Populist TD who complains about “nanny state” asking about mandatory high-visibility clothing

Populist independent Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath has asked in a parliamentary question what the plans are to make the wearing of high-visibility clothing a legal requirement for pedestrians and cyclists.

Faced with criticism on the issue of racism, McGrath has more than a few times claimed in the media and in the Dail that he or people who he supports are not racist. For example in 2019, he defended Noel Grealish after he claimed that African asylum seekers come to Ireland to “sponge” off taxpayers, McGrath was reported as having said: “I’m sick and tired of this nanny state and being targeted in the media for being racist just for saying what you think.”

Now the populist TD — who has a record of fighting against proven road safety measures such as drink driving laws and lower speed limits — is just asking questions about the mandatory use of high-visibility clothing for people walking and cycling.

There is no evidence that the use of high-vis reduces collisions over the use of bicycle lights and there is even less evidence on mandatory use of high-vis.

Research looking at the data of crashes on Italy’s roads before and after a 2010 law which made high-vis mandatory gear mandatory after dusk and before dawn said: “Results revealed that the implementation of legislation imposing high-visibility clothing for cyclist did not influence the number of bicycles involved in road crashes as well as its proportion in the total vehicles involved in road crashes. The introduction of the legislation did not produce immediate effects, nor did it have any effects over time.”

A written parliamentary question from Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport for “his plans to make the wearing of high-visibility clothing a legal requirement for pedestrians and cyclists due to the high level of pedestrian fatalities; and if he will make a statement on the matter.”


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Minister for State for transport Jack Chambers, in a written answer last week, said: “Under the Road Safety Authority Act 2006, the Road Safety Authority (RSA) has responsibility for the promotion of public awareness campaigns and for the advancement of education specific to the safe use of roads. I have therefore referred the Deputy’s question to the RSA for direct reply. I would ask the Deputy to contact my office if a response is not received within 10 days.”

He added: “My Department is of the view that encouraging the use of protective gear such as helmets and high visibility clothing is better achieved by way of educational rather than punitive means. The RSA promotes the use of high visibility clothing for road users and in recent years has distributed several million high-vis vests, armbands and rucksack covers to pedestrians and cyclists.”

In 2017, the former Road Safety Authority CEO Moyagh Murdock was forced to remind politicians that we do not live in a “police state” after questions in a joint committee about the issue.

Despite the lack of evidence to support high-vis, the issue is one which some politicians are slow to stop asking about. It’s a recurring issue, especially for rural TDs.

Last October another populist TD, Kerry independent, Michael Healy-Rae asked “the steps that need to be taken to encourage people who are out walking to protect themselves and wear hi-vis jackets at all times (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter.”

Michael Healy-Rae also has a poor record supporting proven safety measures including fighting against lower speed limits and supporting drink drivers, including looking for special permits for people in rural areas to be issued to allow them to bypass national laws on drink driving.

On the issue of high-vis, Minister for State Chambers issued a similar reply including referring the issue to the RSA. Chambers said: “The Department is of the view that the wearing protective clothing such as of helmets and high visibility clothing is better achieved by way of educational rather than punitive means and the RSA runs awareness campaigns to this end. The RSA has also distributed several million high-vis vests, armbands and rucksack covers to pedestrians and cyclists in recent years.”

In a debate on road safety last September, Sinn Fein Senator Lynn Boylan said: “A disproportionate amount of responsibility has been placed on vulnerable road users like pedestrians and people on bikes. Campaigns by the likes of the Road Safety Authority are framed in terms of responsibility for those vulnerable cyclists and pedestrians to protect themselves. There is a whiff of victim-blaming by some of the campaigns.”

“Cyclists are told to wear helmets, reflective gear and to be aware. The campaigns are rarely about the terrible infrastructure that puts road users at risk or the dangerous drivers or vehicles who are actually responsible for the accidents. If we go to any other European country that has proper infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists and we will see they are not dressed up like they are going to war, as we see in Ireland. It is not necessary to wear all the high-vis clothing, helmets and all of that safety equipment when adequate infrastructure for cyclists is put in place,” she said.

Senator Boylan said: “In Ireland, when we read between the lines and look at the advertising campaigns by car manufacturers, the narrative is that if individuals want to be safe, they need to place themselves and their families in a large SUV. Of course, these small tanks are very expensive and not affordable for the vast majority of the public. Their widespread uptake is coming at a detriment to other road users.”

She said that the update of SUVs is a factor in the increase in road collisions. She added: “A crash involving an SUV and a pedestrian is much more likely to result in more serious internal body and head injuries due to the vehicle’s high bonnet compared with traditional sedans.”

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