A bill recently introduced in the state of Missouri would require anyone riding a bike on lettered county roads – all of Missouri’s rural highways – to fly a fluorescent orange flag. The flag would have to be “not less than fifteen feet above the motorway when the bicycle is standing upright.”
The bill was introduced by Jay Houghton, a Republican member of the Missouri House of Representatives who represents the state’s 43rd District. The very succinct bill – its total text is 52 words long – makes no mention of who would be expected to pay for the flags.
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What we can assume in the absence of this information is that the cost of the flags would likely fall on the people on bikes. What we know for certain is that flying a 15 foot flag from the rear of your bicycle would interfere with many bridge clearances, present a hazard when riding near power lines, and present considerable balancing difficulties to many riders.
Let’s say we decide to believe that the bill is intended to improve safety conditions for cyclists by improving their visibility. That line of thinking still falls squarely into the victim-blaming approach that says people on bikes should be responsible for not getting themselves hit by cars, instead of the drivers being responsible for not hitting people with their cars.
More importantly, every time a law is passed requiring people on bikes to wear, purchase, or register something before cycling, its most noticeable effect is a marked decrease in ridership. We’ve seen this time and time again with mandatory helmet laws. We can only imagine that effect will be even more pronounced when the thing required is as a ludicrous and specific as a 15 foot fluorescent orange flag that can attach to a bicycle – it is cumbersome, ridiculous, likely expensive, and something basically nobody has just lying around.
While the intention of this bill is being trumpeted as “improved safety” for cyclists, that noble goal is a bit difficult to believe when you remember that its author, Houghton, previously co-sponsored a bill to ban cyclists from state highways altogether. The fluorescent flag is a pretty clear attempt to make cycling so inconvenient that most people will simply stop doing it altogether. Sorry Houghton, we’re not buying it.
Hilary Angus is the Online Editor at Momentum Mag. @HilaryAngus.