What should a cyclist do to increase visibility? Following the law is a good start:
Every bicycle when in use at nighttime shall be equipped with a lamp on the front which shall emit a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front and with a red reflector on the rear of a type approved by the Department which shall be visible from all distances from 100 feet to 600 feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful lower beams of headlamps on a motor vehicle. A lamp emitting a red light visible from a distance of 500 feet to the rear may be used in addition to the red reflector.That's Illinois law (Chicago's is similar). Blinking taillights are fairly common in Chicago, but I am amazed how few cyclists use headlights (note above that taillights are optional while headlights are mandatory). My wife is a police officer. When she tells cyclists to get headlights, they actually argue with her. That's pretty nervy considering that she could give them tickets instead of verbal warnings for such equipment violations.
Additional reflectors on pedals and wheels help to draw attention (although the law requires new bikes to be sold with them, it doesn't say bicycles must have them to be operated at night). Light colored clothing, including a white helmet, is good, and reflective clothing is better. You can put reflective stickers all over your bike.
At some point, however, the extra expense isn't worth it. Jennifer's post reminds me of something written by experienced bicycle tourist Peter Saint James on the Touring e-mail list:
When I lived in Colorado, I found an amazingly high number of Front Range motorists doing things like turning in front of me or cutting me off. On occasion I would catch one and confront them with their illegal, dangerous, and impolite act. The answer I always got was, "I didn't see you." I thought about doing things to become more visible until I heard about a woman who crashed into a full-sized, bright yellow, school bus and gave the same excuse. I gave up.That is not to say that making yourself highly visible is a waste of time and money. But visibility only goes so far, so don't obsess about it. I know of a Chicago cyclist notorious for using multiple headlights and taillights -- proverbially "lit up like a Christmas tree" -- who was critically injured when a car hit him one night.
The most important ways to avoid nighttime accidents are the same as to avoid daytime accidents:
- Ride defensively.
- Follow the laws.
- Watch other traffic closely.
- Always assume no one can see you, no matter how much reflective gear you have.
Dress yourself and your bike to be seen, but don't forget that how you ride is more important than how you look.