Esplanade closure begins February 1st

Follow these 15 driving tips and make streets safer for everyone

Posted by on September 5th, 2017 at 10:27 am

Interstate Avenue.jpg
A great city for biking must have great drivers.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

This post was submitted by BP Subscriber Alex Reed.

We all know driving is a challenging endeavor that carries grave responsibility – lives are on the line. But even driving according to the law dependably is difficult – much less going beyond the law to be truly courteous and helpful to other road users.

Here are some ideas I’ve found useful – starting with how to obey the law. If you don’t drive, please share this with your friends and family that do.

8 Tips To Help Get You to A+, 100% Lawful Driving

1. Take a deep breath – don’t rush.
If you’re reading this for tips, I bet you already obey the speed limit without fail. But don’t forget the Basic Speed Law (layperson’s version: don’t drive too fast for conditions)! There are tons of places and times where the speed limit is way too fast. Don’t be in a rush. Opting for slower and safer is better than just going on autopilot at the speed limit. As we leave the summer, allow more and more extra time for less than ideal conditions.

2. No ice is nice.
Have you ever seen those sad, scary people who only cleaned off a small portion of their frosted-over windshield hunching forward to see through it? Don’t be them. Be way better than them. Buy a frost scraper for your car and keep it there. Scrape off all of your windows and mirrors and your rear windshield – you use these pieces of glass to drive safely in the summer, why should you tolerate having them unnecessarily obscured in the winter? If you are caught without one, a credit card works just fine.

3. No H20, yo!
Have you noticed that just the dew on your car can obscure your vision almost as much as frost? Keep a rag or two in the car and dry your windows off. If you drive long distances with the heat on, just lay the rag over a heat vent and it’ll dry. If you don’t, you’ll need to dry it outside the car. Just leaving it in the car leads to bad things… ask me how I know!

4. Regularly clean the INSIDE of your windshield.
I think most of us know to clean the outside of our windshield (pro-tip: use the time Oregon’s gas attendant law gives you to clean it with their nice soap and squeegee EVERY time you get gas). But, how often do you clean the inside of your windshield? I keep a pack of disposable cleaners in the glovebox and do this without fail when I change the clock on my car for daylight savings time. I’m always disgusted by how dirty the wipe gets. I try to do it around the solstices, too.

5. Turn off the call/text volume on your phone before you enter the vehicle.
I know, I know – your phone is your GPS. Mine too. That doesn’t mean that you need to be distracted by your friend’s phone call.


6. AFTER you turn the car on, do a safety walkaround.
How many times have you said, “Man, how long has that lightbulb been burned out??” It’s not hard to avoid this. Just turn on your car, turn the lights on, and do your safety check. You can also look for flat tires, people walking in the vicinity, etc. If you have a passenger who can check the brake lights while you have your foot on the brake, so much the better!

7. You don’t have to listen to screaming children.
You can’t control your children, but you can control your ears. Get some good earplugs and a pair of noise-cancelling earmuffs. Store them in your car. Use BOTH together and it really takes the edge off of your kids’ voices.

8. Listen to that little voice saying, “Is this really a good idea?”
Thinking about taking your needy dog in the car without a carrier or restraint? Thinking about carrying something on your car that’s really too big for it? I know some part of you knows it’s not a good idea. Listen to it. Find another way. Don’t buy that piece of furniture. Wait to take your adorable new puppy on a hike until you’ve gotten all the appropriate equipment. Don’t be that person who puts their impatience and excitement over the safety of everyone else on the road.

7 Tips To Get You to 101% – Extra Credit!

Just obeying the law consistently means you’re out-performing most other people on the road. If that’s you, good job!! But let’s be better than that – here are driving “extra credit opportunities!”

1. Avoid driving on bike facilities, or on streets without sidewalks if you can.
These are both situations where you’re likely to be driving with other humans with no physical barrier between you and them. No matter how courteously you drive, your very presence will make them uncomfortable. If you can, choose another route.

2. If you must drive in shared space, be extra-super-nice.
If you must drive on a greenway for a little while, never pass someone on a bike – just be patient and drive slowly. If you’re driving on a rural two-lane road with no shoulder or a too-small shoulder, wait until you can safely drive completely in the oncoming lane before passing someone walking or biking. This adds a lot of comfort, and a measure of safety – what if the person walking trips, falls, or must avoid something you don’t see?

