THE CPSC STARTS TO WONDER ABOUT NIGHTTIME CAR-BIKE COLLISIONS

Friday, 6 January, 1995
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Introduction

The Consumer Product Safety Commission held a hearing about nicycle nighttime protective equipment on November 9, 1994, at its headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland. The CPSC invited me to attend the meeting and, although I was not one of the designated speakers, I took a rather obvious part in the discussion. Those attending were from several communities: the bicycle industry, the reflectors and lights industries, bicycle sellers, cyclists, highway safety researchers, and the CPSC itself. The CPSC had discovered that the proportion of fatal accidents was much greater at night than the proportion of nighttime cycling. This is not news; every highway safety person knows this, but for the CPSC it was apparently news. The CPSC's purpose was to become informed about the problem of nighttime cycling safety, and subsequently to decide if, and how, to handle it by regulations about the design of bicycles, and, possibly, through consumer safety information about the subject.

The designated speakers presented the following information.

CPSC Statistics

Gregory Rodgers, an economist with the CPSC, presented statistics about nighttime fatalities drawn from the Fatal Accident Reporting System of the National Highway Safety Administration. The victims of these accidents were of all ages with a much older distribution than daylight accidents. There were many drunken motorists and also many drunken cyclists.

Physiology of Nighttime Vision

Martin Guttenplan of the Florida Bicycle-Pedestrian Center, presented basic facts about nighttime vision. Nighttime vision decreases with age, not only about 1 f-stop per 13 years, but differentially with color. Red vision decays more rapidly than does yellow vision. 90% of nighttime driving is on low beams. Merely wearing white is useless. He also showed some visual puzzles that, so he said, demonstrated the difficulty of deciding whether an object seen was, or was not, a cyclist. As I remarked, it doesn't matter what the driver thinks it is, he won't risk driving into it.

Nighttime Cycling Technique

Kirby Beck, Effective Cycling Instructor and Bicycle Police officer, discussed the equipment required for safe cycling at night. The techniques he discussed were: ride head up to be seen, slower, hand near brake lever, pedal to alert overtaking vehicles even if not needing power, be flexible in lane use, sometimes accept a pedestrian left turn. He stated that at night the benefits of cycling on arterial roads are higher than in the daytime.

3M Company and Reflective Tires

Larry Buckley, 3-M Company, gave the 3-M standard argument that the nighttime traffic scene, with merely point sources of light, does not disclose the nature of the vehicles comprising it. Therefore, so he said, it is important to identify bicycles as bicycles, as with reflective tire sidewalls. He showed an outdated video by the Dutch cycling organization illustrating this hypothesis. He said that spoke reflectors are bad because their bouncing motion produces "visual clutter" or "visual racket", while reflectorized sidewalls produce the two circles that identify bicycles. He showed no understanding of the difference between pedestrians, who do benefit from all-round reflectivity, and cyclists, who don't.

Survey of Lights

Choi, of Vista Lights, demonstrated various types of lights that are available. Nothing new to those who read this.

How to Fit Equipment on Bicycles

Leppek, VP Engineering, Huffy Bicycles, listed the various engineering considerations in fitting bicycles with nighttime protective equipment of various types. However, he did not discuss how well the various types of equipment worked.

The Bicycle Manufacturers Argue Don't Ride at Night, But If You Do, Use Their Reflectors

Michael Kershow, General Counsel of Bicycle Manufacturer's Association presented the view of BMA, largely regarding the liability question rather than discussing the safety aspects. The average bicycle sells for less than $100 at Walmart or Toys R Us. It is a good thing that 90% of customers don't ride at night, because nighttime cycling is too dangerous. These customers wisely choose not to ride at night. The industry must not supply lights as Original Equipment because that encourages cycling at night, which is very dangerous, and presents liability problems for bicycle manufacturers. We should actively discourage cycling at night because automobiles weigh 2,000 pounds. Here is his list of 8 actions. 1) Tell the public, "Don't ride at night," but continue to require reflectors, discourage their removal. 2) The all-reflector system is a very effective passive system that requires no activation by the user; not to be replaced by complicated lights. 3) If you ride at night, you must use both the all-reflector system and lights, because these are complementary elements (in some good design?). 4) We need standards for lights. 5) No OEM lights, because these would encourage nighttime cycling, while common sense now prevails on people to not cycle at night. 6) Lights are too expensive. The all-reflective system is appropriate because it provides a high degree of conspicuity at low cost. 7) Providing lights with bicycles does not guarantee that they will be used. The consumers are too dumb to maintain lights and to use them when needed. 8) Improve the enforcement of state laws and improve education.

Kershow presented the BMA's plan. 1) Apply stickers to bicycles saying "Don't Ride at Night and Wear a Helmet." 2) Improved owner's manual. Promote the sale of lights at bike shops. New educational material from manufacturers and government.

How About Those Who Choose Or Need To Ride At Night?

There was considerable discussion about those who choose or who need to ride at night. What about them? Is discouraging cycling a good public policy?

