Discuss: hi-vis is an idiotic fad

If you wear it, you’re helping pave the way to it being mandated, and it doesn’t even work, argues MAG President Ian Mutch

MY dog hates men in hi-vis gear. I’m serious; he leaps at them, teeth bared. Being less than a keen advocate of this kit I wonder if I have been muttering about it in my sleep and he has picked up on it.

Now as MAG’s President I am all for people dressing how they like and if you really want to wear a hi-vis vest then you have every right to. I just wish people, and particularly bikers, wouldn’t do it.

When I expressed that sentiment in MAG’s magazine recently an irate member emailed to berate me over my dictatorial attitude. ‘What  has happened to your respect for others to chose for themselves?’ he demanded to know.  I re-read what I’d written and I had, as I thought, simply written that I wished bikers wouldn’t wear this stuff. Some people simply can’t tell the difference between a chap saying that he wished people wouldn’t do things and insisting they don’t.

Why does it bother me so much that many bikers, cyclists, TV presenters and schoolchildren clothe themselves in these ubiquitous yellow vests these days? I’ll tell you why. It’s because when a lot of people start doing something like this, it eventually makes those who don’t leap lemming-like into their tide of blinding conformity begin to look conspicuous. And yes, there is irony in that, is there not?

The safety lobby operates by trying to ramp up the compliance level with dayglo (yes, I know it’s a specific product, but it’s easier to type than hi-vis). When voluntary compliance has reached its peak, then they start suggesting legislation to force the bolshy minority into clone-like conformity.

The argument was exactly the same with helmets. By the time the helmet law came in almost 90% of riders were wearing them voluntary. I wore one most of the time.

A little while ago I interviewed Steve Baker MP, who rides a KTM, is an enthusiastic MAG member and son of former South West MAG Rep Mike Baker. Steve emphasised how government legislation can only be so far ahead of public opinion. Advocates of legislation conduct surveys to assess just how far a given protocol has been adopted or accepted on a voluntary level. If they judge that the proposed law can be easily enforced then that is the time to move. In short, they can get away with it.

The growth in the use of dayglo has now reached such a point that we find the voluptuous Sarah Beany from the property TV show wrapped in yellow vest because she is standing in a room that is being papered. I suppose it’s conceivable that a wild paper hanger might fail to spot her ample curves and swipe her with a paste brush were she wearing something as inconspicuous as a dark brown woollie, for example. Actually, having wandered down this avenue of illustration – how long will it be before Nigella Lawson is ordered to cover herself in case a budding chef fails to notice her and she cops it from a flamboyantly wielded egg whisk?

But of course, this is all playful diversion and dayglo for bikers makes sense, doesn’t it?  Does it hell!  It’s an idiotic fad and all the worse for the fact that it implicitly transfers responsibility for being seen from the motorist to the biker.  There is no evidence to suggest that it makes any difference at all. Ah ha, but would I still oppose it being made compulsory if such evidence existed? Damn right I would. Why? Cos it’s naff!

To me biking is about freedom and travel and exhilaration and it’s about free expression in an artistic sense. I like wearing rustic gear on a bike. I like browns or khaki colours. I think of myself as more Indiana Jones than Evel Knievel.

If you want to make sure people see you then give them time to see you. Don’t come flying over the brow of a hill at 90mph or overtake a bus at 60mph in a 40 limit and scream at the guy that pulled out of a side turning thinking he could make it before the bus reached him. Think ahead, be cautious, consider your road positioning, visualise worst-case scenario and make sure you have an exit plan. Put yourself in the other guy’s shoes and don’t trust to these idiotic canary outfits. They’re for amateurs.

IAN Mutch is President of the Motorcycle Action Group and author of five books on motorcycle travel and culture. A former ship's navigating officer, he describes himself as "jolly clever".

That's Mutch's view. What’s yours?