High-Vis Clothing Only Matters if Drivers Pay Attention

Walk into almost any bike shop and you’ll likely find your attention was drawn (quite literally) to a rack of brightly colored clothing. Over in the accessories department, an increasing amount of shelf space is devoted to lights. These products are not new, of course. But their appeal within the cycling community has shot up over the past five years.

Before that, only hardcore commuters and 24-hour racers bought lights. Meanwhile, clothing in bright neon hues, like Pearl Izumi’s Screaming Yellow, has been a durable favorite of the charity-ride set for so long, it’s almost a cliché. But you’d never find it in most style-conscious riders’ kits.

Over the past ten years, on-road fatalities among cyclists have steadily risen to 25-year highs, accompanied by an increasing sense of danger that’s led many recreational riders to wear more fluorescent high-visibility clothing and start using daytime running lights. Even famously core brands like Castelli and Rapha, which favor simple and often dark-hued designs, now make items in bright yellows, oranges, and pinks. The advent of LEDs and improving battery densities have also made lights brighter, more compact, and more affordable than ever. They’re available from more companies, which are increasingly open about selling visibility as a safety aid.

This trend has come about courtesy of a line of scientific research known broadly as conspicuity. A solid amount of evidence suggests that high-vis gear helps drivers see cyclists. But the rise of another, more significant factor in traffic safety—driver distraction—casts doubt on how effective conspicuity is for improving safety. Worse, the increasing adoption of these technologies may lead to even more victim-blaming. It’s worth asking: Is all this gear worth the investment?

Why High-Vis Works

The point of high-vis gear is twofold. First, the brightness helps us stand out from our environment, which enhances our visual conspicuity. This is why construction signs are bright orange. Second, when worn on the right parts of your body, high-vis or reflective clothing helps drivers to intuitively recognize us as humans as opposed to inanimate objects like road signs. This is called cognitive conspicuity. Humans are highly attuned to biological motion; it’s part of how we identify objects.

Rick Tyrrell, a psychologist who runs Clemson University’s Visual Perception and Performance Lab, is among the academic researchers whose insights have informed high-vis clothing decisions from companies like Bontrager. A 2017 study by a researcher in Tyrrell’s group found that fluorescent yellow leg warmers helped drivers identify cyclists from more than three times farther away compared to traditional black leg warmers.

Basically: concentrating fluorescent and reflective elements at locations like the feet and knees, rather than covering yourself head-to-toe in bright yellow, draws attention to the human gait or pedaling motion. This cues the driver’s brain to accurately and quickly identify us as cyclists rather than road signs or mailboxes. In real life, this means a driver can plan and react according to what they see since mailboxes rarely take the lane to prepare for a left turn.

All of this information forms the basis for my setup. I use Bontrager’s Ion 100 R and Flare R front and rear lights ($40 each), which feature various steady and flashing modes, with different intensities for day and nighttime use. (Note that Washington State bans most flashing front lights).

I wear a fluorescent yellow or orange helmet, specifically the Bontrager Specter ($150) and POC Octal ($200). Although your head doesn’t move much while cycling, I figure that having something bright up high is helpful. My Specialized shoes are bright yellow and orange. Bright socks would be an affordable alternative, especially the taller ones that are in style now. I’ve also added reflective decals to both my helmet and shoes and I use Troy Lee Ace 2.0 fluorescent gloves ($36), which I feel might help when signaling turns.

Essentially, I do everything I can to raise my visibility on the roads. I’m also aware that the benefits of wearing high-vis clothing and lights may be marginal.

Why High-Vis Sometimes Doesn’t Work

Fluorescent clothing only helps during the day. Fluorescence relies on reflecting UV light out in the visible spectrum, which makes a fabric color seem brighter. But there are no sources of UV light at night, so in the dark, even the most intensely bright jacket is no more visible than a nonfluorescent version. What’s more, some recent studies have found that, in the daytime, drivers gave cyclists wearing high-vis gear no more passing room than conventionally dressed riders.