Cyclists' Position: Cyclists Need Lights At Night, Manufacturers Should Make Lights Convenient, Government Should Enforce The Laws

Gil Clark, Executive Director of the League of American Bicyclists presented the cyclists view. Standards are inadequate or silent on key points and need improvement. State laws are inconsistent and sometimes inappropriate. Bicycle manufacturers should provide consumers with adequate information about cycling at night. Quality lights are more expensive than necessary. Cyclists lack consistent knowledge and behavior about nighttime cycling. Enforcement of lights laws is inadequate. The drunk driving problem is particularly important for cyclists, both as victims and as drunken drivers. Streets can be better designed and lit for nighttime use. A regulation requiring lights on bicycles at time of sale is not recommended, underlined for emphasis.

Fred de Long then interjected statements that Vista Lights are valuable in daylight also, because Dan Burden says so, and he talked about his part in determining the International Standards Organization's standard. Not much use to anybody.

 

Open Discussion Period

Forester's Position Paper

I asked that my 16-page paper be included in the formal record of the hearing. In outline, I said that this demonstrated that there never was any scientific evidence that the all-reflector system was effective in preventing car-bike collisions, that engineering analysis that has never been disputed showed the inability of the all-reflector system to prevent car-bike collisions from the front or sides, that the evidence available to the CPSC (but concealed by them from the court) showed the importance of these collisions (20 out of 28 nighttime car-bike collisions in a study from Toronto), that Ken Cross's statistics available immediately after the regulation was issued showed the great number of such collisions and analyzed their mechanisms, and the Johnson case showed that both bicycle manufacturers and bicycle users were misled into believing that the all-reflector system provided adequate conspicuity to motorists at night. Therefore, it was very important to do away with the all-reflector system and go back to the traditional system of headlamps and rear reflectors, with rear lamp also if desired, when cycling at night. I showed how it would be easy to implement such a program without causing trouble for anybody.

Various Other Views, Some Showing Ignorance and Self-Interest

Ron Engle of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that police won't enforce bicycle laws unless they receive persuasion, and the NHTSA bike safety program's funds were shut off by Congress.

Mackay, a cycling activist, said that effective publicity required the subject to be discussed on soap operas and similar widely-viewed events. Kershow repeated that the information should be "Don't Ride at Night," because that protected the manufacturers from liability. John Schubert, a cycling journalist and expert witness, suggested that if the CPSC continued to require the all-reflector system it ought to include a new requirement that the manufacturers include a statement in their safety manuals that the all-reflector system wasn't worth a dime and lights were required for safety. Guttenplan wondered about a license to ride at night. Larry Michelson, the president of Sate-Lite Mfg. Co., a prominent maker of reflectors, said that he still couldn't understand why the front and side reflectors didn't protect cyclists from car-bike collisions. I thought that he should be answered, and started to, but the rest of the meeting told him that he should have learned that by then, and the meeting broke up.


Future Actions?

What action will the CPSC take? I think that it will be difficult for the CPSC to fail to act in the face of the evidence. I think that the CPSC will have to recognize that headlamps are necessary for cycling at night. I hope that the CPSC will also recognize that the all-reflector system both tempts people to ride at night and fails to protect them when it does so. If so, the CPSC will remove the requirement for the all-reflector system. The CPSC may feel under too much pressure from the manufacturers and decide to keep the requirement for the all-reflector system. However, if it does so it will be forced by the evidence to require that manufacturers provide a statement that the all-reflector system doesn't work, along the lines that John Schubert and I have previously proposed. The CPSC probably will develop a standard for the amount of light that is required, and the directions to which it must be directed, for traffic safety. There is no way to specify the amount of light required for seeing the path, because there are too many variations in use. The CSC may develop a standard for a lamp mounting bracket, so that any manufacturer who chooses to use a bracket mounting will produce interchangeable mounts.

Am I Being Warned Off?

As the meeting was breaking up, Kenneth L. Justice, who once worked for the predecessor of Derby Cycle Co., approached me to warn me that I had seriously misstated his testimony in that case. I had said that Derby's officials, in court documents, had said that they did not know that state laws required headlamps when cycling at night and that they relied on the belief that the CPSC's all-reflector system provided adequate conspicuity to motorists when cycling at night. I argued that if the officials of a bicycle company, who had the duty of knowing such things, were misled, then it was unreasonable to think that the average cyclist on the street would be better informed. In reply to Justice, I said that if he provided me with a copy of his testimony I would take the appropriate corrective action. He declined to do so. However, I have obtained a copy of his deposition in the case of Johnson vs Derby Cycle Co., and the pertinent excerpts are given below in a letter to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

John Forester, M.S., P.E.
Cycling Transportation Engineer
Consulting Engineer, Expert Witness & Educator in
Effective Cycling, Bicycles, Highways & Bikeways, Traffic Laws
726 Madrone Ave., Sunnyvale, CA 94086-3041
408-734-9426, forester at ccnet.com

Tuesday, 15 November, 1994

The Consumer Product Safety Commission

Washington DC 20207

 

Re: Bicycle Nighttime Protective Equipment Hearing

 

During the hearing I made the point that the CPSC's requirement that all bicycles be equipped with the all-reflector system had so mislead even bicycle companies that they believed that that system provided adequate nighttime safety and that they were ignorant that the states required that bicycles out at night be equipped with headlamps. As the hearing was breaking up, Mr. Kenneth Justice, who had been present although not on your list of invitees, chose to warn me that in the hearing I had misrepresented his testimony in the case of Collin Johnson vs Derby Cycle Co. So far as I knew, I was describing the position of Derby Cycle Co. as expressed in answers to interrogatories, with no knowledge of his testimony, and I told him so. I suggested that he provide a copy of his testimony so that I could take the appropriate action in case of error. He declined to do so. However, I have now read his deposition in that case, and I find the following statements that support my initial argument.