3. Slow down if you see someone walking who might want to cross
Even if they’re not strictly triggering the crosswalk law, they might trigger it as you approach – or they might be waiting for the sign from you that it’s worth bothering to trigger the law.

4. Don’t drive unless you have to.
Like taking an animal’s life for food, driving is a trespass on other beings and Mother Nature that shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. Every time you drive, you expose other beings to danger. Only do it if the benefit to you or others is worth that cost.

5. If you own or buy a dark-colored car, have it repainted.
It’s harder to see dark cars in low lighting conditions. I know you have headlights, but even with headlights on, it’s easier for others to interpret the location and speed of a dark-colored vehicle than a light-colored one.

6. If you use a motor vehicle, choose one with as low a profile as will work for your needs.
We’ve all experienced not being able to see around an SUV or box truck. If you don’t need one, don’t use one. Most people’s heads can be seen above the tops of passenger cars, and can’t be seen above the tops of larger vehicles. Plus, lighter vehicles pose less danger to others in the event of a collision.

7. Help encourage other people to drive safely.
Stay engaged when in the passenger seat and point out people waiting to cross the street. Maybe bring around some of those windshield-specific wet wipes to clean the inside of the windshield when riding with a friend. We’re social beings, and if you show in your actions that you care about safe driving, you’ll be encouraging your friends to value it as well.

Do you drive? Share your safe driving tips with us.

— Alex Reed, BP Subscriber

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  • Lo September 5, 2017 at 10:39 am

    Hold on, you’re seriously advocating for drivers to wear earplugs and noise cancelling headphones WHILE DRIVING? In what world is that a good idea?

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    • Alex Reedin September 5, 2017 at 2:06 pm

      Not headphones (that play music) but earmuffs (which reduce noise). And only if they have screaming children. I have two kids under four, and my youngest would often scream in the car for minutes on end (once for an hour and a half), and nothing would calm her. You simply can’t remain calm while listening to that, and you can’t drive well if you’re not calm. I stick to my advice, in this particular situation.

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      • anna September 5, 2017 at 2:19 pm

        Thank you for clarifying, and sorry you had to. Everybody: DEAF AND HEARING-IMPAIRED PEOPLE DRIVE.

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      • Lo September 5, 2017 at 2:49 pm

        Thanks Alex, and sorry my comment came off rude. I can’t imagine what it would be like to drive with children constantly screaming.

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  • oliver September 5, 2017 at 10:43 am

    Shoulder seasons are the worst, and just around the corner.

    1. Frequent rain showers means gunk accumulating on the outside of the windows on a daily basis.

    2. As sunset moves back into the commute hours, a splash of sun across a dirty windshield translates into zero visibility.

    I always wash my windows whenever I fill up (about once every three weeks), but in spring and fall, that is not nearly often enough to have clean windows every time I drive. It must be done more often.

    I can’t shake theory that “the sun was in my eyes” more accurately translates into: “the glare on my dirty windshield made it impossible to see out of”

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    • Mr. Know It All September 5, 2017 at 11:16 am

      Clean windshield IS very important. My wipers will do a good job if there’s a little dirt on it – just spray a lot of water while the wipers are moving. I keep a squeegee in my car, and every morning when the windows are dew-covered, I wipe off the water – only takes a minute and makes visibility a lot better.

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  • Pete September 5, 2017 at 10:45 am

    Re: #7, wearing headphones while driving is illegal in many states, such as WA. In CA, the law was changed to one ear only. Yet another statute that begs for normalization across state lines in my opinion…

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  • Pete September 5, 2017 at 10:49 am

    #8: Signal your turns as required by law (100′ in advance), not during the apex of the turn (if at all).

    Here in California I’ve never seen so many drivers turn on their blinkers while turning – I swear they must teach it in the schools here! Oddly it appears that using turn signals is actually on the rise here, from what I’ve seen since I’ve been here, but still not helpful unless in advance as required.

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    • Mr. Know It All September 5, 2017 at 11:12 am

      Majority of Californians probably did not learn to drive in the states.

