In one Ireland county, dog walkers, cyclists, or anyone who’s using the roads after dark without a car may soon have to wear high-visibility jackets. In a land of dark and windy country roads, this could make pedestrians and cyclists much safer, but it also shifts responsibility for safety onto the vulnerable and away from the drivers that tend to cause accidents.
The proposal comes from assistant Garda (Irish police) commissioner John O’Mahoney, on behalf of the Cork County Joint Policing Committee. It recommends that high-visibility reflective jackets be made mandatory “for walkers, runners, cyclists, and all people in charge of animals,” according to the Irish Examiner. This rule would reinforce the myth that roads are for cars and anyone else is in the way.
“Maybe the time has come when we need to make [wearing jackets] mandatory,” says O’Mahoney in the Irish Examiner. “If it saves lives, then that’s an important consideration which needs to be made by the legislator.”
O’Mahoney isn’t the first to blame careless driving on pedestrians. In the U.K. last year, lawyer Nick Freeman argued that Hyman Steinberg, an Orthodox Jew, might not have been killed by Freeman’s client if he’d been wearing “hi-vis” clothing instead of his traditional black attire. “The time has now come for the government to require pedestrians to effectively light up at night,” he said after the court hearing. “Pedestrians, motorists, and cyclists all share road space and in my view must assume responsibility for their visibility.”
In 2010 in Catalonia, Spain, prostitutes soliciting by main roads were forced to wear high-visibility bibs “because they posed a danger to drivers,” although one could argue that cropped fluorescent tops could make them more distracting to drivers, not less. And inevitably, The Onion has also skewered to whole blame-the-victim debate around road safety.
That said, the Irish committee chairman Frank O’Flynn points out that high-visibility jackets can be seen from 500 meters away, or a third of a mile. That buys a lot of time for even the most careless driver to spot you. High-visibility jackets are clearly a good idea, but to make them mandatory tells distracted and speeding drivers that they can carry on menacing other road users.