Thursday, November 5, 2009

Distracted driving - what an understatement!

Articles on distracted driving are getting a lot of impressions these days, so for the past few weeks, I've been wondering what exactly does it take for people to see me. In order to find that out, I've made a few observations of road infrastructure, drivers' viewing angle, car density and movement, numerous roadside distracting factors and so on.

In the end, I dreamt what Rick Mercer would say, "so let me get this straight - you ride a bicycle, which is 1/7th the size of a 5 passenger car and what, maybe 1/100th of a semi-truck, on THIS street, cars driving with their glaring lights on, not just one though, THOOUUSSAANDSS of them, coming at you from behind (from behind!) at 80 kph (because that's the unofficial speed for all streets in Ottawa). The drivers don't actually see you until the very last second because we drive on the left side of the vehicle, so the car in front of them is obstructing their view - what's that you say - 10 meters! That's all we've got to avoid you before we hit you!?! Holy F***! And that's if we see you! Because our eyes are being distracted, not only by in-car tech stuff, but also street signs, people honking their horns, the bright lights from on-coming traffic, rain, snow, pedestrians, big trucks, brightly lit advertisements and the War in Afganistan! Why? Why do you ride a bicycle?"

Sigh, yes, I ride a bike.

So on top of this, we have the usual: cars turning right or left or exiting a driveway and "not seeing us", people opening their car doors in our path and...not seeing us, people running us off the road because they....don'

So, after being hit by cars five times in my life, and being very very lucky, I've succumbed and bought two very bright lights - an amber taillight running a 5 watt L.E.D, and a headlight running two 7 watt L.E.Ds.

The tail light makes around 140 lumens, and the head light 350 lumens. Total cost? Nearly $400 CDN.

But is that enough? Cars have two to four headlights and usually 2 to four taillights, using L.E.Ds that are brighter than mine! Have you ever noticed while driving a car, just how blinding those Cadillac/Mazda 3/Acura, etc taillights are? And headlights run a minimum of 1000 lumens per side, with those HID lights coming in at 2500 to 3200 lumens each!

My headlight, as bright as it is by bicycle standards, doesn't come close when sitting next to one car, let alone hundreds on a three lane road. 350 lumens vs. the culmulative lumens of hundreds of cars? Sheeeeeeit...

So how do I get noticed? A big bad yellow vest? Nope. Reflectors out the wazzoo? Nope.

Ever notice how police cars and ambulances get noticed? Do we really hear them honking, sirens blaring - nope, not until they are within 4 car lengths, not with the stereo on.

It's their lights - they flash like crazy! And they are not dim 1 watt L.E.Ds either. But how do we judge their distance from us? Their highbeams, not flashing, but just on constantly (if that's a mode), give us the ability to know how long we have before they need to pass us, and the flashing lights alert us that they are coming this way.

So now, I've got my bike set up with one extra light, the same amber on the front, fast flash, beside the white L.E.D on medium to not drown out the light of the amber (on high, the white L.E.Ds do drown out the amber light [due to the proximity to one another - this does not happen if you increase the distance by at least 30cm], and has the result of no added visibility in rear-view mirrors - in high traffic, give the amber light priority, it stands out in a sea of car headlights).

The amber light is still no where near the brightness of those ambulance lights, but it does a very good job of attracting attention. And the other benefit? Standard street way-finding signs (the ones that say stuff like "Bridge ices over before the road", etc) reflect the flash back behind me, getting those distracted drivers attention, from a high angle too. That helps those truckers and bus drivers out.

As a result, drivers start their avoidance maneuvers earlier, and leave an unpainted lane ahead of me, even 100 metres ahead. I've had not one obscenity communicated in my direction, and everyone can predict my behaviour.

Hope this helps.

-Vise-Grip Mikey.

P.S. I now use my lights day and night.

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