Road safety and visibility… is it just down to personal responsibility?

COMMENT: is a strong supportor of having decent lights on bicycles and using a torch when walking in rural areas in darkness, but is visibility just a matter of personal responsibility?

We could debate the pros and cons of  high-visibility vests in urban as well as rural areas. The fact is, the level of use among pedestrians and cyclists remains overall low and nothing is going to achieve very high usage, not even unrealistic ideas about making high-visibility vests compulsory.'s reader-funded journalism won't survive without your help. With over 762,000 views so-far this year, it's not just "avid cyclists" who read this website, but, if you want it to keep going, more support is needed from readers like you. Now, back to the article...

So, what about other kinds of visibility? What about the quality and type of street lights?

As my local council (Mayo County Council) are slowly upgrading its street light bulbs as old bulbs are replaced, I’ve had an unusual opportunity in the last while to compare and contrast the old orange street light to the new whiter light.

The following images were taken moments apart on the same street, same direction of travel, and the same distance from the two types of lights (a wider shot the the street is above). Compare and contrast, the old and new: 


Hand with glove:


Better street lights also add to the feeling of safety.

Before moving away from light and visibility, we should also note that visibility is often used as an excuse for inattentional blindness or perceptual blindness, careless driving or other poor driving.

And while I’m not saying there’s no level of personal responsibility, it’s not the only issue.
Visibility by design is also important — sightlines can be affected by walls, signs, trees, bushes etc.

For example, behind this sign (which was at adult eye level) is a tram traveling at some speed — it’s not clear how it relates to a fatal bicycle/tram collision which happened at this spot, but the sign was removed when it was reported to the Railway Safety Commission;

Visibility at general junctions of roads or the junctions between cycle paths and roads is also of paramount importance. The rules of sightlines need to be strengthened and retrofit into existing designs.

There’s some stark examples on greenways. Below is a photo of where a section of the Castlebar greenway links to a side road.  

The image is taken from the N5 and the timber fencing is where the walking and cycling greenway path ends and users are directed left onto the side road. The greenway exit is right inside the path of motorists heading towards the camera on the N5 but then turn left into the side road:

It can be said that the design is totally wrong in many ways, but the  design and many others of different types are made worse by poor sightlines. Chopping some bushes or light trees down is a small price to pay for better safety.

Putting barriers up to slow cyclists down or thinking stop or dismount signs are a fix here is missing the point — the lack of visibility (and speed of turning motorists) means people walking can be as much of an issue as people cycling. When the view is blocked to look back at turning cars is blocked, it might not matter how careful greenway users are.

What’s clear is that visibility isn’t just an issue for road users — councils and government must also play their roll. They are failing to do so at the moment.


  1. Why were the old white lights ever replaced with those horrible yellow lights? I never liked the yellow lights. What was the reasoning?

  2. Great piece Cian, couldn’t agree more, there is a lot of deflection happening at the moment, and the often extremely poor standard of infrastructure and even poorer upkeep is being masked by the pitting of road users against each other. It is definitely time to focus on the pivotal and critical role our local and central government has to play in ensuring road users have appropriate safe and well-maintained infrastructure to use, and that vulnerable road users have segregated facilities where the ambient traffic speed requires (as per Dutch standard model – any roads where motorised traffic travels at 60km and over has segregated facilities). Time to shift the narrative.

  3. I don’t remember any old white lights, possibly before my time. Most street lamps have been sodium-vapor which give that yellow colouring. They are relatively energy efficient compared to whatever they replaced, but now with LED we can have full colour spectrum visibilty and save on energy bills, so it is a win-win.

  4. Really good article Cian. I agree, good design is critical. Engineers should look at accidents to see how better design could help. Design should embrace desire lines and normal human behavior, rather than work against it.

  5. They were white lights on my road when I was a kid, and then one day they were all changed to yellow-orange ones.

  6. Great piece and excellent comments!
    At our meeting with AGS the importance of conspicuousness for people who cycle was firmly emphasised. No evidence adduced.

  7. It’s also critical to reinforce the narrative that if you’re driving around in a big metal box, it’s the DRIVER’S responsibility to be able to see where he/she is going and to be able to stop in time; that’s it’s not at all an excuse to say “the sun was in my eyes” or “it was dark” or “my windows were fogged up”.

    If the street lighting is bad, slow down. If the sun is in your eyes, slow down. If the road is unlit, slow down. Don’t drive past oncoming headlights completely unable to see what’s at the side of the road, etc. Just because we’ve all done the wrong thing doesn’t mean it’s ok to keep doing the wrong thing.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.