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      • Pete September 5, 2017 at 2:01 pm

        Many of the H1-B recipients that work here in silly valley couldn’t afford cars back home. Most that I’ve spoken with learned here, relatively recently. I won’t mention the irony of getting cut off by people who may have spent most of their earlier life getting around by bicycle…

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        • Mr. Know It All September 9, 2017 at 11:51 pm

          Did most of them learn from a relative, or friend “teaching” them or did they take a formal class?

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      • Toadslick September 6, 2017 at 10:07 am

        This comment has no business being on this site.

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    • John Lascurettes September 5, 2017 at 11:49 am

      It’s just as bad in Portland. Most drivers do not engage their turn signals until either their brakes are on, or sometimes not even until they’re in the turn (if at all).

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      • Pete September 5, 2017 at 2:03 pm

        When I lived in Oregon the running joke was when somebody cut you off and hit the brakes, you called the brake lights a “California turn signal”.

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      • meh September 6, 2017 at 11:04 am

        The short blocks in downtown Portland do make it difficult to signal early.

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    • Alex Reedin September 5, 2017 at 2:14 pm

      Yeah, I started the list from the perspective of “tips for the person who already knows and abides by most of the laws but would like a little extra help” – a person who is already way ahead of the average driver I see on the roads. I agree that there’s a whole nother list to inform the “average driver” about what the law requires, and to convince them that it’s important to actually obey the law.
      Just off the top of my head:
      -Stop at marked crosswalks
      -Stop at unmarked crosswalks
      -Drive slowly enough in all conditions so you can *see* people in order to stop at all legal crosswalks
      -Don’t park in the bike lane
      -Don’t open your door into the bike lane without looking
      -Signal your turns well ahead of making them
      -Don’t tailgate
      -Always obey the speed limit (which is a MAXIMUM)

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      • Alex Reedin September 5, 2017 at 3:26 pm

        P.S. I started this by thinking… “We see so many ‘safe biking tips’ that advocate going above and beyond the law in the name of safety, yet ‘driving tips’ by government agencies are generally begging drivers to please, please, think about maybe following the law (or at least not violating it too grossly). What would ‘safe driving tips’ to already-careful drivers look like?”

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        • Mr. Know It All September 9, 2017 at 11:57 pm

          “…What would ‘safe driving tips’ to already-careful drivers look like?””

          Probably look like the law, and common sense; and perhaps some thoughts along the lines of “I don’t want to be sued for a huge pile of money if I injure or kill someone so I need to be very careful”.

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  • Eric U. September 5, 2017 at 11:11 am

    #1 should be: not every road is a freeway

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  • Peter Hass September 5, 2017 at 11:14 am

    Great tips. Whatever can be done to get drivers to increase both their understanding and their responsibility for the lethal weapon under their control, helps lower the risks for all.

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  • Stephen Keller September 5, 2017 at 11:22 am

    Be as predictable as possible. Obviously there are emergent circumstances that require sudden action, but last minute turns accompanied by “Oh! That’s the street I want!” shouldn’t be among them. If you miss a turn, go around the block. Don’t back up, pull a u-turn or attempt to execute a last-ditch careen around the corner. Who knows, perhaps the unexpected diversion will inadvertently present your next favorite restaurant.

    Don’t tailgate; give plenty of room. The person in front of you will appreciate it and your personal stress level will drop considerably. I try to imagine the driver ahead who is going slower than I might like is someone I know, someone that I’d cut a little slack.

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  • bikeninja September 5, 2017 at 11:24 am

    #4 is the most important in my mind, both safety and road congestion would be greatly improved if this was followed by all motorists. Everytime we are tempted to jump in the car to go somewhere we should really evaluate weather this trip by cars was needed. Ask yourself; Could I walk instead?, Could I bike instead? Could I catch the bus? Did I really need to drive 4 blocks to quickee mart for a slushy and a pepperoni stick?

