Compulsory High Viz Vests Debate – RCA View

The RCA opposes the unilateral suggestion of making high viz cycling vests compulsory for cyclists. If the proposal were to be significantly modified to effectively address the points below then we might review our opinion. See below under ‘Alternatives’

In the meantime we wish to give some reasons why the RCA opposes what many people might argue is a simple, sensible solution to reducing cycling deaths.  

High viz vest wearing is not something we would in any way discourage for those cyclists who might choose to wear one.  It possibly gives them additional confidence that they can be easily seen and therefore they feel safer – I even did this when I was starting out too. However it seems to be the non-sports training rider, commuter or casual cyclist who favours them.

One of the Strongest Arguments Against Vests
Most cyclists already wear bright clothing and it doesn’t stop us being hit.

Other Reasons – Rider Comfort
This is not the biggest issue but is worth stating. The first thing most us would think of is that such vests would have a significantly negative impact on our rider comfort, performance and enjoyment of the cycling experience. Thus we think it could have some measurably negative impact on the number of people wanting to take up cycling as a health and recreational activity.
Having said that it’s not as though we are too stupid to think for ourselves.  A huge number of us already wear our ultra bright fluorescent yellow jackets in poor weather conditions uncomfortable as they are.
We also encourage people to wear bright clothing at all other times and not to dress as ‘Ninja Cyclists’ in a black kit.

Motorist Attitudes
A huge issue is that mandatory high viz vests for cyclists would subtly and unavoidably label us second class road users sending other road users the message that we shouldn’t really be there – a bit like motorway road workers.  Such a view has always dogged cycling and it is this attitude the RCA specifically aims to overcome.  Reinforcing any negative view of cyclists significantly negates the vast number of existing local body, government sport and cycling initiatives in the community aimed at normalising cycling as part of our everyday lives.
We have mandatory helmets, seatbelts and sensible modifications to all vehicles such as lights front and back to add to safety but forcing people to wear a uniform on their bodies would be stigmatic, erode civil liberty, and would be a huge backward step.

While on one hand we are defined as ‘vehicular’ road users who must comply with all road rules, it smacks of inconsistency and inequity that on the other hand we might have to wear special clothing while other road users such as motorcyclists wouldn’t be required to wear such gear, nor compulsory padded leather suits for that matter. Furthermore I seriously doubt motorists would ever be required to drive fluorescent orange cars so cyclists and pedestrians could see them more easily nor would they be required to wrap their vehicles in foam rubber so they represent less danger to others. Suggesting compulsory high viz vest wearing for cyclists is just as silly.

So why do we think helmets are OK, but  not high viz vests?  What’s the difference and are we being inconsistent ourselves?
The Distinction is a ‘direct’ vs ‘indirect’ argument essentially.
With helmet wearing the cyclist is directly protecting themselves in the same way a seatbelt protects a motorist – it is within the cyclist’s control to protect him or herself and directly for the cyclist’s own personal good. The head is just too important to take such risk with when there is such a simple step available to directly improve its protection exponentially –even if in some accidents we would all concede  it may make no difference.
There is also good consistency in cyclists wearing helmets, motorcyclists wearing crash helmets and motorists wearing seat belts – all are examples of direct action for self protection.
With a vest  there is no direct protection to the rider in wearing one in itself – there is only a vague notion that wearing one will indirectly change the behaviours of other road users. However not even road signs, traffic lights, or speed limits manages to achieve behavioural change in irresponsible drivers so how would simply wearing a bright vest achieve this?
Behaviours influence other behaviours and that is what the RCA is all about – respect engenders respect – awareness comes from encouraging caring attitudes towards others  – not from a law.
There has to be some room for personal choice here too . If it gives some riders comfort to wear a vest that’s fine – they can wear them.( Similar to the freedom of latitude we support with regard to wearing helmets – see our helmet comment)

Does any evidence exist that proves such a decree would make any long term difference to the statistics of road rage incidents, near misses, or even deaths in order to justify such a huge potential negative trade off in attitudes to cyclists?

Finally you will notice in my opening sentence I said ‘unilateral’ compulsory vest wearing and that we might change our view if the concept was better defined.
The idea of a ‘vest’ comes from the fact that such items are in use in industrial settings already and too easy for non cyclists to point to such vests as a solution. Unfortunately it is a simplistic idea and lacks real thought.
However the concept may have an element of merit. Perhaps we could improve visibility through use of reflective additions to our cycling kit.
The RCA hopes to incorporate 3M reflective piping sewn into the seams of our lycra kit much like the reflective tape on a runner’s shoe. This is already on offer from the manufacturers and as it may not add huge cost to the garments it seems from our early inquiries to be a possible option.

Mandatory high viz vest wearing appears to be a flawed and horrendously simplistic approach to improving cycling safety and almost always seems to come from non-cyclists who might have good intentions but who are out of touch with cycling as a recreational sport and community activity.
Some might argue that the RCA approach to long term cycling safety through promoting mutual respect, understanding, tolerance and friendliness between cyclists and all other road users is idealistic, simplistic or even utopic but leading sociologists and  psychologists support the view that cultural or attitudinal change in a society is the only genuine and long lasting solution where there is the potential for on-going friction. 


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