An “Accident Waiting to Happen”?

A bicyclist is outfitted with a flashing red tail light, yellow jacket, booties with reflective strips, but no headlight. The rider is struck by a motorist, and the judge dismisses the charges against the driver because of the lack of a headlight, even going so far as to call the bicyclist “an accident waiting to happen”. The kicker? The bicyclist was struck from behind.

I thought this kind of bias against bicyclists was unique to the U.S, but apparently not; this took place in Australia. Protecting yourself from technicalities like this is reason enough to thoroughly outfit yourself with protective gear and obey all traffic laws.

Read the original story in the Courier

25 Responses to “An “Accident Waiting to Happen”?”

  • Perry says:

    I don’t know about Australia, but this is the sort of thing cyclists are against all the time in the US. I have read too many stories of experienced, mature cyclists struck from behind by inattentive drivers that I have come to believe this is socially acceptable behavior. Drivers are rarely prosecuted because “anyone can make a mistake” or some such reason.

  • Perry says:

    PS. I give the Aussies credit for at least TRYING to prosecute.

  • Alan says:

    Agreed. The prosecutor made good points:

    “Police prosecutor Sergeant Bob Anderson submitted that a headlight was not relevant because Mr Angel was hit from behind.

    He said if Mr Angel was found to be wearing the yellow jacket, there would have been sufficient reflective material clearly visible by cars.

    “A flashing red light was displayed on the victim as required by the road rule,” Sgt Anderson said.”

  • bongobike says:

    I guess that shows we don’t have a monopoly on stupid judges. I hope that decision is appealed.

  • Keith says:

    If the car was found to have an inoperative taillight, would the two irrelevant facts have canceled each other out?

  • Gordon Inkeles says:

    Can’t help wondering WHERE the cyclist was riding on the road. Anyway, a single flasher and some reflective tape isn’t enough for night riding. The police here in Arcata suggest multiple flashers if you must ride at night. Generally, it’s simply not a good idea to ride after dark.

  • Alan says:

    With the appropriate amount of lighting, I find motorists give me a much wider berth at night than they do during daylight hours. My biggest concern about riding at night is the higher likelihood of encountering a drunk driver.

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    When I took my driver’s test, one of the questions I had to answer was wether blind or deaf people are required to wear a special bracelet, so people know that this person is blind/deaf. The answer is no, there is so such requirement. It’s my responsibility not to run into people, blind or not.

  • ksteinhoff says:

    I agree with Alan. I feel safer at night.

    One of the reasons I wear a helmet is so that some bottom-feeding lawyer can’t say, “Yes, my client squashed your client like a bug under a boot, but your guy wasn’t wearing a helmet (didn’t have reflectors, didn’t have a headlight, didn’t have a bell, wasn’t whistling Dixie…..).

    My family has videos of me riding at night, just for the time that they ever need to be able to say, “This is the way he and his bike were regularly rigged.”

    Scum suckers will do everything they can to make you all or partially at fault. If we could go before a jury of bike-riding peers, we’d be OK. Unfortunately, the odds are that most juries are made up of folks who haven’t been on a bike since they were 10.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    Indeed. The responsibility is with the motorist. But I use multiple forward facing white lights, multiple rear facing red lights and my wheels have reflective black tape (silver under lowlight conditions) for side view. My helmet is reflective as well with lights mounted on it.

    I do all of this because if I die or get hit I want the bastard who hit me to face justice, no matter what mud he slings.

  • Alan says:

    “Unfortunately, the odds are that most juries are made up of folks who haven’t been on a bike since they were 10.”

    Or, as in this case, judges.

  • Colin says:

    @Gordon are you paranoid or something? Seriously, I’m a big promoter of using lights, but I can’t help but laugh at the vision of the multiple blinding light monstrosity of a bicycle that you’d think would be considered safe riding at night.

    I ride at night all the time in busy San Francisco. Night riding is simple. Use a front and back light take less busy roads where possible and #1 assume that nobody sees you. Hell that last one is a good reminder for day riding too.

    Sure none of this is a guarantee against assholes who aren’t paying attention to the road and would rather sue you than pay for your bills. However, that’s true no matter what vehicle you are traveling in and if you want to get from Point A to Point B in life you got to take a few risks.

  • 2whls3spds says:

    We have had two cyclists struck from behind in my general area in the past couple of weeks. Both in broad daylight or rural roads, both were wearing visible clothing, one actually had a reflective vest on. However unlike AUS the drivers were charged. I refuse to dress like a circus freakshow to ride my bike. I do use lights at night along with some reflective gear. I ride in normal street clothes. Statistics are on my side as far as my safety is concerned, however that doesn’t mean the drivers in this country couldn’t do with some massive education/reeducation of the rules of the road and common courtesy.


  • Gordon Inkeles says:

    “Gordon are you paranoid or something?

    The multiple blinking lights suggestion came from the CHP commander here in Arcata. He’s seen too many dead and maimed cyclists who, like you, tried to make their own rules for riding after dark. I bought a vest with multiple blinkers after his presentation for those days when I’m returning from a ride near dusk. After dark I walk or drive.

