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This unfortunate Seattle Times front page showcases the toxic windshield perspective

If I didn’t take the screenshot myself, I would assume this was a clever photoshop joke. But it’s real, as Washington Bike Law (a SBB sponsor) pointed out on Facebook.

The top of Saturday’s Seattle Times teased a story about how it is dangerous for people to wear dark-colored clothing when they walk or bike right next to a wire story about some mounts you can buy to “make it safer to use your phone while driving.”

This is the toxic windshield perspective in a nutshell. People who decided to throw on a black shirt in the morning are asking to be hit by cars, but it is totally safe to use your phone while driving so long an you buy a mount for it.

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Together, these stories try to justify a dangerous behavior (the wire story never even mentions that you could *gasp* not use your phone at all while driving) and put the blame for traffic injuries and deaths on the victim (the “fashion” story never bothers to mention that fucking everybody wears black because, like, a shit load of clothes in the world are black because it is the combination of all colors and looks fucking cool).

It’s weird that this needs to be said, but: Seattle, wear whatever you want to wear.

Sometimes people wear black shirts. Sometimes people wear yellow shirts. Sometimes people wear no shirts at all. No matter what they are wearing, the person driving is responsible for not hitting them. Period.

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27 responses to “This unfortunate Seattle Times front page showcases the toxic windshield perspective”

  1. Merlin R Rainwater

    and the next article in the Seattle Times’ Traffic Lab series laments that Seattle drivers are too slow and cautious! http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/transportation/too-timid-extra-safe-readers-describe-seattles-driving-culture-in-not-so-glowing-terms/

    1. hsa

      This is so not true… People drive too fast on the residential roads. Way too fast. And on narrow streets that leave little room for error.

      1. Doug

        I moved from Seattle to Minneapolis earlier this year.

        While the city itself is a joy to ride in — much more relaxing than Seattle in many, many ways — the drivers have taken some time to adjust to.

        Overall, drivers here in Minneapolis are far more impatient and aggressive than anything I encountered regularly in my 9 years of nearly daily riding in Seattle.

        Dangerous passing, tailgating, cut-offs, incredibly fast driving in residential neighborhoods: all behaviors I’ve witnessed daily. It’s shocking, really, the transition has been rough. In fact, I get honked at by busses often, on a signed “Bike Boulevard.” Every time I ride it!

        I really miss the relatively slow and cautious Seattle drivers sometimes.

  2. Shelly Bowman

    I am a person that bikes, walks, drives, uses the bus and at night (add rain) an
    with people doing their thing with plenty of assumptions while traveling from all modes. Well, I have almost hit someone, cautious and caring as I am, I could not see them dark on dark. Oh you might say, “see you did not hit them because you took responsibility as a person that bikes and drivers”. No, I tell you, it was by the grace of luck that I miraculously saw something like a shadow. Wearing black in pitch black did not make them bad, and not seeing them did not make me bad…but our lives almost changed for the worst in a fleeting moment, and I want to reduce the risk. Got it,…speeding, arrogant drivers, fast cars, fast speed limits, dangerous inter sections and so on are negligence and responsible for hurting and killing and our roads and laws continue to be all about “them” and that is wrong and something I fight to change daily.

    As “uncool” as I know it is to express an opinion that a reflective vest, a blinkie, a brighter color at night is common sense to help me be seen, I am going to say it. We can all work together to help save lives. If a driver is ultimately responsible to prove that they were not negligent, great, I support as a driver being responsible and hope we can pass that! And, as a person that bikes, if wearing a bright reflective simething helps simeone to see me riding or walking, then I support that as a great lesson to encourage others to do. If making eye contact before starting into the crosswalk, wearing a brighter clothing at night, and getting my head out of my cellphone increases my chances of a safe journey, I am doing that, too.

    As long as we continue the us vs them in all aspects of our lives, I feel I lose an opportunity to be safer based on principles of precidence. While I will take note that wearing black makes me look cool (er) :) , I know that if any family member of mine could be a bit safety more by wearing bright, I pray they do it. Ok, absurd as a law, maybe…..but super cool to lower my family and friends risk of injury, if possible.

    Like I said, I am a person that bikes and walks, and when I drive I am still a good person doing my best to see others as are most wonderful folks I know, and I appreciate when they help me out, so together we are caring for each other on the road.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      I’m not against people wearing bright colors or reflective gear. Like I said, wear whatever you want!

