bright, easily seen colors with reflective strip.

Have all recommended lights and reflectors. Lights and reflectors should be visible from all sides. A rear flashing red light should be used day and night. In the front a bright white light -- steady at night and flashing during the day.

When crossing a street make sure it is clear and that drivers making turns see you. Always make eye contact with a driver that could impede your travel.

It cannot be said enough, “Don’t expect others to look out for you – you need to look out for yourself.” Take all the necessary precautions. Yes, safety is boring until you’re a victim, someone you care about gets hurt or you injure someone.

Let me end this by asking you to do something. When you drive, make some observations. Check out just how difficult it is to see a rider that is dress in dark clothing without lights—day or night. Ask yourself, When did you first catch sight of the rider and was the rider easy or difficult to see.

Oops, one last note: March 28th, 2013, I saw a rider that had a relatively large triangular group of lights mounted on the rear of his bike. It consisted of one red above two orange. The lights were about three inches in size, LEDs and bright. The red one was flashing. It turns out the orange ones were turn signal lights. He also had on a helmet and wore bright colors; it made my day.