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It would be good for the jurisdictions to work towards a more uniform standard, as this would signal some seriousness towards the issue.

I totally agree on the issue of bells - they shouldn't be required. Cyclists who aren't fiddling with bells in hazardous situations are free to fiddle with brakes (and just yell). I too have a bell, and use it when it's the polite way to give someone notice. When I was lad of 17, however, I came inches from running down an oblivious pedestrian while I struggled to ring the bell rather than struggling to swerve or stop.

I'd like to see a law requiring bicycle dealers to inform their customers of the legal safety requirements. Many places sell bikes without the required reflectors, let alone inform the buyer of any of the other items they must put on their bike.

I'm not looking for a law making the dealers build every bike with all the the equipment. Just one requiring they give the customer an info sheet (& build with reflectors -- they are cheap enough to add minimal cost & are easily removed if the customer doesn't want them).

I grew up in lumber country in SE Texas and often drove the road from Lumberton to Woodville (not joking). This highway had one lane in each direction and more than half the traffic was lumber trucks. They were paid by the trip, so they drove fast.

Once, I was riding with my friend in his old station wagon and he looks in his rear view mirror, then swerves off the road and slmas his brakes as a lumber truck passes us. It was attempting the very difficult maneuver of passing us in the same lane. My friend leaps out of the car and lets screams a litany of profanities at the truck the likes of which I'm sure I will never hear again. He calmed down and stood there for a while and when he got back in the car, he paused for a bit and then looked at me and said "my horn doesn't work."

I once had a close call with a kid who unexpectedly leapt off the curb midblock as I was riding down hill and after I had avoided him (and I was sure I was going to kill us both) I began ringing my bell. it's like it took several seconds for the thought to become action. I thought, "my brain doesn't work."

Am I the only one who thinks the reflector AND light requirement is moronic. I can recall many times almost smashing into "legal" bikes with massive reflectors on an unlit bike path.

The problem with reflectors is that they are only good as the light shining upon it.

I have two head lights, a tail light, reflective sidewalls and reflective tape on my fenders. But, I'm an outlaw, because I removed the reflector to mount the tail light.

I originally thought that too, but I thought about what happens if your battery dies mid-ride. You may not even notice. I like the belt and suspenders approach to light and reflector.

microzen -- there already is federal law requiring bikes be sold with reflectors, I don't think a law requiring dealers to notify buyers that they are in violation of the law would make much difference.

I think that in addition to reflectors, bikes should be required to be sold with front and rear lights. A cheap blinkie is no more expensive than a set of reflectors these days.

You regularly voice the opinion that safety features which only protect the user should not be mandatory. Why make that distinction? Numerous other laws mandate safety practices that only protect the user -- seatbelt laws for example. Would you really advocate that seatbelt laws should be repealed, just because of the insignificant encroachment on your "freedom?"

Seatbelt laws are different. A driver wearing a seatbelt is more likely to regain control of the car because the seatbelt keeps them in front of the steering wheel. Seatbelted passengers are prevented from becoming deadly projections. But yes, if not for these facts I would oppose seatbelt laws.

Why did you put freedom in quotes? Do you not believe that freedom is a real thing?

If everyone wore sunscreen during the day, public health would improve. Do you support mandatory sunscreen laws? Seatbelts do work. So do Nascar style helmets, flame retardent suits and those little chains that connect the helmet to the seat. If everyone had those, lives would be saved. Should we mandate them? You're free to use those items right now, but choose not too. A key element of freedom is the freedom for you to do what I think is stupid. You're free to worship your god, or none, despite me knowning that it displeases my god. You're free to bad mouth the President even though I think he's awesome. You're free to invest in lottery tickets, never floss and do a whole bunch of other stupid things. Without that, you really aren't free.

"Numerous other laws mandate safety practices that only protect the user -- seatbelt laws for example."

Actually, the seatbelt law is very much an anomoly in our legal system. Generally the government has to show a compelling reason to restrict people's activities, and keeping them from hurting themselves doesn't meet that standard.

When seat belt laws were new, they were frequently the subject of constitutional challenges for just that reason. The challenges hinged on one issue: does not wearing a seatbelt endanger only the non-wearer, or does it endanger others.