    2. Richard

      I want to empathize. I’m trying really, really hard to do so.

      But fundamentally, you’re operating a deadly piece of machinery, and taking upon yourself the responsibility of ensuring it’s operated in a manner that’s safe for everyone around you. If you cannot see what is in your path of travel, far enough ahead to have time to stop, you are creating a hazard and failing at that responsibility. You have headlights, and when you shine a light on a person wearing all black – even at night! – they magically become visible. If other environmental factors such as rain or fog obscure them, *that is still your responsibility*; if you have to drive half your normal speed to have time to react to things at the distance you can see in the environment, then do so – that’s the responsibility you accept when you turn the key.

  3. Mahfuz A

    I’ve been biking year round for 3 years in Seattle and while I’ve been never been hit by a car, there have been some close calls. Many of those were early on and partly due to my newness on the road. In one case, I signaled late that I would be veering left at the fork on Lake Washington Drivein Kirkland. Ultimately, it IS the responsibility of the car driver to not hit you. But I would support laws to make certain bike safety items mandatory when there is rain and at night. Things like front and rear lights, and one piece of reflective safety gear on the upper body. These are commonsense things that I know would make it easier for a driver to see me since I’m a driver also. Some basic laws for cars like always on Headlight laws as in other states and Canada are simple and make a huge difference in seeing cars behind me. Finally, having some basic guidance for new drivers about how to be aware of cyclists and pedestrians would be a good start on he awareness front

    1. Josh

      Washington already requires bicycles to have a steady white headlight and a red rear reflector at any time you can’t clearly see an ordinary pedestrian at 1,000 feet — the same conditions that require motorists to turn on their headlights. (“Hours of darkness” – half hour after sunset to a half hour before sunrise and at any other time when, due to insufficient light or unfavorable atmospheric conditions, persons and vehicles on the highway are not clearly discernible at a distance of one thousand feet ahead.)

      Pedestrians aren’t required to have any particular conspicuity gear, and they’re allowed to cross at unmarked crosswalks in any weather or lighting, so really, that should be the litmus test for whether you need headlights — could you see a child in a dark hoodie against the roadway more than a city block ahead?

      That’s also the legal standard for how fast you can drive, though it’s rarely enforced.

      RCW 46.61.400
      Basic rule and maximum limits.
      (1) No person shall drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing. In every event speed shall be so controlled as may be necessary to avoid colliding with any person, vehicle or other conveyance on or entering the highway in compliance with legal requirements and the duty of all persons to use due care.
      (3) The driver of every vehicle shall, consistent with the requirements of subsection (1) of this section, drive at an appropriate reduced speed when approaching and crossing an intersection or railway grade crossing, when approaching and going around a curve, when approaching a hill crest, when traveling upon any narrow or winding roadway, and when special hazard exists with respect to pedestrians or other traffic or by reason of weather or highway conditions.

      1. I agree with everything Josh says. Unfortunately, people who need to read his post don’t come here.

      2. Mahfuz A

        I’ve not met a single cyclist on the road that knows the requirement for lights on bikes under these specific conditions. Perhaps a bit more education and awareness is needed for new cyclists such as permanent visible signs on prominent trails. I’ve just used these for my own safety always when I ride b/c ultimately it’s my body vs the car and in that instant, a law is not going to protect me.

      3. Tom Fucoloro

        I bet most people probably think the bike light rule is stricter than it really is. A lot of people are shocked when they learn you only need a rear reflector and not a rear light. Rear lights are so common, I wouldn’t be against just making them the legal requirement.

        And any front light at this point would meet the legal requirement. Even a little one-LED light probably meets it. Most people also far exceed the legal minimum (if your light illuminates any of the road in front of you, you are many times beyond the requirement).

    2. hsa

      I always drive with my headlights on, because it’s one of those things that needs to be a habit. Not to mention, there are many times in Seattle when the road is too shaded/treed/winding/dim to make out an approaching vehicle even during the day. And as a pedestrian, I appreciate when cars have their lights on. It also helps people who have imperfect vision, whether they’re on foot or not.

      I’ve been amazed at how many bicycles I see being ridden in the dark with no rear light. It’s not illegal, and I think it’s not quite as dangerous as it seems; with a small number of exceptions, the folks I’ve seen doing this are not going at high speeds, aren’t driving in the center of the road, etc. I also suspect many of them did not intend to be riding that night, or don’t have the money for a bike light (which are often stolen, btw).