In low light, you are better served by reflective gear. Unfortunately, most of what passes for reflective elements on cycling clothing today—small patches, logos, and piping—isn’t large enough to matter. American National Standards Institute recommendations for the minimum size of reflective material for roadside workers is 155 square inches or roughly a 10-by-15-inch rectangle. Even some commuter packs lack that much reflective fabric. Your best bet may be a DIY approach, using reflective sticker kits for helmets, shoes, bags, and bike parts.

Lights, too, are essential at night, but only if they’re powerful enough. “Be seen” lights for making you visible to drivers, as opposed to lights that are bright enough to help you see in the dark, only need to meet minimum legal requirements, which vary by state and aren’t always clear. Personal experience has taught me that those lights often are not bright enough to compete with streetlights and don’t cast enough light to safely illuminate your route on obscure bike paths.

But the big reason I fear that conspicuity is of limited benefit is that it only matters when the driver is looking at the road.

Distracted driving is not a new problem, and drivers’ explanations for why they’ve hit a cyclist are often variations of “I didn’t see them” or “They came out of nowhere.” But this is happening more often because modern device-based distraction is crucially different than just letting your mind wander as you gaze down the road behind the wheel. Today we’re often cognitively, visually, and even manually distracted from driving.

A study co-authored by Tyrrell last year found that wearing reflective vests at night had no mitigating effect on distraction. And a doctoral thesis published at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania studying how a flashing motorcycle taillight impacted attention in simulated driving-while-texting situations found that the flash caught the attention of just three of 16 test subjects. Those results suggest that simply making yourself more visible often doesn’t overcome driver distraction. Anecdotally, there are hundreds of examples of crashes that conspicuity should have prevented: drivers running into bright yellow school buses, into police cars festooned with high-vis and reflective decals, or into actual goddamn buildings, which shouldn’t need any conspicuity aids.

No media outlet reports that a pickup that got T-boned was a dark color or that a motorcycle didn’t have its daytime running lights on at the time of a crash. But stories about pedestrians or cyclists being hit sometimes note whether the victims were wearing light or dark clothing (even in the daytime), and they commonly state whether the victims were in a marked bike lane or crosswalk or if the cyclist was not wearing a helmet. Even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s official recommendations for cyclists and pedestrians include a reminder to wear brightly colored clothing, even in the daytime.

These are all subtle but unmistakable means of transferring some of the blame for the crash. Yes, pedestrians and cyclists are sometimes at fault in crashes. But victim-blaming assumes the victim was at fault rather than waiting for facts or looking at contributing issues like a lack of protected bike lanes or sufficient street lighting.

So What Do We Do?

As a cyclist, I’m trying to do whatever I can to help keep myself safe. As a cycling writer, I’m trying to give people tools to do the same, without shilling gear for gear’s sake, suggesting that you’re somehow at fault if you don’t have these items and are hit, or promising that if you just buy this one thing, you’ll be safer.

The truth is, I don’t know what the answer is. I try to be realistic about conspicuity aids. When drivers are paying attention, evidence suggests that high-vis pieces seem to be beneficial. At this point, I’ll admit that part of the reason I use them is simply to foreclose any “he was wearing dark clothing” narrative that might emerge in police and media reports if I am hit. Similarly, I now use a cycling computer, even though I’m rarely on Strava; I want a record of my ride so that someone can use it to reconstruct what happened if I am hit and killed. I’m considering a rearview camera like Cycliq’s Fly6 for the same reason.

That’s all grim, I’ll admit. I’ll also admit that in the past ten years, my riding has changed dramatically to minimize my contact with cars. There are old routes I never do anymore and roads I will ride only at certain times to avoid peak traffic or bad light. But here in Boulder, Colorado, as in many parts of the country, you need to ride paved roads to reach quiet dirt ones, and I’ll be honest that I still love the pavement, too. I love the hiss of tires on a corner, the rhythm of a long climb, and the weightless, flight-like sensation of a curvy descent on smooth tarmac.

I’m playing a kind of actuarial game here. On any given ride, my odds of being hit are something like X in 1,000. Anything I can do to lower those odds, even slightly, I’ll take, even if I know the benefit may be vanishingly small. But I’ll do it, because short of giving up road riding, it’s what I’ve got.