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  • SE September 5, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    >>You don’t have to listen to screaming children.
    >>You can’t control your children, but you can control your ears. Get some good earplugs >>and a pair of noise-cancelling earmuffs. Store them in your car. Use BOTH together >>and it really takes the edge off of your kids’ voices.

    so cutting yourself off from external noises is a good idea ?
    ignore the kids, other drivers, cyclists, ambulance/police/fire sirens and just putt along ?
    wrap yourself up in a little silent cocoon ?

    wow, poor advise in my book. 🙁

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    • Alex Reedin September 5, 2017 at 2:09 pm

      Only if they have screaming children. I have two kids under four, and my youngest would often scream in the car for minutes on end (once for an hour and a half), and nothing would calm her. You simply can’t remain calm while listening to that, and you can’t drive well if you’re not calm. I stick to my advice, in this particular situation.

      And let’s be clear, even earplugs plus noise reduction earmuffs only reduce noise, they don’t eliminate it. I don’t recall any sirens while I was wearing them, but I’m sure I could have heard them. I could sure as heck still hear my screaming child; the equipment just took the edge off.

      Also, there are deaf and hard of hearing people who drive and bike perfectly safely. There’s a reason why emergency vehicles have lights in addition to sirens.

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      • Alex Reedin September 5, 2017 at 2:15 pm

        In fact, now I do remember a siren while I had my noise reduction earmuffs on. I could definitely hear it. Maybe I should have written “noise reduction” rather than “noise cancelling.”

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        • Dan A September 5, 2017 at 2:25 pm

          Yes. I’ve saved myself on my bike by yelling at drivers who were heading directly towards me. I’m glad they were able to hear me.

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      • BB September 5, 2017 at 2:36 pm

        Please, in that situation you shouldn’t even be trying to operate heavy machinery in proximity to innocent members of the public.

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        • Alex Reedin September 5, 2017 at 3:22 pm

          That’s a reasonable position. I would note, though, that we’d need some social change in order to make that feasible for many people in many situations.
          Boss: “Why are you late to work?”
          Worker: “Because my child was screaming and I didn’t want to drive them to daycare while I was distracted by their screaming.”

          Somehow, I don’t think that would go over that well in our current society (although it should, in an ideal society).

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        • Alex Reedin September 5, 2017 at 3:23 pm

          I admit that there were plenty of times when I could (and should, now that you point it out) have just waited, and that’s great advice to add.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu September 5, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    Good job, Alex. Most BP readers are also drivers, and BP posts are re-posted in other media where more drivers can read them. Most drivers want to be safe and don’t want to hurt a pedestrian or cyclist. Posts like this help those drivers.

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  • Kyle Banerjee September 5, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    Most of the points there are pretty good practices though a bike blog is a strange choice of forum to share them on 😉

    However, I take strong exception to two of them. Impeding your hearing is a rotten idea. Yes, deaf people drive, but so do people who are blind in one eye and have limited vision in the remaining one, people who are missing limbs, people suffering from mental illness that affects emotional control as well as judgement, and people whose ability to perceive and respond to situations is affected by prescribed medication. Someone with all of these issues can still legally drive.

    That all these things are totally legal does not mean they don’t have a dramatic impact on safety. Blocking out those screaming kids will also block out the shout from that cyclist you didn’t see. Not all forms of distracted driving involve a phone. Hearing is extremely valuable and it’s with good reason that one of the few things you’re not allowed to do when driving in most states is wear headsets.

    Suggesting people repaint their cars is absurd to the point of being funny — you realize this isn’t The Onion? Besides, vehicles are way, way easier to spot than peds and cyclists. There is no visibility issue.

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    • Alex Reedin September 5, 2017 at 8:06 pm

      Actually, the reason you can’t talk on the phone in many states is because the act of talking and listening to a remote person itself distracts – not having a headset on.

      Not that I don’t guess that the (muffled) sound of a child screaming is probably distracting as well 🙂

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      • Kyle Banerjee September 5, 2017 at 10:53 pm

        That is the logic behind prohibiting cell phone use. The headset laws predate cell phones by many years in most cases and exist for entirely different reasons.

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    • Alex Reedin September 5, 2017 at 8:13 pm

      Dark cars are way more likely to be involved in crashes across multiple studies.

      Why is it absurd to ask people getting around by car to change their car’s color for safety, but not absurd to ask people biking or walking to change their clothing’s color? Across a wardrobe, over a car’s lifetime, the marginal hassle and expense of acquiring similarly stylish, functional, and comfortable “visible” outerwear, shirts, etc. versus non-“visible” clothes is probably similar to the cost of repainting a car.