    Aaron is right to point out that drivers need to learn more about cyclist’s rights, but as the CHP commander said, cyclists need to obey traffic laws. For starters, that means stopping at stop signs, not flying off curbs into traffic and remembering to signal when you want to turn or change lanes.

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    Gordon, firstly, we can disagree but nobody here is making up their own rules.

    Secondly, you say that you walk or drive after dark. Why are walking and driving fine but not cycling?

  • Gordon Inkeles says:


    In Holland I rode after dark on separate bike paths. I’m not interested in testing my luck in traffic here. And yes, the drunks are out in force after dark, and some of them will aim for your flasher.

    If I had to ride at night, I’d want multiple lights and flashers, per the suggestion by our CHP commander. One light and one flasher puts you at serious risk. Needlessly.

  • bentguy in vanvouver says:

    I commute for a good chunk of the year in the dark. I use front and rear lights as well as reflective tape but what I use day or night to keep me safe (ok… safer) is my mirror. I like to be aware of what’s coming up behind me. The shoulder check is alright in a pinch but with a mirror I can watch forward while staying aware of what’s behind. It actually works great at night. You might not be able to make out much detail but you can tell when someones headlights are coming at you too fast or too close. In the death wish department I would list Ipods and cell phones.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    I get tired of the many ways there are to blame the victim of a motor vehicle-bicycle crash.
    It seems to include:
    1- Cyclists are scofflaws and I didn’t see him.
    2- He should never be on this road.
    3- He didn’t have rear lights, reflector or headlight.
    4- He didn’t have enough lights, It was only enough light to land a Cessna.
    5- He swerved into me.
    6- I was adjusting my radio
    7- I dropped my phone and was picking it up.

    Apparently #6 is good enough of an excuse to kill an off-duty sheriff and get away with it.

  • JaFO says:

    flashers are very distracting and make it very hard to judge distance …
    I’ve seen bikers use them over here (in the Netherlands) and I always have to look extra hard to make sure I don’t hit them even though I ride a bike myself.

    It’s better to combine them with a ‘normal’ steady light. that way the flasher warns and the light tells people where the danger is.

    Reflective clothing depends far too much on others having good lights and line of sight to whatever is supposed to be reflecting the light. And it can be blinding …

  • Fritz says:

    @Gordon’s mention of Arcata reminds me that their cycling opposers have the laughable distinction of claiming 60% of bike fatalities in Arcata happen to people without helmets, and the number of bike fatalities in Arcata over the past decade is (wait for it…) ZERO!

  • Gordon Inkeles says:

    Fritz, Say WHAT?

    I don’t get the manufactured hostility when bicycle safety comes up. The other day it was helmets; now it’s lighting. Both are just techniques for making riding a bike safer. Spare me the mindless hostility towards motorists. I dearly love cycling. I ride all the time but I drive too; most cyclists have a car. I can’t drive anywhere without watching cyclists of all ages run red lights and jump off curbs into traffic. I’d say we’re in denial about our own road habits.

    If you need to play Evel Kneivel on your bike, be my guest. But don’t expect the rest of us to get religious about it.

  • Fritz says:

    Sorry, I guess I kind of hijacked the thread. Please don’t misunderstand — I’m a big believer in visibility and lighting myself like a Christmas tree at night, and riding at night carries significantly more risk for the cyclist than riding during the day.

    In this instance, though, I’m most concerned about blame being placed on the victim. Like the prosecutor said, the cyclist’s front lighting is irrelevant. The driver is required to look where she’s going, and her headlights illuminated the cyclist regardless of the status of his front headlight. The judge’s decision is ridiculous.

  • Alan says:

    What Fritz said. The point of the OP was not to debate the merits of various bike lights and whether we should be riding at night. The point is that there exists a deep cultural bias against bicyclists and these stories of victims being blamed for accidents simply because they were on a bicycle are far to regular to be ignored or written off as “mindless hositility toward motorists”. If anything, there exists a “mindless hostility toward bicyclists”; I’m an experienced, responsible, law abiding cyclist and I experience it on a far too regular basis.


  • Gordon Inkeles says:

    Wouldn’t you agree that both motorists and cyclists are guilty of ‘mindless hostility?” Most cyclists work on educating motorists on the rights of cyclists. We have a right to be on the road; they have an obligation to give us space etc. I’m afraid I don’t see much awareness in the cycling community of our own shortcomings on the road. The CHP here has several committed cyclists on their staff. They were appalled at the way cyclists behave on the road. So was the trucking instructor at the local Junior College. So was the Arcata police chief. So was the head of CALTRANS. All of there people ride bikes too.

    We can’t make demands on motorists while refusing to consider our own serious shortcomings on the road.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    Motorist speed all the time, Motorists run red lights (during the yellow-red transition) all the time, they run stop signs, they pull into traffic, they run through crosswalks.

    But because there are cyclists who run stop signs or whatever, other cyclists should pay the death penalty exacted by careless motorists? At least until all cyclists obey the law and the perceived law that motorist think cyclists should follow.

    Am I reading you right?

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