The numbers are in the form: page number - line number of Mr. Justice's deposition in Johnson vs Derby Cycle Co.

5 -1 Justice is testifying as the authorized representa tive of Derby Cycle Co. in this case.

25 - ff Justice worked for West Coast Cycle, a predecessor of Derby Cycle Co., and produced owner's manuals.

64-5 Justice was unsure about warnings required by the CPSC, and has had no training in warnings.

76-10 Q: "Was it your understanding in '87 and '88 that if a rider were riding a new Nishiki at night, that it should be ridden with a light?"

A: "We believed that the reflector system that was included on the bike, which exceeded every standard that we knew of anywhere in the world as far as the ability of an automobile to see the bicycle, was well beyond minimum levels of safety. We thought it was a good system."
Q: "What did you do to determine that it was a good system?"
A: We relied on the manufacturer, CatEye, and the information that they provided as from a marketing sense. We were fully aware of the requirements of reflectors as mandated by the CPSC."
Q: "Other than being aware of the CPSC requirements and relying on the manufacturer, what independent efforts did you or Derby or West Coast Cycle undertake to determine the efficacy of the reflector system?"
A: "None."

79-10 Justice had no knowledge of testing or research comparing lights to reflectors.
79-21 Justice understood that New Jersey required headlamps, but Michigan and Indiana did not, information (right or wrong) gained from personal experience of cycling in these places.
80-9 Q: "So then at least as of 1988 you considered it reasonable to ride a bicycle at night without a light. Correct?"
A: "For purposes of being observed by others, yes."
84-10 Nobody at Derby had any technical familiarity with reflector operation.
114-1 "Well, Number 1, first of all I've not in any way indicated that we were aware that there was or was not a need for a light."
14-17 "For the bike to be fully safe for its reasonable and foreseeable use, it was our opinion that the light, the bicycle, excuse me, equipped with the reflector system as provided by West Coast Cycle was far beyond minimally adequate for night use for the ability of someone outside to see the bike, a driver, whatever, to see the bike."

Quite clearly, Mr. Justice's testimony shows that my statements about the position of the Derby Cycle Co. in the Johnson case were accurate. In addition, they show that a prominent bicycle manufacturer did not have the slightest idea of what was required for safe cycling at night and relied on the interpretation that any reasonable, but ill-informed, person would place on the CPSC's requirement of the all-reflector system for nighttime safety. That is, of course, the same interpretation that the CPSC itself placed on its requirement of the all-reflector system. That is, the all-reflector system "provided adequate visibility to motorists under lowlight conditions," as the CPSC announced in the Federal Register. The reasonable person asks, why else would the CPSC require the all-reflector system unless it actually does what it appears to do and the CPSC says it does?

That is the overwhelming importance of doing away with the CPSC's requirement of the all-reflector system; it is a dangerous temptation to riding at night without equipment that provides reasonably adequate protection against the danger. The CPSC's requirement misled the officials of a prominent bicycle manufacturer; how then can we expect that the cyclist on the road would be better informed than those whose business requires them to be informed?

This also refers to the paradoxical position of the Bicycle Manufacturers Association as expressed at the hearing. The BMA expressly argued that children, its primary customers, should not ride at night under any circumstances. Yet the BMA argues that the CPSC should continue to tempt cyclists into riding at night without headlamps by continuing to require the all-reflector system. That argument makes no sense at all. If the members of BMA wish to supply the all-reflector system on the bicycles that they sell, for whatever purposes that suit their interests, they are free to do so. They don't require a regulation from the CPSC to do so. Clearly, the BMA members believe that they will have some advantage if the CPSC continues to require the all-reflector system. The possible alternate regulation is not a requirement for lights on all bicycles at time of sale. Everybody opposes that possibility; it is just plain unworkable. The only possible alternate is no requirement at all. Therefore, I conclude that the members of BMA, recognizing that, as they said in the hearing, cycling at night with the all-reflector system is dangerous, believe that a governmental regulation requiring the all-reflector system provides them with some degree of protection against liability when that danger produces accidents. They can argue, as Derby in effect did, that the government requires the all-reflector system, thus convincing some juries that therefore the all-reflector system provides adequate conspicuity to motorists under lowlight conditions. This system for protecting the manufacturers rather than the consumers is outside the legal powers of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Respectfully submitted,



John Forester

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