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      • Kyle Banerjee September 5, 2017 at 9:06 pm

        For starters, the causality relationship between color and outcomes is not nearly is clear as that. Ignoring unresolved confounding factors in the study, some major ones not even mentioned include the connection between personality and color (did you notice that boring silver had about half the rate of crashes as white?) or even vehicle type.

        At the same time I wouldn’t want to read too much into a 20 year old study in New Zealand, I think we can agree that some colors are more visible than others. However, I seriously question how much impact the color itself has — especially for peds and cyclists that move slowly.

        Painting a car is very expensive affair which reduces its value — repaint jobs is one of the ways to spot cars that may have had undocumented repairs.

        In any case, even suggesting peds or cyclists take basic measures that dramatically impacts visibility consistently evokes howls on this forum. Repainting for this purpose is extreme, has questionable benefit that is far more limited in a best case scenario, and is off the deep end.

        I promise people will just laugh if you present this idea in a more mainstream venue. This is pure Portlandia material.

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      • John Liu
        John Liu September 6, 2017 at 5:50 am

        Okay, this is one of your points that I thought was made in jest.

        Asking people to repaint their existing cars is a total non starter. It costs several thousand dollars (five figures for a quality job) and seriously damages the car’s value.

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        • Alex Reedin September 6, 2017 at 6:10 am

          Have you ever looked at the cost of hi-viz or retroreflective clothing that actually looks nice? It’s easily $100 for a jacket, $50 for a shirt, when I can get non-hi-viz gear that looks plenty nice at CostCo for $20-30 for a jacket, $10 for a shirt. Multiply that by a wardrobe and replacements over 5-10 years, and you’re talking about a thousand bucks plus.

          And seriously, $10,000 to “quality” repaint a car? Some quick googling revealed that was much too high.

          I agree this is “off the deep end” in our current culture – but in a non-biased, truly safety-focused culture, this would be mainstream; you would be seen as an idiot for buying a dark car to begin with.

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          • Kyle Banerjee September 6, 2017 at 9:43 am

            Here’s what I’ll agree to. I’ll double the clothing costs — that’s close to I pay. But it still costs a few grand to paint a car unless going to a couple gallons of Behr at Home Depot qualifies.

            Riding invisible is suicide. Driving a dark color has a correlation with accidents that may be associated with color and may be associated with other factors that correlate with color. And this ignores that color is a major factor in car choice for many people.

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            • X September 6, 2017 at 10:48 am

              Riding, knowing that you are invisible, is healthy. I’ve seen a steady failure of otherwise law-abiding people to notice my large bike, operating legally in the daytime, no rain, sun high in the sky, running headlight 24-7, etc, etc. The message of ninja riders as I see it is “you don’t care and I’m riding in the space between your dangerous things anyway.”
              My personal choice is to give other operators a little help, knowing that it’s never enough. I’ve had a mv operator claim I had no lights when the light was in fact shining on their face. I fully expect to hear, some day, that a person could not see me because my light was in their eyes.
              Ninja riders are not the worst offenders. See the comment above about actually looking for pedestrians and people in charge of a bicycle before moving a car. That’s the key and lots of us just do not do it.

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              • X September 6, 2017 at 10:58 am

                Actually the comment below, from Bendite.

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          • John Liu
            John Liu September 6, 2017 at 3:27 pm

            You can get a cheap respray for a 20 year old beater car, but you wouldn’t do that to a car with significant value that you actually care about.

            A high quality paint job, that changes the color of a car, and does minimal damage to the value of the car, will indeed be very expensive.

            Paint and bodywork are the most costly things you can do on a car. Even replacing the entire drivetrain will cost less.

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        • X September 6, 2017 at 11:10 am

          Repainting a car: expensive. Adding functional visibility to a car: less than the cost of a rain jacket. Cars are as much, or more, status items as transportation. They certainly are not a good store of wealth, since it costs a person thousands to drive their just-purchased new car off the lot.

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          • Alex Reedin September 7, 2017 at 6:29 am

            Agreed! People could easily put some SOLAS retroreflective silver tape on their car as well as hi-viz fluorescent orange tape. It would be cheap and easy. What a great idea!