Note: There’s a debate about whether or not cyclists should use flashing lights due to the potential effect on people with photosensitive epilepsy, which is particularly triggered by deep-red colors, like taillights. The issue is serious, albeit not common. Active epilepsy of all forms is present in about 3.4 million people in the U.S.—1.2 percent of the population—and sometimes necessitates driving restrictions. Photosensitive epilepsy is rarer still: EEG data suggests that as few as 100,000 Americans have it. But the Epilepsy Foundation cautions that it may be underdiagnosed, with a real figure as high as 800,000. These peoples’ sensitivity to bike lights is real and the potential consequences are serious. Disregarding legitimate medical concerns just because a condition is uncommon would be cruel. The Epilepsy Foundation recommends that to avoid triggering seizures, strobe frequency should be no more than three flashes a second. Of the three prominent light makers I contacted, only Bontrager had taken photosensitive epilepsy into account in its design process, although Specialized has a flash rate that falls within the safe range. If you’re concerned, you can use the stopwatch function on your smartphone to count flashes during a ten-second sample, then divide by ten to get the per-second rate.

Tips on Walking and Cycling Safely

Police Chief Andrew Caggiano wanted to remind residents of some safety tips for riding bicycles and walking along township roads as they get out of their homes to enjoy some fresh air and get a break from self-isolation during the COVID-19 crisis.


Any person riding a bicycle on the street must use the right side of the road.

Follow the rules of the road, as if you are driving a car.

Always wear a helmet.

Wear bright, reflective clothing with reflective fabric.

Avoid wearing headphones, at least not in both ears.

Slow down at intersections.

Look drivers in the eye when a potentially dangerous situation might ensue; be sure they see you.

Be predictable, and signal your turns.

Always look behind you or in a mirror before veering/swerving left into the lane of traffic.

Do not ride on the sidewalk.

Wave your arms if you are unsure of your visibility, especially at intersections or with cars turning right, into your lane.

Ride defensively, as if every driver is on a cell phone, not paying attention, or on drugs, and never give a driver the benefit of doubt.

Pedestrians, including runners, should follow these safety tips:

Run against traffic so you can observe approaching automobiles. By facing on-coming traffic, you may be able to react quicker than if it is behind you. Utilize sidewalks when available.

Look both ways before crossing. Be sure the driver of a car acknowledges your right-of-way before crossing in front of a vehicle. Obey traffic signals.

Carry identification or write your name, phone number, and blood type on the inside sole of your running shoe. Include any medical information.

Always stay alert and aware of what’s going on around you. The more aware you are, the less vulnerable you are.

Carry a cell phone.

Wear reflective material if you must run before dawn or after dark. Avoid running on the street when it is dark.

DON’T WEAR HEADPHONES. Use your ears to be aware of your surroundings. Your ears may help you avoid dangers your eyes may miss during the evening or early morning runs.

Have fun and be safe!

Students use reflective tape on backpacks to stay safe at bus stops

WBTV is on your side tonight with a safety tip for parents looking to keep their kids safe at bus stops after Olympic High School student Zoe Deen was hit by a car and killed while trying to catch the bus along a busy street in southwest Charlotte Tuesday morning.

According to police Zoe was not wearing any reflective clothing and the street was not lit with street lights.

WBTV learned Wednesday that administrators at Tuttle Elementary School in Catawba County have been providing reflective tape for students to place on their bookbags while standing at the bus stop.

“It’s a safety issue. If a car’s light bounces off it and they’re paying attention and they see it, hey, they see my kid,” parent Jason Lambert said.

Lambert has four children of his own and two of them have to catch the school bus before 7 a.m.

“My kids are very important to me. They keep me going,” Lambert said.

A WBTV reporter drove around the neighborhood near the bus stop where Deen was killed. After the sun set it was clear just how dark the streets can become.

However, with the reflective tape placed on some of the students, it’s clear figures are moving in the darkness.

“It looks like it’s glowing like a glow stick,” student Nitara Lambert said.

The principal at Tuttle Elementary tells us that some school bus drivers in the county have had trouble spotting some students in the darkness and this year county officials decided it would be okay to offer the reflective tape to students.

