If high viz is so important, why don’t US police lead by example?

It’s that time of the year again, when you leave work at your usual time and suddenly get hit with a blast of 10pm darkness. Although the thermometer says “perfect biking and walking weather,” our corporate overlords demand we work our regular hours, which happen to extend past sunset. As such, the evening commute becomes a nighttime affair.

Cue the “be visible” safety campaigns kicking into high gear. The Boston Globe has an article on being visible at night:

In self-defense, “push yourself into the driver’s awareness as much
as you can” by exploiting biological motion, said Jonathan Dobres, a
research scientist at MIT’s AgeLab. “Make yourself as big and bright and
reflective as you can. You’re really helping the brain of a driver
figure out, ‘Oh, that’s not a road sign, that’s a person moving
around.’ ”
Boston Globe

 Streetsblog reports on a Halloween campaign: 

So what should be a holiday for care-free fun is marked by admonishments, directed at parents and kids, to avoid getting killed by motorists, like this tweet from the Federal Highway Administration. There’s also the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has been tweeting all week about how children should “be seen.”

And others tweet:
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Periodically, lawmakers call for measures to require people walking and bicycling at night to wear reflective clothing, such as in Oregon earlier this year.

On one hand, these messages make a decent point. It’s dark. Being visible is good.

On the other hand, many see it as victim blaming. After all, isn’t it the responsibility of those operating machinery to do so safely? Why put the onus on those doing something as simple as walking home?

Regardless of that debate, the push for “high viz” got me thinking: If it’s so important, so critical for safety, why aren’t the police departments the first the suit up in the highest visibility gear possible?

Shouldn’t they be leading by example? Aren’t they the most sensitive to the value of visibility?

Indeed, the fact that they are not is even more questionable when one looks across the pond, at departments that do practice what they preach.

Take, for example, your typical US beat patrolman. Walking the street. Doing their thing.

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Los Angeles:
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Notice anything?

Yup, dark, dark, DARK clothing.
  photo highviz912_zpsbwehd2f6.jpg

Must be a nightmare to spot these officers crossing the street at night. In fact, if a pedestrian wearing this color was hit at night by an inattentive driver, they would absolutely be blamed for not making themselves visible.

Doesn’t have to be that way though.

From what I’ve seen, it appears that some police departments take visibility a tad more serious, especially in Europe. One can’t walk around London without seeing this uniform:

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This curious oversight by American police departments appears to extend to all forms of policing.

Take bicycle patrols. Nothing is more important for bicyclists than being visible right?

And yet, once again, the standard appears to be dark clothing.

NYC bicycle police officers appear to have a small reflective strip on their arm.

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Los Angeles has nothing:
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And Boston does appear to do a good job:
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But London still does better:
 photo highviz902_zps8nxsmaxf.jpg photo highviz903_zpsspacg6nq.jpg

In New York City, especially, the blatant disregard for the lifesaving benefits of high visibility clothing extend to the mounted unit:

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Compare to these Australian units:
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Check out those lovely leg reflectors!

What’s especially curious is that American police departments are well aware of the dangers police officers can face due to poor visibility. Indeed, they’ve successfully lobbied for laws around the country that protect police officers making traffic stops, by requiring motorists to change lanes when approaching.

These are called the “move over laws”

More than 150 U.S. law enforcement officers have been killed since 1999 after being struck by vehicles along America’s highways, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. To lower that deadly toll, a new coalition of traffic safety and law enforcement groups is launching a nationwide public awareness campaign to protect emergency personnel along our nation’s roadsides.

Forty three states have passed “Move Over” laws, which require motorists to “Move Over” and change lanes to give safe clearance to law enforcement officers on roadsides.
Move Over America

Interesting. They’ve chosen to address the safety concern by making the drivers liable for the collision, rather than blaming the victim (the police officer) for not being visible.

And yet when it comes to the general public, the solution to fatalities seems to be to put the onus on the victim to be more visible.

I don’t get it. Rather than lobbying for, and getting laws passed, and then educating the motoring public on a new law, wouldn’t it make more sense to stop painting their cars dark black, like this:

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And adopt international standards like this?

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Less of this:
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And more of this:
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What’s the problem? Is it not cool? Is it not intimidating enough?

Sure, high visibility is kind of dorky, but doesn’t safety come first?

Maybe people would take these safety messages more seriously if the police departments that issued them practiced what they preached.

3 Replies to “If high viz is so important, why don’t US police lead by example?”

  1. Hey James, nice to see new topics on your blog…me personally as a motorcycle ride I really like the bright reflective colors that law and medical enforcers use across the pond. I think the Police in US have a deep embedded philosophy of dark blue and black as "their" colors and aren't willing to change it. But this topic kinda flows over to my continuous complaint that the street lights in Fresno are JUST TOO DARK! The City needs to change all the old sodium Vapor lights to high intensity LEDS!!

    1. LEDs are bad for you and you shouldn’t see white light other than the sun, especially at night. It throws of your bodies natural clock and can cause health problems. They are also an eyesore. Just get a headlight.

  2. It’s for a reason. Firstly, if you go to developed countries, you’ll realise that most police officers wear high visibility clothing (that’s mainly in some parts of Europe, including the UK and Ireland). And USA is a developed country as well. And if you do a little research, USA is the most dangerous country in the developed nations. And high visibility clothing is a clothing that helps people be seen by others. So, if American Police wear high visibility clothing as a routine patrol or even trying to hunt the suspect, the suspect will immediately see the police and run away before the police would barely even recognise the suspect running away so the solution will be… don’t wear them so the suspect won’t easily recognise the police and won’t have time to run away from them! And that’s why American Police don’t wear high visibility clothing for a valid reason.

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