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            • Mr. Know It All September 10, 2017 at 12:16 am

              Why not just use the headlights night and day? I do if I’m in town. Only time I drive without headlights is on open, rural freeways in the daytime. Must agree with John Liu – repainting an expensive car is not a good idea – if you want a specific color – buy it that way from the factory. Painting has environmental costs.

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      • Pete September 6, 2017 at 4:18 pm

        I was once admonished at a red by an elderly couple who claimed I “dashed out of the shadows in front of them wearing black” and that they didn’t see me and could have hit me and I need to “dress brighter.”

        There were several ironies to this, in that it was a very bright San Jose midsummer morning with nearly no traffic on the road, they were easily a quarter-mile away (and not speeding) when I signaled and crossed two lanes to wait in a Left-Turn-Only-Lane. I was wearing a black team jersey – but florescent orange shorts and socks… and they were in a black car. Still makes me chuckle to this day.

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        • Mr. Know It All September 10, 2017 at 12:17 am

          What age would you guess they were?

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  • bendite September 5, 2017 at 8:16 pm

    Since everyone’s opinion is important on the internet, I’ll share mine:
    1) Drive with the mentality that the road was build for all kinds of vehicles and pedestrians, not just cars. Which leads to #2….
    2) When pulling away from a stop or when turning across a lane, look for all of those possible vehicles. If you look for cyclists and peds, you see cyclists and peds.
    3) Predict what will happen in front of you (as cyclists, we’re probably pretty good at this).

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    • Mr. Know It All September 10, 2017 at 12:19 am

      Good points, but the evidence shows that we are not good at predicting what other drivers will do – we should try to be ready for anything though.

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  • Alex Reedin September 6, 2017 at 7:13 am

    I apologise for my ableism. I should have said, “You would be seen as foolish.”

    I’ll also note that I think safety can be taken too far, and that I think that asking people to spend $1000 to repaint their car is too much – just as asking people to either entirely re-do their wardrobe or look like dorks every time we go out not in a car is. But, I would be in support of industry-wide regulation that puts the onus on car and bike manufacturers rather than individuals.

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    • Kyle Banerjee September 6, 2017 at 9:46 am

      It’s way more than a grand. Look at the price for painting even a bike. Unless you do no masking or prep, this is totally unrealistic

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      • Alex Reedin September 6, 2017 at 10:07 am

        Looks like the average price is about $2000 according to this article which seems potentially well informed:

        In comparing bike and car prices, you’re forgetting the economies of scale and competition that distort just about everything (how are car tires only somewhat more expensive than bike tires despite having probably 20x the material?)

        But let’s look at the clothing costs. Say it’s $80 extra for good-looking reflective outerwear and $40 extra for good-looking shirts. I’d say most people have at least 4-5 pieces of outerwear (rain jacket, sweatshirt, heavy jacket, etc) that they wear regularly and 15-20 shirts (including short sleeve and long sleeve). That’s $920-$1200 for to match the convenience of being able to put on whatever you want and be reflective. Plus, some of those clothes will need to be replaced in the lifetime of a car. We can call the diminished choice of car colors and DRASTICALLY diminished clothing choices as equal costs, even though in my opinion the cramping of one’s style is far greater and, for most people, more important with clothing than with car color.

        Still, the costs are in the same ballpark. Anything for safety, right?

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        • Kyle Banerjee September 6, 2017 at 11:01 pm

          Are you seriously trying to suggest someone with a fire engine red car would be much visible to and safer for cyclists and peds if they painted it silver (i.e. marketing word for gray)?

          In any case, you don’t need anywhere near that much clothing. I have exactly one cycling jacket that I’ve had for 5 years with no plans to replace. I have one long sleeve jersey, but I don’t wear it because I prefer just adding arm warmers to a regular jersey. If I need more protection from cold, I add a thin merino layer — I own two of those. I haven’t bought a jersey in at well over 5 years, also with no plans to get another.

          Neither the costs nor the benefit delivered are in any way comparable — you may have identified the least efficient way to improve car safety for vulnerable users.

          But hey, think global, act local — let’s start by agitating with the city to repaint those fire engines gray!

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          • Alex Reedin September 7, 2017 at 6:01 am

            Guess what… Not everyone is like you! Some people – in fact, the vast majority of people, as evidenced by their behavior – prefer wearing a variety of “normal”-looking clothes when they leave the house. To match the convenience and style of leaving the house wearing whatever they want, they would need a wardrobe full of retroreflective gear.