“When there’s that movement to be able to see and recognize that that’s a student coming toward you then that just helps the bus driver out. From a safety standpoint. I think it’s a great idea,” said Mitzi Story, the principal at Tuttle Elementary School.

Students Shiloh and Nitara Lambert both agree.

“I like how I want to be safe and they want to make me safe and I like how cars can see me,” Nitara said.

The story said she would recommend the reflective tape to other local schools.

Some tips to ensure students arrive at school safely as days get darker

As days get shorter, Safe Kids Alaska wants parents to know the preventative measures to ensure their children arrive at school safely in the morning.

“Our main concern with students getting to and from school is visibility,” said Sara Penisten Turcic with Safe Kids Alaska. “Especially in our darker, winter conditions that are coming on quickly for us.”

Peniston Turcic stresses the importance of making sure children are seen while they walk to school. She recommends making sure kids walk to and from their destinations wearing reflective material.

“Many manufacturers, especially outerwear, are starting to incorporate reflective wear into their clothing,” she said. “A lot of backpack manufacturers are doing the same thing.”

Safe Kids Alaska recommends giving children reflective vests to wear to school. Reflective tape, zipper pulls and light-up clips are also a good option.

Peniston Turcic said that children should have reflective material on all sides of them to give them the best chances of being seen.

Another way to make sure children are safe is by talking to them about the rules of the road.

“Pedestrian safety education starts at home, with parents modeling that safe behavior,” Penisten Turcic said. “We want students to use those sidewalks, we want students to use those crosswalks.”

Drivers play an important role in pedestrian safety. The Anchorage School District wants to remind drivers to keep their phones down and slow down. They encourage drivers to familiarize themselves with school zones and to make sure to stop when school buses have their stop signs.

How to: service your lifejacket

Attitudes to wearing lifejackets have changed slowly but surely says offshore sailing instructor and Rubicon 3 founder, Bruce Jacobs. As with car seatbelts, lifejackets are something that we automatically wear out on the water rather than just something to be worn in extremis. Personal responsibility and good seamanship do much to avoid a man overboard, but modern lifejackets are more lightweight and comfortable to wear than older models, giving us little reason not to put one on.

Part of this change has also been that lifejackets are seen as personal equipment, part of an individual’s sailing gear for which they are personally responsible, though many boat owners still carry lifejackets for their full crew.

Either way, you need to be confident that your lifejacket or lifejackets are in good working order, and can be relied upon in an emergency.

Lifejackets have a hard life. They are used and abused during the season, soaking with saltwater, dried in the sun, or shoved damp into a cramped locker. Giving it a thorough check and service, at least once a season is vital, as well as checking a few key features throughout the season. If you haven’t had your lifejackets serviced professionally in a couple of years, it’s worth doing to give them a more thorough set of checks, and for the peace of mind that everything is in order.


Life jackets have a tough life, but they need to be in good condition. Look for wear or chafe on the outer casing. Then look at the harness – run your hands down the webbing, looking closely that the stitching in good condition, and that there are no cuts, tears or UV damage. Then look at the buckle. If it is made of metal there is little that can go wrong, but check it’s not bent and the webbing attachment is in good order. If it’s a plastic buckle, make sure there are no chips or cracks, and the spring arms work correctly.


The crotch strap is an essential part of the lifejacket for keeping it close to your body in the water. The weak link here is the plastic buckle on either end as they are prone to be trodden on or caught in a hatch. Check both arms of the male part and the surround of the female part. There should be no cracks or splits. Replace it if there are.


Open up the casing by pulling open the zip or Velcro closure. Take some photos of the folded bladder, and at each stage, to help remind you how to repack it correctly. Unfold the bladder and look for any sign of physical damage, mould or mildew. A corroded gas canister can be rough enough to damage the bladder. The reflective tape needs to be fully attached and in good condition, and the stitching should all be intact. Now is a good moment to look after the zips if you have them. A bit of silicone spray will prevent friction and protect the zip.


