Why All Cars Should Be Hi-Viz, Drivers Should Wear Helmets and Car Radios Should Be Banned

Screen capture. 7 News Boston

"If it only saves one life..."

After seeing this news article on Twitter (thanks, Bikeyface), a lot of cycling and walking activists got cute and started asking the usual questions that are asked every time a cyclist or pedestrian gets hit: “Was the car wearing hi-viz? Why are they allowed out in grey and black?” or

Everyone was joking, sort of. Because it is a question that has always bothered me. Why is there this double standard? When it comes to the mandatory helmet debate, cyclists are often told, “If it saves just one life...” then it’s worth it.

But that standard is never applied to drivers and cars, even if there is research to back it up. For example:


lime prius

© Toyota

Studies have shown that lime yellow is the most visible colour; that’s why so many fire departments have switched to it. Black is by far the worst: “One study concluded that black cars are 47% more likely to be involved in road accidents than vehicles of other colours.” One study noted:

Optometrists note that, for its high visibility, lime yellow should be used by fire and rescue teams, as well as favoured by trucks and car buyers. Lime yellow falls in the middle of the color spectrum (Schuman 1991).

The numbers are significant; another study looked at white cars vs dark coloured cars:

The association between vehicle colour and crash risk was strongest during daylight hours where relative crash risks were higher for the colours listed compared to white by up to around 10%.”

Toronto police car

Police car in Toronto/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

And yet so many people complain that pedestrians shouldn’t wear black, while nobody ever complains that cars shouldn’t wear black. The Toronto Police ran a campaign about pedestrians doing the bright thing and not wearing black, but they drive around Toronto in cars like this big black SUV with pedestrian slicer dicer added to the front. How do they justify that?


drivers should wear helmets

Rebel Metropolis/via

Whenever a cyclist is hit by a car, the first question is always, “Was the cyclist wearing a helmet?” No one ever asks the same question of drivers, even though the evidence is clear that helmets would probably be as effective for them.

In 2013, 50,000 people suffered fatal brain injuries; 19 percent of those were due to car crashes. Among persons aged 5 to 24, motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of death from fatal TBI (Traumatic brain injury). It’s likely that a good proportion of the 9,500 people might have been saved had they been wearing a helmet in the car.

Is the rate of head injury higher for cyclists than it is for drivers? It’s hard to tell, and much depends on location. In the USA, cyclists are 3.7 times more likely to be killed than drivers on a rate per passenger mile travelled, but cyclists cover a lot fewer miles. When calculated on a basis of per hours travelled, the rate of death and injury is about the same. Oh, “U.S. cyclists are three times more likely to be killed than German cyclists and six times more than Dutch cyclists, whether compared per-trip or per-distance traveled.”

But no matter how you crunch the numbers, there doesn’t seem to be any reason not to suggest that helmets for drivers would be equally effective as helmets for cyclists.

Radios and entertainment

tesla dashboard

© Tesla Dashboard/ no distractions here.

There are constant complaints about pedestrians wearing headphones and how dangerous this is, but never much of a question about cars having radios. Yet according to a study by Gillian Murphy of University College Cork and Dr Ciara Greene of University College Dublin, even listening to the car radio is problematic. According to Science Daily,

Gillian Murphy's research takes a prominent theory of attention (Perceptual Load Theory) and applies it to driving -- a task where attention is crucial. Perceptual Load Theory states that we have a finite amount of attention and that once that capacity is maxed out, we cannot process anything else.

She concluded:

Road safety campaigns are so focused on telling us to keep our eyes on the road, and this is certainly important, but this research tells us that it's simply not enough. We should focus on keeping our brains on the road.

Conclusion: All cars should be hi-viz, radios should be banned, and drivers should wear helmets.

Of course this will never happen. The industry fought seat belts because it thought they would impede car sales. The auto-industrial complex is too powerful and drivers too numerous. But if the same logic was applied to cars and their drivers that was applied to pedestrians and cyclists, that’s the way it would be.