These letters printed as sent, without edits or corrections. Ed.
Since the start of the new GO High-Viz campaign from our Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center, this letter has been building up in me like acid reflux. With the recent tragic death of Anita Zaffke, it can no longer be contained.
6:30pm, May 2nd, Anita Zaffke was pronounced dead. An hour earlier, Anita stopped her bike at a traffic light in a Chicago suburb and was fatally injured by a moron painting her fingernails while piloting her multi-ton weapon of death; the Chevrolet Impala. Yet another example of why it doesn’t matter how visible you are when you share the road with idiots who don’t look where they are going.
There is nothing wrong with being visible, just don’t count on it for anything. Put on all the fluorescent/reflective clothes you want, but the second you think that is keeping you safe, stop riding or expect death.
The MMSC High-Viz campaign is based on the wrong premise. They state “As a rider, the burden is unfortunately on you to do something about being visible.” No! Your burden is NOT to be visible. Your burden is to be unhittable.
Counting on visibility is counting on the other guy to notice you and take proper action. Are you counting on the sleep deprived, food spilling, cell phone dropping driver yelling at his kids in the back seat to notice you? Are you counting on the drunk, the 16 year old first time driver, the not waiting to see how new medication effects them to make proper decisions about a left hand turn, merge or street crossing? If you are, you have no business being on a bike.
Don’t count on the other guy for anything. Take responsibility for your own safety in every encounter. Expect every car to violate your right of way. If you get in an accident with another vehicle, it is your own fault. The situation does not matter. You can have right of way, the other driver can be intoxicated, you can be dressed like a huge yellow banana and flashing red and green lights, but if you hit the Dodge Caravan that turns left in front of you, it’s your own damn fault for not anticipating and avoiding the crash.
That is not to say you stand up at court (make that wheelchair up) and state “It was my fault the Camaro swerved into my lane breaking my hip and right femur.” No, sue that bastard for everything he is worth. Just make sure you have the attitude that allowing someone to hit you or put you down is your fault. It is your responsibility to stay safe, not the other driver’s.
All conspicuous visibility does for you is reduce the number of times you will be violated and need to take evasive action. It does not in the slightest reduce the need for diligent, hyper-aware, defensive riding. Being High-Viz may make you safer by reducing these encounters, but if you start to count on High-Viz over diligent riding, you are more at risk, not less.
If high visibility avoided all accidents, there would be no need for the big crash bumpers on the back of the huge, bright yellow road work trucks. If being noticeable worked well, firemen wouldn’t see the frequent shocked swerves and last second braking during full lights and siren runs.
The MMSC needs to stop encouraging riders to count on other drivers for safety. The High-Viz campaign should be pulled or replaced with “Go High-Viz, but DON’T COUNT ON IT FOR ANYTHING.” All this stress about being visible without any emphasis on what happens when you are not seen anyway, is detrimental to rider safety. Kill “Go High-Viz” and start “Be Unhittable” Sincerely, Kent Larson via email
Dear Kent, For a response to to your letter we went to the source. Here is the response from Pat Hahn from Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center. -Ed.
Channelling C. Montgomery Burns: Eeexcellent–I see the additional fees we paid the ad agency for subliminal messaging in the Go High-Viz! campaign materials are bearing fruit. (Smithers, I owe you a Coke.) But seriously, thank you Mr. Larson for your comments. If every rider had your attitude, I’d be out of a job!
Pat Hahn MMSC