Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Turn Signals for Bikes; or, Bad Ideas Persist

I have a daily Google "news alert" that brings up random news items that are the equivalent of running a search in on the keyword "bicycle" for the preceding 24 hours. It doesn't generate much of interest for the most part.

I was amused to see an item about bike turn signals in a blog called, the "#1 cleantech or clean energy site in the United States." The author asks the question, "Why didn’t someone come up with this a long time ago?! Turn signals for bicyclists would be very useful and could go a long way towards reducing bicycle-vehicle collisions." He then quotes from and points to a longer piece on some other site that gives more details about a do-it-yourself solution to this perceived problem. The inventor asserts that, "unfortunately, few people know hand signals anymore, so [he] decided to make his own wearable turn signals that he could put on his arms and turn on by lifting his arm up from his side." These signals "use a mercury tilt switch and some electroluminescent (EL) panels that light up to show big bright arrows every time he lifts up the arm that corresponds with the direction he wants to move."

This CleanTechnica site lets you embed an entire page (more or less) in your blog entry. So here is the page:

Turn Signals for Bicyclists! (DIY) (via Clean Technica)

  Why didn’t someone come up with this a long time ago?! Turn signals for bicyclists would be very useful and could go a long way towards reducing bicycle-vehicle collisions. From lifehacker: Unfortunately, few people know hand signals anymore, so Instructables user CTY1995 decided to make his…

And now we return to my blog . . .

Here are my somewhat random comments on this solution to a perceived problem:

* As to "why someone didn't think of this a long time ago" it depends on what one means by "a long time ago" but in the 1970s I know that Schwinn peddled bicycle turn signals, particularly to mount on sissy bars of their Sting Ray style bikes. Of course these had little to do with real safety; it was just bike bling (for its time). And before that Schwinn made "rocket" turn signals to match the fins on your parents 1950s car. And of course more recently there has been at least one Kickstarter project to finance bicycle turn signals (and if there has been one, there has been more than one).

* "Turn signals could be very useful" - the likelihood that electric turn signals would significantly reduce accidents between bicycles and cars seems low - most accidents at intersections between cars and cyclists involving turning are either when a car attempts to speed up and pass a bicycle traveling in the same direction and turns in front of it (or into it) with a right hand turn (the so-called "right hook") or an oncoming car making a left turn fails to see a bicycle entering the intersection from the opposite direction (the so-called "left hook"). Problems with not observing the bicycle at all are greater than problems with not understanding that the bicycle is trying to turn, particularly for cars coming from the rear (where these turn signals always seem to be oriented).

* What does seem clear is that this kind of thinking, that solutions must be with more technology, can only contribute to taking away from the elegant simplicity of what a bicycle is. On top of that, if such devices became popular, they make it appear that cycling requires even more special equipment and (or perhaps or) is so dangerous that such signals are useful. All that does is contribute to making cycling less attractive, less popular, and fewer cyclists. What will create greater safety for cyclists is having more cyclists, not fewer. So in my view, these turn signals work against cyclists' greater interest in safety.

And finally ~

* The claim that, "few people know hand signals anymore" (that includes a link to the Wikipedia article on hand signals") confuses an apparent lack of familiarity with the "left arm up = right turn" as one option for signaling a right turn, although almost everyone I see now uses their right arm stuck straight out. But whatever - the idea that people don't understand arms sticking out but understand electric arrows on people's inner arms seems . . . doubtful. And anyway, you are still relying on people from the front assessing the arm signals since the arrows only are for cars that are behind the rider.

Why haven't these people created a Kickstarter project for this? Pushing it as a DIY project isn't very ambitious.

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