  4. hsa

    Having a decent mount for a cell phone is important for folks using their phone for mapping/turn by turn directions. I would rather someone be able to see the map with their face looking forward, than be trying to look at it in their lap. Now, if we want to outlaw cell phone use in a moving car, that is fine by me actually. But we haven’t done it yet.

    I didn’t like the article about wearing black. Wearing black clothing is not the problem. Wearing black clothing at night isn’t even the problem. It’s mind-numbing that they frame it that way. The *problem* is choosing to walk recklessly, irresponsibly, unpredictably, etc. in public and then not even be visible because you’re not thinking about the fact that there are other people also using the roads.

    In Seattle, I have seen pedestrians imperil their limbs in mindboggling ways. My dad was a professional driver for years (deliveries, city buses, semis) and he would say that cars 1/4 of the size of his vehicle would do dangerous things like cut him off — without signaling and with no room to spare. Not only was this really stressful, it endangered his livelihood because some companies have one-accident-and-you’re-out policies. Well, I have seen similar death wish behavior from pedestrians in relation to my car. It defies logic. Not to mention, it’s really inconsiderate and breeds ill-will.

    1. Erik

      How is driving AND looking at a map or screen whether it is mounted on your dash or not safe? Figure out your ride before you leave or stop and plan ahead if you can’t listen to directions from your phone. Maybe having the phone mounted on the dash is marginally better but you can’t pay attention if you are looking at a map and it is bad advice to encourage it.

  5. Tom

    Articles like this one from ST fuel entitled drivers that just want everyone to get out of their way. It is that logic that is so dangerous, not clothing.

    Just the other week I was walking across a crosswalk in broad daylight (wearing clothes that weren’t black…as if that should matter) and a car flew around the corner and came within a half foot of hitting me. The driver then proceeded to give ME the finger! Drivers that think pedestrians don’t belong on the road and that think it is solely the job of the pedestrian to avoid a collision are the most dangerous thing on our streets.

    1. Peri Hartman

      We just need to do our best to educate drivers and be vigilant when walking or bicycling. The vast majority of drivers are considerate and careful. The more we do to alert drivers to the vulnerabilities of peds and cyclists, the safer we’ll be. The more we do, within reason, to slow down traffic, we’ll also be safer. The more we educate peds and cyclists to not assume that drivers see them, the safer we’ll be.

      Even with the best intentions, there will still be mistakes. It has always been that way, even back in horse and chariot days. It’s unfortunate that ST sometimes supports such entitlement. My belief is that we need to counter by increasing our outreach and education.

  6. […] It's almost like driving is the only way Seattle Times editors get around. Image via Seattle Bike Blog […]

  7. […] a post at Seattle Bike Blog, Tom Fucoloro picks apart the problems with absolving drivers of responsibility by blaming vulnerable road users for things like wearing […]

  8. […] It’s almost like driving is the only way Seattle Times editors get around. Image via Seattle Bike Blog […]

  9. NOYFB


    I want to respond to your 1:16 am post, as something similar happened to me as a pedestrian just last week, for the THIRD time. I don’t drive in downtown SEA, I Hate Driving period. Am a die hard pedestrian, not biker. One more time: Pedestrian, NOT biker. There I was, crossing Cherry street, exercising my right of way. Broad daylight. Smack in the middle of the crosswalk, a guy in a bike FLIES through the intersection, nearly knocking me over. A bike. A fucking bike. Like you, I WAS yelled at as if I was in the wrong. Asshole. Let’s repurpose YOUR post:

    “Blogs like this one fuel entitled cyclists that just want everyone, including pedestrians exercising their right of way, to get out of their way.”

    For the THIRD time in downtown SEA this has happened and its the last straw for me. I see this problem getting worse, as cyclists seem to think themselves above mere human failings, oh so superior to those motorists. But from where I am standing, you are just as bad and its WORSE because you spend so much time pointing the finger at drivers, yet most of you seem unaware of your own potential to do harm. My entire attitude changed that day – now when I see a bike I immediately think the rider is an asshole willing to run me down.

    Please get off your high horse and realize you are not that different from drivers.

    1. Roberto

      Once again, I present to you (and not for the last time), the good old Heuristic Delusion.