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            • Kyle Banerjee September 7, 2017 at 10:45 am

              Self awareness is a good thing. I acknowledge I’m atypical but I know a lot of cyclists, few of whom spend so much on clothing.

              Likewise, you should be aware that you’d be lucky to get 0.1% of people to repaint their car to make it more visible to cyclists and peds, especially if you take the position that they should choose the safest and obviously most visible color identified in the study namely gray.

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              • Alex Reedin September 7, 2017 at 10:50 am

                Certainly – I think both telling people to wear reflective gear every time they leave the house without a car and telling people to repaint their cars are futile endeavors (because their safety benefits are not justified by the hassle, $, and/or image costs). So why is one widely accepted as something that people “should” do (but don’t) and the other is seen as a ridiculous idea?

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              • Kyle Banerjee September 7, 2017 at 1:39 pm

                Because one makes a massive and obvious difference and the other doesn’t. If you ride tens of thousands of miles not properly attired in the dark, getting hit is virtually a certainty. That is hardly the case with car color.

                Statistical correlation with accidents does not equal causality. Although your studies make it clear that gray is the safest color by a large margin, we all know it is neither safer nor more visible than yellow, red and most other colors. If you really believe otherwise, start advocating to repaint those emergency vehicles gray.

                Car color and dressing visibility have nothing in common. Riding in the dark without taking basic visibility precautions is irresponsible, plain and simple. So is encouraging habits that will get people killed outside the Portland bubble. Driving a yellow or especially a red car rather than a statistically much safer gray one doesn’t actually affect your safety and spotting cars as a ped or cyclist is not hard. Pretending otherwise is precisely why the cycling community is taken as a joke by too much of normal society.

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              • Alex Reedin September 7, 2017 at 1:49 pm

                If you already have lights on your bike, wearing dark colors still makes being hit a virtual certainty? My many thousands of safe miles (many with dark colors) would seem to contradict that.

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              • Alex Reedin September 7, 2017 at 1:57 pm

                And – this blog is bikePORTLAND. Yes, I’d say it’s sadly a good idea to have unusually bright/large lights and put reflective stuff on one’s bike and/or person if biking down hwy 224 to Estacada on a regular basis at night, or riding in similar exurban/rural areas at night or in low-visibility conditions frequently. However, based on mode share statistics by geography within Oregon, the intersection of people who do that with this blog’s readership is likely very small. A much more typical behavior for riders of this blog is riding to and from work on Portland urban streets. For that behavior, I’d say lights alone are plenty; extra or extra-powerful lights (including side-visible ones) for extra credit.

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              • Alex Reedin September 7, 2017 at 1:58 pm

                The study did not look at yellow, red, or other colors because sample size and shade variation was too high. I don’t really have beliefs about those colors. But I do think black cars are less safe.

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              • Kyle Banerjee September 7, 2017 at 2:05 pm

                I cant believe I have to spell out such basic things. It’s about visibility, not color. You need an active and passive lighting strategy. Color does not show up in darkness, so there are viable options where you can easily wear all black and be extremely visible so long as you have a clue as to what you are doing. It’s a common sense thing — which is why some people here might find it so confusing.

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            • wsbob September 7, 2017 at 5:36 pm

              Kyle Bannerjee at:


              kyle…using visibility gear for biking, and knowing when and where to use it, may seem like simple common sense to people with at least a fair bit of experience riding, but it’s not inherent knowledge. People aren’t born with the knowledge of relative visibility of colors and materials having some reflective properties, in the vast range of traffic and lighting conditions out on the roads and streets.

              Some of the old salts riding, talk about this as though means to visibility while biking is something everybody just knows about from day one. Well, in seeing how they gear up rof riding, many don’t, obviously.

              Geez I hate to cramp the style of people that really want to dress down the obviousness of being a ‘cyclist’ by wearing just street clothes, with little consideration given to how visible the get-up is to other people using the road. It’s very important I think, to emphasize to people how visible, relative to the use of specifically chosen gear for visibility…they are to people when they’re dressed this way to go riding.