The equipment attached inside the lifejacket is critical in a real man overboard. Check that the whistle is attached. If the light (and yours should have a light) has a test button use this, or trigger the light by dipping the contacts into water. Make sure the oral inflation tube is in good nick – you’ll check the valve when you inflate it. If you have an AIS beacon or a PLB attached, use the self-test function on this. The hood is another essential piece of equipment to prevent secondary drowning. The seams and windows can degrade over time, so replace this if necessary.


On a manual-only firing mechanism, the lever should be closed and the green tag in place. This will be the case on the manual trigger for an automatic too, but you’ll also need to check the automatic cartridge is in date and has the green end cap in place. If the end is red, it’s been fired. If you do need to replace the canister, cartridge, or clips, be sure to use the correct one for your lifejacket.


Next, unscrew the gas cylinder. This is fairly susceptible to corrosion as they sit in a damp environment for much of the time. Check the outside of clinder and the screw threads, and the end cap should be intact and not punctured. If that’s all in order, screw it back in. If not, replace the canister and check any rubber o-rings. Check the cylinder matches the specification printed on the lifejacket.


The central part of a lifejacket service is to check that it is airtight, and remains so for an extended period. To do this, take the end cap off tube and inflate; you can blow into it, but this will introduce moisture. Lifejackets contain a powder to prevent the bladder surfaces from sticking to each other, but the moisture in your breath can prevent this work. It’s better if you can use a pump so the air that goes in is dry.


Inflate to fairly firm pressure. You can submerge it for a bubble test, but make sure you have removed the cartridge first, so it doesn’t dissolve the salt crystal and fire the canister. The only failsafe test, however, is to leave it overnight for at least 12 hours, ideally 24 hours. While you’ve got it inflated, it’s a good time to try it on and find what it’s like to wear. Particularly, have a go at finding and deploying the hood – it’s not always easy and it’s vital to know how to do this before you need it for real.


If having left the lifejacket overnight, you find it has lost a significant amount of pressure, it is probably at the end of its life. You could send it back to the manufacturer to check over, but you shouldn’t use a lifejacket that leaks. It’s probably time for a replacement. Every lifejacket will include a service record, which will tell you when it was last professionally serviced. If it hasn’t been done for a while, it is worth sending it for a full overhaul, even if it stays inflated, for thorough testing and peace of mind.


If you are happy the lifejacket has no leaks, use the inflation tube cap and invert it to release the valve at the end of the inflation tube. It’s crucial to make sure all the air is out, so be patient, or use a foot pump to deflate. Don’t use a finger or anything else that could introduce dirt or debris into the valve.


Slide the gas canister into any holding clips or coverings, as this helps prevent chafe. Screw the canister into the firing mechanism; it should be hand tight but not so tight as to risk damaging the threads. The bottles can work loose during the season, so this is something you’ll want to check regularly.


Screw the trigger cartridge back on but don’t overtighten it. Check the manual toggle and lay it so it hangs outside the bladder. Replace the green clip over the manual firing arm.


Make sure you’ve checked your lifejacket instructions on how to repack it, as each lifejacket model can have its intricacies. It’s important that if you have a separate bladder inside, the bladder is folded not rolled, as this can prevent the bladder inflating. Take care not to trap the bladder in the casing closure and check that the lifting becket is easily accessible and properly stowed. Make sure the crotch strap is done up. Finally, stow your lifejacket somewhere dry and protected.

High-visibility vest for cyclists available over the internet is too close to ours, police say

POLICE fear a high-visibility vest being sold on the internet matches their vests so closely it could be used to impersonate an officer.

NSW Police said they only became aware of the vests when what was thought to be a highway patrol officer riding a white motorcycle in Sydney turned out on closer inspection to be a rider in a vest marked “Polite”.

The man said the vest had been ordered over the internet and he had not intended to imitate a police officer. He was released without charge but a war of words has now broken out between NSW Police and the vests’ UK-based manufacturer Equisafety.

Managing director Nicky Fletcher said the company has been selling the line into Australia for six years.

“Equisafety has sold and will continue to sell the Polite range,” she said. “It comes in yellow and pink, with either blue or black reflective tape.”

“I would like to point out that not one Australian police officer has contacted me.”

Police spokesman said police had contacted the company and also had legal advice­ that wearing the safety vest could be illegal in NSW.