      The Heuristic Delusion works like this. Some jerk on a bicycle nearly kills you. Then it happens again the next week. And yet again the next day! Oh my God, every cyclist is Seattle is hellbent on killing pedestrians!

      The Delusion occurs because your mind clearly forgets the hundreds of other cyclists who obeyed the law and didn’t try to run you over. Don’t blame yourself for that…I’m just as guilty. And please don’t think I’m taking a condescending tone. I’m not! This is the human condition. You see, our memories take into sharp focus the dramatic events. That’s why these events are called “memorable”. But these memorable events are merely bookends to the hundreds and thousands of “non-events” that we don’t bother to remember. That is, the thousands of cyclists, drivers, and yes, pedestrians who are courteous and transport themselves safely. Of course we forget them…they didn’t do anything memorable. And those murderous cyclists and drivers? Well, they may be totally safe and courteous their whole life…but one human error turns them into a killer. I strive hard to be a safe cyclist, and I pride myself on that…but I’ve made errors in judgment before and almost hit someone. It wasn’t out of malice or even carelessness…just human error.

      We cyclists are just as guilty when we gripe and moan about horrific drivers. Actually, drivers in Seattle are pretty good. Nearly all of them, in my 7 hard years of experience biking through traffic, give me a wide berth if there’s room, slow down around me, and stop and wave me through a crosswalk. But it’s that 1% or 2% that give me hell, and of course that’s the only drivers I remember. And it only takes one driver to kill me or seriously maim me, and the 100,000 safe and courteous drivers don’t matter to me when I’m off to the ER or morgue.

      So please take that into account when telling people to get off their high horse. Perhaps you should examine the horse you’re riding.

      Solution: Design streets that take human nature into account. That’s really the only effective solution. Education is well and good, but it only goes so far.

    2. Johnny Cohn

      “…nearly knocking me over.” “I was nearly killed on the sidewalk by the person riding a bike.”
      Translation: They were too close for my comfort and they startled me and in reality didn’t pose a threat. The person riding the bike was three feet away, in control and yielded the right of way.

  10. […] It’s roughly like pushing is a usually approach Seattle Times editors get around. Image around Seattle Bike Blog […]

  11. Eric

    Study finds hi-viz clothing has no effect on driver passing distances

    The promotion of hi-viz has included police operations to stop cyclists wearing ordinary clothes or cycling kit and give them official advice that they ought to be doing more to make themselves seen.

    Into this consensus drops a timely study on cycling kit from researchers at Bath and Brunel universities. 269 participants used bikes with ultrasonic devices fitted to measure the distance at which motorists overtook them while they wore a variety of different cycling kit. This included a typical sporting rider’s Lycra, a casual rider’s normal clothing, and several different commercially available hi-viz vests.

    The researchers found that the only kit that made a significant difference to the average passing distance was a hi-viz vest marked with the word ‘POLICE’ and a notice advising drivers that the rider was videoing their ride. This increased the average passing distance from 117cm to 122cm.

    Contrary to the researchers’ expectations, there was no marked difference between ‘experienced rider’ kit, and a vest marked ‘Novice Cyclist’, nor between ordinary clothes and hi-viz kit.

    Irrespective of any of the kit worn, 1-2 per cent of overtakes were within 50cm, suggesting that nothing a rider wears makes any significant difference to the incidence of very close passes.

    The researchers suggest that improvements to infrastructure are a more effective means of improving rider safety than changing clothing habits.

    1. Peri Hartman

      I find the conclusions of this study wanting. While I am willing to accept that the type of clothing made no difference on the passing distance, how can one conclude that it had no difference on safety?

      If a driver decides to pass too close (e.g. < 50 cm) but sees the cyclist well in advance, it may be unpleasant and scary for the cyclist but, I believe, there is little chance the cyclist will be hit. The driver is paying attention and is fully aware of the cyclist. On the other hand, if the cyclist is not seen till the last moment and the driver suddenly decides to "squeeze by", in my opinion there's a much higher chance of being hit.

      Disclosure: I did not read the study or its results. Maybe this was addressed.

    2. Dave


  12. Dave

    I’m a cyclist and will admit cheerfully to being an anti-motorist bigot but, why, oh why, can’t riders put some damned lights on their bike? I started regular night cycling about when Jimmy Page was still in a band called the Yardbirds and bike lighting has improved out of all recognition since then–why don’t more riders light up?

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