By Tommy Noyes

Rita Kungel, left, and Tommy Noyes are both quite visible on the Ke Ala Hele Makalae, but since Tommy started by riding along Kuhio Highway he chose to raise his conspicuity by wearing a hi-vis fluorescent yellow shirt. Photo by Pat Griffin

In May, we celebrate National Bike Month, and encourage people to try biking. People biking on our streets fare best when they are alert, visible, predictable and assertive. Let’s focus on how people who actively enjoy our streets can be appropriately visible.

Reducing risks helps prevent bad things from happening and is a sensible approach to avoiding injuries. Hunters typically wear hi-vis garments to be quickly seen by others. Appropriate precautions become increasingly vital as potential danger levels rise. Wearing blaze orange for a backyard project probably wouldn’t be necessary, but one would certainly be safer wearing a hi-vis vest if changing a flat tire next to a busy road.

“Visibility is vital no matter what time of day,” says Lance Rae of Walk Wise Hawai‘i. “Pedestrians must always wear bright or reflective clothing when walking along any roadway.”

To reduce or eliminate your risks of being hit by another road user, think about how visible you need to be, considering when and where you intend to bike, walk or run. Bicycling, walking or running on quiet residential streets in full daylight is very different when compared to the same activities on highway shoulders after dark next to motor vehicles going 50-plus miles per hour. The after-dark scenario is so much riskier it would logically require elevated visibility — such as bright flashing lights or even a dedicated escort vehicle — to prevent a crash.

The term for this is conspicuity, from the word conspicuous: obvious to the eye or mind. You’re easily seen when your conspicuity is high; with low conspicuity, you’ll blend into the background.

Here are some suggestions to help you choose an appropriate level of conspicuity.

Consider your planned travel. Will you be close to or removed from motor vehicles? How fast will you be traveling, and how fast will the motor vehicles near you be going? Higher speeds reduce reaction times, and so increase risk levels. Can you select routes to and from your destination on streets where vehicles are traveling at lower speeds?

Consider walking on sidewalks or biking on streets in lighted areas with slow-moving vehicles as a minimal risk situation. Simply staying alert — especially around driveways and intersections — is appropriately cautious no matter your conspicuity.

Tommy Noyes

Will you be in the dark? If it’s possible you’ll be traveling in the dark, increase your conspicuity. Wear hi-vis colors, reflectors, appropriate lights, and/or retroreflective materials. A retroreflective slap-wrap band works best if wrapped around an ankle. Low beam lights shining from any direction will bounce back to the driver’s eyes, and your foot’s motion will identify you as a walker, runner or biker. When bicycling within one-half hour before sunset or after sunrise, the legal minimum requirement is a white light visible from 500 feet mounted on the front of your bike, plus a 2-square-inch red reflector in the rear.

Questions? The first five responders to contact the author at (808) 639-1018 with questions about conspicuity will be rewarded with a free Alert Today Alive Tomorrow retroreflective slap-wrap band.

  • Tommy Noyes is Kaua‘i Path’s executive director, a League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructor and active with the Kaua‘i Medical Reserve Corps.

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