When I read stories like this one, I wonder if my bicycle light giveaway experiment will have any value at all.
An 18-year-old teen struck a 21-year-old cyclist from behind at 12:45 a.m. Sunday in Wisconsin, throwing him up her car's windshield and killing him.
The report says that the driver, Quashae Taylor, is blind in one eye and needs corrective lenses or contacts, neither of which she was wearing. Taylor said she was travelling at 35 mph (the posted limit), due to the foggy conditions, when she took a cellphone call and closed her eyes as she said Hello. Then she hit something that she thought was a deer. A short distance on, she stopped and called for help.
Police found the body of Devin Kunich and a badly damaged bicycle. Taylor has been charged with one count of negligent homicide, and faces 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.
According to one report I read, Kunich was wearing dark clothing and had no lights on his bike. He did have reflectors: in his spokes (which would be visible from the side) and on his pedals (which are easily obscured by one's heel or pant cuffs).
So, based on this, I see Taylor beating this charge easily. That she has not been charged with any lesser offences means a judge or jury will have to decide whether to send an 18-year-old girl to jail for negligence, or set her free.
And in the reporting of the event, you can already see the defence position that this was not totally her fault: It was dark and foggy. The victim was dressed in dark clothing, riding an unlit bicycle. Circumstances and the actions of the victim contributed to this death, your honour, and so my client cannot be held responsible. Wrist slap and good luck.
I would lean the other way: motorist not wearing eyewear for driving, talking on a cellphone and speeding. Yes, I said speeding. She overtook a cyclist going the same direction. If Kunich was doing an easy 10 mph (16 km/h), then her impact speed was 25 mph (40 km/h). Is that enough to throw him up onto her windshield and "badly damage" his bike? According to the U.K.'s Living Streets program, the survivability rate of a car-pedestrian collision at 20 mph is 97 per cent. The odds are good that she was not doing the posted limit, in bad conditions. I'd rule for jail time.
To get back to my initial question, will bicycle lights make cyclists any safer at night? I've been handing out sets of BikeLits for the past few weeks. On the face of it, it sounds like the lights I'm dishing out would not have made a lick of difference in the case of a half-blind, near-sighted, cellphone-distracted teen driving at high speeds in foggy conditions. A cyclist would have had to mount a search light on the back of the bike.
Having said that, the people I have been stopping fall way short of being visible. Some of the people I have not stopped, simply because they were not visible to me until they had passed going the other way or up some side street. Of the people I have stopped, a few had reflectors on either front or back. Most were dressed in dark clothing. Not one person had any reflective material on their clothing. In several instances, the cyclists were riding along sidewalks and through crosswalks without apparently checking for traffic. One ran a stop sign; one ran a red light.
I hope that these little lights will make some kind of difference, but a change to night-time cycling behaviour will make the biggest difference. Wearing high-visibility clothing, being cautious around motor vehicle traffic. Doing the basics about signs and signals. Just assume that there is a motorist out there who, in the right circumstances, will kill you. And then change the circumstances so that is less likely to happen.