“The clothing in our view breaches the Police Act here in NSW and we are well aware of the ongoing concerns of law ­enforcement in the UK,” the spokesman said.

“This particular range uses long-established police markings such as the chequered band and coloring that is associated with police in NSW.”

“A member of the public could easily mistake this clothing for that of a police officer.”

Ms. Fletcher said she believed she was legally entitled to continue selling the line.

Driving in France: eight points British drivers need to know

France maybe just 30 minutes away via the Channel Tunnel, but when it comes to driving laws, there are strict requirements you need to be aware of to avoid penalties and problems.

Below, the RAC lists eight points British drivers need to know when taking to the roads in France:

Hi-vis jacket

A reflective vest is needed for each passenger and must be carried inside the passenger compartment of the vehicle in case of a breakdown.

This shouldn’t be dismissed as the French police will stop British-registered vehicles to check they have the correct equipment for driving in France.

If you breakdown on the motorway or need to repair a puncture, make sure you wear it as soon as you step out of the vehicle or you could risk a hefty fine of €750 or €90 if paid early.

Warning triangle

This is compulsory in every vehicle with four wheels or more. The maximum fine for not having one is €135.

GB sticker

You need to have a GB sticker on your car or a euro registration plate featuring the GB initials.

You will also need a GB sticker or number plate on anything being towed.

This law applies to all of mainland Europe too, not just France. If you do not have one, you could receive an on-the-spot fine of €90 from the authorities where you are driving.


As of March 2017, all drivers and riders have been banned from wearing headsets and headphones while driving, whether the device is for playing music or for phone calls. But the law excludes motorcycle helmets that have integrated systems.

Clean air sticker

Introduced in late 2016, drivers need to have a Crit’Air sticker displayed on cars when traveling to certain cites, including Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Marseille, and Strasbourg.

It costs around £3 (buy yours here) and drivers face an on-the-spot fine of up to €135 for not having one. They include a six-category sticker system that notes what emissions your vehicle produces, and can restrict access to cities too.

Headlight beam deflectors

Depending on your car, you will either need deflector stickers or have to adjust the beam manually. This is because modern car headlights are set up to point towards the kerbside of the vehicle. A right-hand drive car on the right-hand side of the carriageway means this could blind oncoming traffic at night. You can expect to pay a fine of €90.

Spare bulbs

By law, you need to carry a spare bulb kit for your vehicle, as the French police deem it necessary to replace it there and then on the grounds of safety. The fine you’ll face is €80.

Breathalyzer/alcohol tests

In theory, all drivers and motorcyclists need to carry a breathalyzer kit in their vehicle, with at least two disposable testing units. While it was expected that an €11 fine would be imposed for not carrying one, the French government postponed this move indefinitely, so no penalty will be imposed if you can’t present one during a police road check.

A kit can be bought for around £5 but if you’re buying online, check it meet NF standards, similar to BS1 standards in the UK.

Do police need to wear high visibility reflective vests when on duty?

Everybody has heard the urban myth about the driver who escaped a speeding fine because the police officer that issued his ticket wasn’t wearing a high visibility vest for Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S). So, with CarAdvice reader Trent e-mailing us with that exact question this week, we set off to investigate.

Q: Hi guys. I love the site! Keep up the great work. I’m from Victoria and a friend told me recently that police can’t issue you with traffic infringements if they are not wearing high visibility reflective vests for safety. Is this right?

A: Good question, Trent. It’s one that has been doing the rounds for some time — where the individual fought a speeding fine because the police officer wasn’t wearing a high visibility reflective vest.

To get a definitive answer, we touched base with the Victoria Police to see what the ruling is in your state.

Victoria Police senior media officer, Ben Radisich, told CarAdvice:

“Members must wear a high visibility vest when performing a role where the primary function is road policing duties or when on roads near moving vehicles. Members will not be required to wear a high visibility vest:

Wherein the assessment of the member, wearing the vest represents a serious risk to health and safety (such as responding to an armed offender or siege situation); or

If authorized by a supervisor on a specific occasion, for specific duties or planned operations.

If members assess that wearing the high visibility vest on roads represents a serious risk to health and safety they must be able to justify such a decision if required to do so.”

