High-viz vests a must for cyclists?

High-viz vests a must for cyclists?

There was a letter in today’s Herald on “High-viz vests a must for cyclists” which went as follows:

There has been much debate recently about cycling safety, almost entirely about helmets, but I an amazed at the lack of emphasis on visibility.

Few will argue that helmets are not a good idea, but all roadway users – cyclists, walkers and runners – should be obliged to wear high-viz vests.

Given the impossibility of dramatically improving our old urban infrastructure and winding country roads to anything like the standard of the Danes or the Dutch, cyclists who perversely choose dull or black clothing or ride without lights are endangering themselves and others.

The law should be changed to make high-viz mandatory and the Scottish Government could win praise for common sense by handing out the vests free (buying them in big numbers will bring the cost down to pennies each).

Then the police will have no excuse for continuing to ignore the current cycling anarchy, which is set to become much worse as the popularity of the sport explodes post-Olympics.

David Roche,

1 Alder Grove,



I felt this was so misanthropic I had to reply. I have reproduced my letter to the Editor here (just in case it doesn’t get published in The Herald):

Dear Editor,

I was saddened to read David Roche’s letter of the 8th Aug, while no doubt Mr Roche is well meaning, he is badly misinformed in so many ways.

His first assertion is that “Few will argue that helmets are not a good idea”, evidently he has never read the letters section of the British Medical Journal where there was a lengthy debate about the value of cycle helmets. Most of the correspondents with a public health background were against the promotion of cycle helmets as the overall effect on public health has been shown to be negative. Also the scientific literature has shown that high rates of helmet wearing in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, have not led to any significant reduction in serious injuries to cyclists. There are an increasingly large numbers of people who argue that the compulsory use of cycle helmets is a very bad idea.

There is no evidence that making cyclists and pedestrians wear Hi-viz reduces the prevalence of collisions on the roads. No amount of high visibility clothing can make drivers look and pay full attention to the road environment. Making people wear Hi-viz will have no positive effect and would simply alienate a large section of the population. We are all pedestrians at some stage. It would be far better to change our road environment to make it safer for all, applying the Dutch principles of Sustainable Safety (“Duurzaam veilig” in Dutch). It is notable that pedestrians and cyclists in the Netherlands are eight times less likely to be killed or seriously injured in road “accidents” (per Km travelled) than people in the UK. Let us not forget that the cost to the NHS from people involved in road collisions is in excess of £10Bn annually.

Mr Roche then asserts that it is impossible to improve our infrastructure to Dutch or Danish standards, on the grounds that we have country roads and old urban areas. I am sure that it would come as a great surprise to the Dutch and Danish people that their countries do not have country roads and old urban areas! It should also be noted that virtually all of their excellent cycling infrastructure was developed after 1980, there is no reason why we can not do the same. Nor does it have to take 30 years to achieve. We don’t need to experiment to find out what works, the Dutch have already done that for us! All we need to do is follow the lead of the Americans and import Dutch expertise and adapt it to local conditions. Many measures, such as reducing speed and volume of motor traffic can be applied quickly and cheaply, to the benefit of the whole population. There is demand for such measures, as shown by the 3,000 people who Pedalled on Parliament in April.

I for one would welcome a reduction of the Mr Toads on the roads, who take the approach that it is for everyone else to keep out of their way. Instead we should follow the Swedish “Vision Zero” policy that requires that fatalities and serious injurious are reduced to zero by 2020.

Kim Harding

Addendum: My letter above didn’t get published, for some reason, but this one from Ewan Grant (which is rather more pithy) did.

7 thoughts on “High-viz vests a must for cyclists?

  1. Great read thanks for sharing. I too think both cyclists and drivers have become complacent re Hi Vis in recent years. There is an over saturation on the market which, in my opinion, has made it less visible in effect. Would you agree?


    1. Is there an over saturation of Hi-viz? Probably. Has it caused complacency probably not. Is Hi-viz effective at making people safer? My background is in science, so I look for evidence. Having looked for evidence that wearing Hi-viz makes you any safer on the roads, so far I haven’t found any hard evidence to support this hypothesis.

  2. Dear Kim,

    Thank you for an excellent letter. I would love to get some research references to these links. I totally get your point and agree, just wondering if you are aware of some well designed scientific studies of these hig-viz vests and that.

    (in Sweden we love the “vision zero” and its a great approach, but it also means that many cycling promotors seem to give away free hig-viz vest is the way to go. Which, as you say, just makes cycling into something perceived as more dangerous, dorky and strange.) So if you please could e-mail me your references on this, that would be greatly appreciated:

    “There is no evidence that making cyclists and pedestrians wear Hi-viz reduces the prevalence of collisions on the roads. No amount of high visibility clothing can make drivers look and pay full attention to the road environment. Making people wear Hi-viz will have no positive effect and would simply alienate a large section of the population. ”

    Kind regards

  3. Kim,

    I suspect your response was far too reasoned and logical to be published. After all – newspaper letters columns are only there to offer extreme opinions to incite argument and sell more papers, right?

    I wonder why we aren’t dealing with the bulk of road crashes, injuries and deaths in the same way? I don’t see any calls for all of the black and grey cars to be painted hi-vis green, or to drape a cover over their boot and bonnet?


    1. I suspect my response was a wee bit on the long side, and there was another big issue they had several letters they wanted to publish at the same time (can’t remember what it was but there were several letter about). It is odd how there are never calls for trees and buildings to covered with Hi-viz, yet these are regularly hit by cars…

  4. When the Ontario corner released his report a few months ago and suggested helmet laws, I wrote my local newspaper (http://bicyclestc.blogspot.ca/2012/06/helmet-are-not-answer.html).

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard the suggestion for mandatory high-viz vests here though…People complain about cyclists in dark clothing and no lights, but never a call for high-viz vests.

    On the extreme rare occasion I see people wearing them here, and for whatever reason it seems like cars pass much closer. Similar to the “Strange but true, helmets attract cars”, maybe the same is for vests.

    It’s unfortunate your response wasn’t published instead. Well written with excellent points!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
%d bloggers like this: