Paper accepted by Journal of Transport Policy – accepted author version here.
Reframing Safety: An analysis of perceptions of cycle safety clothing
Rachel Aldred and James Woodcock
This article contributes to debates around cycle safety clothing, specifically helmets and high-visibility clothing. In England such items are widely promoted in safety campaigns and in broader cycling publicity, particularly for children. However, the impact of this approach on cycling safety and cycling uptake is unclear and contested. This article uses a combined analysis of three sets of qualitative interview data to explore talk about cycle helmets and high-visibility clothing. A thematic analysis involved coding all references to such safety clothing, and within that coding meanings, experiences, interactions, and links to other safety equipment.
Reported use of safety clothing was strongly associated with perceived threat from motor vehicles, but accompanied by scepticism about effectiveness. Many interviewees felt and/or exerted social pressure to wear a helmet, and, to a lesser extent, high-visibility clothing. Analysis identified a widespread dislike of safety clothing, sometimes linked to talk about cycling less because of the perceived need to wear such clothing. We found evidence of resistance to social pressure, expressed by complaining about inconvenience, discomfort (helmets), and personal appearance.
More interdisciplinary research is needed to explore the complex relationships between cycling safety, the promotion of safety clothing, and cycling uptake. However, our findings suggest that policy-makers and practitioners should carefully consider how promoting safety clothing might impact cycling uptake and experiences. Policy goals of increasing cycling and making it more ‘normal’ and subjectively safer might imply reducing or even avoiding the use of such accessories in everyday utility cycling contexts, and relying on alternative strategies to improve cycling safety.
• This paper explores perceptions of helmets and high-visibility clothing through three English interview datasets.
• Use of safety clothing is described as primarily motivated by perceived motor traffic danger.
• There is substantial pressure on cyclists to wear safety clothing, although many are reluctant and even resistant.
• Where cycling feels safer, use of safety clothing drops.
• Policy-makers should consider carefully the role of safety clothing within a transition to a safer, high-cycling culture.