The importance of being seen

Which is more important?

To see? Or to be seen?

I’m not talking about social media or the party scene… I’m talking about walking around, especially in the dark.

I drive to the gym in the early morning. It’s dark, and by definition difficult to see well.

But I do see a good number of people walking. It appears they are walking to work, or to the bus stop to get to work. They make a lot of assumptions about those early morning hours, such as “no one is around”. So they cross the road whenever they feel like it, instead of at well-lit intersections and crosswalks. They walk with the flow of traffic (instead of facing it). They wear dark clothing. On this last part, I can’t always blame them: some are wearing the required uniforms so they have little choice, or you just try to have some variety in your clothing so sometimes it’s going to be dark.

And it makes it difficult for them to be seen.

I also see a lot of drivers making the same assumption that “no one is around”. There’s a strong disregard for stop lights/signs. With fewer cars on the road, they’ll go faster. They don’t expect people are walking around, in the road. They drive as if they are the only ones on the road.

Can you see how this is a recipe for disaster?

My gym is in an industrial area, so as I get close to the gym I sometimes encounter folks walking to their construction job and they are wearing reflective vests. I love those people, because the area is poorly lit and now I can strongly see you. That’s good for both of us.

What gets me tho is how in all this time I’ve seen only once or twice someone using a flashlight. Everyone seems content walking in the dark. It’s not even an issue of boogeymen, but simply being able to see what one is about to step into. Recently we’ve had a lot of rain in Austin, so there’s mud, puddles of unknown depth, debris – the other morning I saw a woman walking over grass and nearly wipe out from what I assume was a muddy spot she didn’t see.

Flashlights are wonderful things! You can use them to see what’s around you, what you’re walking into. You can also use them to help others see you! When you cross the street, turn the light on. If you don’t need to shine it forward to see, shine it downwards  – that light-spot on the street will catch eyes and help you to be seen.

And a flashlight is better than those little lights or reflectors. The little lights are often too small, get obscured easily, and just don’t have enough power to cut through the darkness to be seen at a distance. Reflectors simply reflect: they don’t help you see (but they are better than nothing).

Get a good flashlight, with as many lumens as you can afford. I love SureFire flashlights, but there’s a lot of good inexpensive LED-based flashlights out there (Fenix comes to mind). After you get the flashlight, carry it and use it.

Yes, pedestrian safety can be improved by having drivers be more aware. But it’s only part of the equation, and one you cannot control. Take responsibility for your own safety – don’t put it in the hands of others. If you’re walking in the dark, have a good flashlight and use it. It helps you see, and to be seen.