Here is a quote from the decision in Iowa vs. Hartog, 1989:

Hartog argues that the purpose of the statute is to protect the individual from his own folly and, consequently, such purpose has no relation to the public health, safety, or welfare. Implicit in Hartog's argument is that the decision whether to wear a seat belt is a personal one affecting him only; therefore, he should be able to make that decision free of state interference.

...Concededly, the statute here is designed to protect the driver and front seat passenger from serious injury or death. So there is merit in Hartog's argument that the statute interferes with the individual's choice concerning his or her own safety. The issue immediately narrows to:... does the seat belt law really protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public or, as Hartog argues, is the decision whether to wear a seat belt an individual one which affects no one but the individual involved. For reasons that follow we think the public safety and welfare are served by the seat belt statute.

Several courts have rejected the argument Hartog raises, that is, that his unwillingness to use seat belts places only himself at risk. These courts point out that seat belt use enhances a driver's ability to maintain control of the car and avoid injuries not only to the driver but to others. Similarly, an unrestrained front seat passenger can interfere with the ability of a driver to respond to a collision. ... Moreover, studies have shown that such an unrestrained passenger poses danger of injuries to other occupants through direct or indirect body contact brought about by occupant kinetics. For example, instances have occurred in which a person holding a small child has been thrown forcibly against the child, crushing the child to death. It is readily apparent to us that the legislature could rationally conclude unbelted drivers and passengers endanger the safety of others.

A few comments:

a) "On your LEFT"; passing on the right is dangerous as it is unexpected.

b) Head and neck restraint systems work by attaching the helmet to a device that is attached to the body or otherwise pinned to the body by the shoulder straps of the racing belts. It keeps your spine in one piece instead of allowing an internal decapitation when you hit an immovable object at a high rate of speed. There is some debate as to the efficacy of such devices in anything other than a straight-shot into a wall-- for instance, sliding sideways into a tree or snap-rolling your car.

The thing is, without the proper seat belt system, those devices would be worthless. Race drivers use them (while complaining about the cost of purchasing them, unless said drivers are paid to drive) because the licensing and sanctioning bodies require them.

c) you forgot to mention airbags along with seat belts. :)

d) bells are great-- but I find that in case of emergency, I'd rather be grabbing brakes and yelling than trying to hit the bell. Bells really only work in non-emergency situations, such as warning pedestrians or slower bikes that you are passing-- on the left, of course.

(Really enjoying this series, Wash!)

I really, really, really wish all cyclists would observe the requirement to have a front light while riding at night. I feel very uncomfortable riding on the bike/run trails when I keep passing other cyclists who don't have any lights at all. Even though I have a light, it can be difficult to see a cyclist when the light from cars on nearby roads distract you. I try to check ahead for bumps on the asphalt and sometimes I don't see the other cyclist until he/she is just a couple feet in front of me.

It's even worse when not everyone seems to understand that you should ride on the right side of the road or path. I was riding on the 14th St. Bridge one night when I saw a bike light up ahead, maybe 150 feet away. As soon as he saw me, he shifted over to the left side of the narrow path, meaning he turned directly into my path. I didn't know what was going on but I figured he would see my lights and get out of my way. Nope. He kept coming at me while riding on his left. I kept waiting for him to get back onto his right. He didn't do so until he was literally less than a foot from me. Yikes! Imagine if that guy didn't have a light. Or if I didn't have one. Would have been a pretty ugly scene, possibly involving one or both people heading over the railing and down into the murky Potomac far below.

OK, I got a little carried away. The main point is that all cyclists need to have a front light at night, because of the safety considerations.

I put freedom in quotes because the seatbelt issue is so negligible as to make the freedom argument ridiculous. You are still free to not wear a seatbelt; the state has simply adjusted the consequences of doing so. It's not much different than imposing a tax on recklessness. People claim that their freedom is under siege all the time when it really isn't. Unless someone is going to put you in prison or physically bar you from doing something, I'm not sure your freedom is in jeopardy.

Hmmm... add "inordinate and unjustified costs" to the list of ways that freedom can be impinged. But the seatbelt law is neither of those.

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