Published on August 01, 2016

Life-saving gear that costs less than a cup of coffeeLife-saving gear that costs less than a cup of coffee

Would you pay $2 to save a life? Jane Walsh would – and she has, again and again and again.

Over the past two summers, Walsh has given away hundreds of inexpensive reflective vests to young workers on Cape Cod who are biking or walking home from work at night.

“It’s always been in the back of my mind that the kids on the bikes aren’t safe,” said Walsh, the owner of Red Fish Blue Fish, a gift shop on Main Street, Hyannis.

She’s right, according to Robert Malin, MD, an emergency room physician who spoke by phone recently during a brief break between patients at Cape Cod Healthcare’s Urgent Care Center in Hyannis.

Every summer, Dr. Malin and the rest of the Cape Cod Hospital and Falmouth Hospital ER teams see cyclists and pedestrians who have been hit and injured by cars.

“It’s pretty consistent over the last few years,” he said.

Some victims get lucky and walk away with a few scrapes or bruises, but it can be much worse than that.

“When you get into a pedestrian versus a car, the severity of the injury can be significant,” he said. “Head injury is a big one, but depending on the situation you can see long bone fractures on the arm and leg.

“As the speed and force increases, the severity of the injury increases. With significant speed, you start getting into thoracic, pneumothorax and intra-abdominal injuries.”

Walsh said she’s concerned for the young workers because she doesn’t think they get enough safety information when they arrive in the U.S.

“I think it’s different for them biking at home than it is here. I don’t know if they’re from small towns or if they’re from cities where there are bike lanes, but it seems to me that nobody feels that it’s dangerous.”

Vests Save Lives

Walsh is well aware of the deadly effects of accidents involving cars and cyclists. Some years ago she worked as a waitress with a woman whose brother came from Ireland to work on Cape Cod and was killed while riding his bike in Hyannis.

Last year she spoke with a young man from Macedonia when she was ordering a birthday cake at a Hyannis grocery store.

“I asked him if he was riding his bike to work, and he said ‘yes,’” Walsh said. “He was riding home at night to Centerville and he didn’t have a helmet, reflective gear or lights on his bike. I told him, ‘You really ought to think about some safety gear, because it’s pretty dangerous. People are on vacation, and they’re not really familiar with the roads. You want to make it easy for them to see you.’”

She told him she knew where she could get some inexpensive vests and would bring him some when she returned to pick up her cake.

“I asked him if he was working with anybody else who rode bikes to work, and he was. When I went back to pick up the cake, I brought five or six vests.”

Walsh bought 50 vests at $2 each to give away at her 50th birthday and asked friends to hand them out. Last summer she gave away almost 200 vests.

“I had them in my car and I had them at the store,” she said. “Whenever I’d do errands, if I met people, I’d hand them out.”

This year she’s given away about 40 vests so far.

“The kids have been so thankful and so appreciative and really cute. Some of them are really surprised. They say, ‘Are you sure it’s free? That’s so kind. Thank you so much.’”

Now Walsh recommends that others buy a few themselves and hand them out.

“Keep them in your car as you’re going about your daily errands,” she said. “You’re bound to run into somebody working somewhere and they usually have friends who are also walking or riding.”

Safety Tips for Cycling

Dr. Malin is supportive of safety campaigns like Walsh’s.

“As an ER physician, my preference would be to put yourself in a position where you can’t get in any trouble, or minimize the risk of getting into trouble,” he said. He suggests these safety tips:

  • Try to use common sense. Always use lights and reflective material – and a helmet goes without saying.
  • Try to avoid situations where you obviously put yourself at risk in terms of the position of the bike relative to the car. Riding on a sidewalk or in a bike lane is the best method to try to avoid any interaction with a car. “Choosing where you ride the bike is huge,” he said.
  • Avoid using headphones or earbuds while cycling or walking. “You need use all your senses in those situations, and if you’re not aware of sound, you could put yourself at harm.”

Dr. Malin also asked drivers to do their part.

“Be more aware of bikers during the nighttime hours,” he said. “The numbers are clearly higher this time of year, so be alert.

“When I drive on two-lane roads that don’t have sidewalks or many street lights– and we all know those roads, there’s a high concentration on the Cape – I pay close attention to what I’m doing. Those are the most dangerous roads for a pedestrian or cyclist getting involved with a car.

“A lot of it is common sense. If everyone pays attention, it will reduce the possibility of car-versus-pedestrian or car-versus-biker impact.”

More Safety Tips

A study by the Governors Highway Safety Association showed that 70 percent of pedestrian deaths occur between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Runners World magazine compiled some safety tips that apply to bikers, runners and walkers who out after dark.

  • Maximize reflective gear. It can help drivers see you as much as 500 feet away (compared to 180 feet for bright or white clothing).
  • Think low. Car headlights are usually angled slightly downward. Make your lower legs more visible by wearing reflective socks or shoelaces or by adding reflective tape to your shoes.
  • Accentuate the moving parts. Your feet, ankles and wrists are in motion when you’re cycling or walking, so those are great spots for reflective gear.
  • Be bright and flashy. A headlamp or handheld flashlight will help you see better and will help drivers see you. Studies have shown that a flashing light is more eye-catching than a steady light.