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              • Alex Reedin September 9, 2017 at 7:52 am

                I think it’s far more reasonable to advocate putting the visibility gear on the vehicle (bike or car).

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              • Kyle Banerjee September 9, 2017 at 9:43 pm

                Clothing, passive lighting (reflective materials), and powered lighting all serve different functions, and which a cyclist needs depends on their specific riding conditions. For example, someone who only rides low speed roads in daylight doesn’t really need any of them.

                Don’t get me wrong — I think vehicles should be visible and there are some configurations that make them harder to make out in specific conditions. But the lights on most vehicles do an excellent job of conveying size and shape, and newere vehicles run them in daylight as well. In any case, I see this more of a higher speed problem — I can’t think of a single time in my life I had trouble spotting a vehicle that wasn’t unlit or in extreme visibility conditions such as thick fog where color wouldn’t help anyway.

                Note that one of the tips — to drive a lower vehicle — makes it harder for drivers to see. A high riding position gives much more visibility and using clear rather than privacy glass allows others to see through the vehicle and respond to situations even before you do.

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  • Evan September 6, 2017 at 9:06 am

    Good tips, but perhaps most illuminating is how infrequently we see these things said in public. Thanks for posting.

    Typo note: Your paragraph about dark-colored cars seems to have the colors reversed in the last sentence.

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  • Dave September 6, 2017 at 9:25 am

    A great set of ideas and a rare example of VICTIMIZER-blaming!

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  • SD September 6, 2017 at 9:26 am

    It’s really strange to read travel safety advice that is not threatening or condescending. Maybe you should add some catchy phrases like:

    “Being right won’t wash that pedestrian blood off of your hands.”

    “The laws of physics will make you a killer.”

    “The car always wins… by cruelly maiming or killing, but the driver and the victim always lose.”

    “Only you can stop yourself from killing someone with your car. No really… you, the person driving.”

    “Be safe. See”

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    • Alex Reedin September 6, 2017 at 10:11 am

      Ha, yeah, to really be comparable to bike-safety messages from government bodies or the Oregonian, I should have been more judgy and scary. But I could easily imagine something with this tone (but for biking and walking, of course, not driving) appearing in Bicycling Magazine or Willamette Week or Portland Monthly.

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      • Alex Reedin September 6, 2017 at 10:16 am

        Probably even those outlets would include some scare tactics and victim-blaming, but the majority of the article would likely be “helpful,” “positive” ways to be extra-obeisant to our motor vehicle hegemony in the name of safety.

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    • Dan A September 7, 2017 at 7:27 am

      “Other people make mistakes. Slow down.”

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  • nuovorecord September 6, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    One tip I would add to your already good list is to install new windscreen wipers every fall. With the amount of rain we get here, they lose their effectiveness quickly.

    Tips to make your wipers last longer: don’t use them on a dry, dusty windscreen, or on an iced-over one either. Wipers have a very micro-thin edge, like a knife’s, and once that’s dulled, they’re shot. Wipers are meant to be used on a wet windshield.

    Also, clean them when you clean your windscreen at the gas station. Run a damp paper towel along their length a few times. You’ll be surprised at the amount of gunk you’ll clean off by doing this.

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  • pdx2wheeler September 6, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    Replace worn and balding tires for proper traction, especially for when turning at higher speeds. Most tires should have a wear indicator. Once the tire tread reached the level of the indicator you need to get them replaced.

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  • SE September 9, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    Alex Reedin
    . I have two kids under four, and my youngest would often scream in the car for minutes on end (once for an hour and a half), and nothing would calm her..
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    Only slightly OT : when my son was in that age range, I tried an experiment. Got out the cassette recorder and taped him crying.
    Next time he started, I got the recorder and tape, played it back.

    He stopped on a dime and looked around “who is that crying ? sounds like me ?” WTF ?

    after a couple more sessions, it all tapered off ….

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  • Mr. Know It All September 10, 2017 at 12:03 am

    It costs nothing to make a car very visible. Turn on the headlights.

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  • Mr. Know It All September 10, 2017 at 12:32 am

    Some studies say silver is the safest color car; but most seem to say that white is the safest. Silver and white are probably the safest because they are more conservative than other colors. People who are attracted to those colors may be a tad more cautious on average. Many exceptions obviously.

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