Runners, cyclists should be visible after dark.

Back in early November when early morning runs were in complete darkness, OWies member Sarah Buerger showed up one morning with a lighted running vest that was so bright that it would even attract notice on the Vegas strip. The thing had a full panel of red lights on the back and white lights on the front. And boy, was it visible!

Most of the rest of us wear reflective vests as protection in the dark, but Sarah’s was in a whole different category. We gave her some ribbing about being the River Forest flasher, among other compliments about the new gadget, but the fact remained that her vest was the ultimate in runner visibility. A month later, fellow OWie Greg Padgett bought one of them, and now Don Offermann has one, too.

As I said, most members of our group wear reflective vests, and some add little blinking lights, but the whole issue of night-time visibility needs frequent reinforcement. There are still too many out there in dark clothing who are courting disaster.

How often have you been driving when you (barely) see some jerk in dark clothes running, or on a bike with no lights, no reflectors, and sometimes even riding on the wrong side of the street? I usually drop a few four-letter words and shake my head at the sheer foolishness of this practice. Of course the people who need to heed this advice probably won’t be reading this.

In my bicycle group we mostly ride during daylight hours, but some times of the year at 7:00 am lights and high visibility are essential. I have a bright, flashing taillight, and a flashing headlight. That headlight isn’t for me to see where I’m going, it’s for others to see where I’m going.

Not only the OWies, but the Oak Park Runners Club have tried to stress night-time visibility to their members. Garments with reflective strips are good, but you shouldn’t assume that a few tiny reflective accents will provide full protection. The more the better.  There are lots of flashing lights that clip to your clothing, but many are pretty invisible from, say, a half block away. Would an approaching car be able to see you in time?

I used to hang a new running jacket on a door knob in a dark room and see how well it showed up in the beam of a flashlight. Some that had “reflective accents” were pretty disappointing, so I wouldn’t wear them in the dark. And unless the streets are snowy, white is still a pretty effective color after dark. Again, the example of the person on a bike in dark clothes: if that person had been wearing even a white t-shirt, there would have been much better visibility.

So while running or cycling, be visible after dark. Wear light colors, reflective materials, blinking lights, or all of the above. And for the full Star Wars effect, get a vest like Sarah Buerger’s. However, there’s always the chance that planes headed to O’Hare International Airport could mistake you for the runway.

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