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17 January, 2005

Colour saturation

Just as I start wearing a high-visibility jacket for cycling*, Jon Ronson suggests in the Guardian that dayglo garments have become ubiquitous in urban areas so are barely noticed.
To become practically invisible, wear a workman's safety jacket.

I'd agree, to an extent. It's not that one doesn't see the jacket, it's that the mind can readily categorise the wearer and switch attention to something else. However, that same argument weakens Ronson's closing presumption:

Throughout the early 1990s, cyclist and motorcycle deaths fell year on year. Then, from 1995, they began to rise. It isn't that cyclists have stopped wearing high-visibility jackets. The problem, perhaps, is that the opposite is true.
That's fitting a credible hypothesis to observed data, but it isn't necessarily causal. That is, the number of fatalities have increased, but there's no evidence of a link to jacket usage.
I'd suggest that a pedestrian sees and ignores a workman in a high-visibility jacket because he (or she, obviously) isn't directly relevant, whereas a driver sees a cyclist and pays more attention to a potential hazard - the cyclist is relevant.

*: I was a little dismissive of such garments when I first mentioned (sixth paragraph) the possibility of my getting one, but:
a) I don't (knowingly) let idealism interfere with pragmatism - cyclists shouldn't have to make an extra effort to assist car drivers, but I'd rather do so than visit Intensive Care.
b) I chose a sleeved jacket rather than a waistcoat, so I now have an extremely lightweight, supposedly showerproof jacket to carry in a pocket or daypack on summer cycle rides, 'just in case', when I wouldn't want to take a heavier jacket.

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