So there you have it, Trent. Generally speaking, police officers must wear high visibility reflective vests when performing duties outside of their vehicles.

But, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to break the law and use technicalities to get around infringement notices.


Please welcome Mike Moloney as Canada Moto Guide’s safety columnist. Mike is an advanced motorcycle instructor with RoSPA, Britain’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. In 1983, Mike founded The Sportbike Rally, which took place in Parry Sound. Mike is a veteran of dozens of self-organized international tours and cites his favorite destination as, “next”.

Do you consciously choose to wear high-visibility (hi-vis) motorcycle gear such as a jacket, vest or helmet? Why? Does it simply seem like a sensible idea, or is it because of a traffic incident where you weren’t seen?

And what exactly do we mean by hi-vis clothing? Wikipedia describes it as “any clothing is worn that is highly luminescent in its natural matte property or a color that is easily discernible from any background.” That’s pretty much the opposite of camouflage, which is “the use of any combination of materials, coloration, or illumination for concealment.”

Brightly colored clothing is not only easier to see, but it registers with more priority to the human eye.

Perhaps, on your motorcycle, you’ve experienced the distinct displeasure of being on the receiving end of the time-worn phrase, “Sorry, I didn’t see you.”

An accompanying police accident report might contain the line, “The driver looked, but failed to see”, which is useful only to a statistician. While car drivers are not deliberately trying to cause us harm there remains the unfortunate fact that, all too often, we are not being seen.

Why is this? Like it or not, we are part of the problem. There is an assumption among riders, a common belief, that we are being seen, not just merely ignored, but there are many factors that can determine our visibility to others. Let’s start with Global Precedence.

Global Precedence is the visual big picture. Generally speaking, a motorcycle is only a small portion of the big “global” picture, particularly when head-on to an approaching vehicle. A person’s eyes, and recognition, go to the largest objects first. Our brains process that information almost twice as fast as the local aspects. If something, anything, is larger and visually more compelling, that is where another road user is most likely to first focus their attention. It takes precedence.

Roger Foster, seen (easily) while out for a ride near Las Vegas on his Suzuki, jumps out visually on a grey day.

Making it work

Working from empirical data, safety regulators in many countries now stipulate a certain amount of retro-reflective material for motorcycle jackets. This usually involves a minimum amount of striping or piping on areas such as shoulder and arms. In some places, such as France, it even includes helmets (18 square cm for French heads, if you must know). A better strategy is for the entire area of the jacket, vest or helmet to be one luminescent color, making you appear as both a brighter and larger object.

“But”, we hear some riders say, “I’ll look like a dweeb”.  Well, we know that fashion is fickle and subjective but if Harley-Davidson can see the benefits of including plenty of hi-vis safety clothing in its catalog – although it does tend to orange for some reason – then surely it has passed a key chic-to-wear test.

Let’s face it: no one goes to a hospital for the fine dining. Since we’re among the most vulnerable of road users, those things that may be able to give us a distinct safety advantage should be worth our consideration. When you’re the one waiting for the ambulance to arrive, do you want to hear someone say, “Sorry, I didn’t see you”?

Bright clothing is just one aspect of providing useful information to other road users. There are also some options for making our machine more visible. Beyond that, we must look within ourselves. Factors such as our position on the road, bearing, and speed is key components of being seen by others. We can look at these in future articles.

Alright then, I’m outfitted like a motorized macaw. Can you see me now?

Going for a walk? Old Town offers free reflective vests for pedestrians

The City of Old Town launched its new pedestrian initiative “Walk Safe Old Town” on Nov. 15 to increase the visibility of people walking or running near roadways in the dark.

Old Town residents can pick up free reflective vests at Old Town City Hall. The city purchased the vests for $4.70 each using the city’s Safety Committee Fund.

“The bottom line is it’s going to let people enjoy the outdoors in the safest way they can,” said Travis Roy, assistant city manager. “This just seems like the right thing to do at the right time.”

Within hours of the initiative being announced on the Old Town Police Department’s Facebook page, about 20 people came to City Hall to pick up a vest on Nov. 15 with an estimated 35 more by the following Monday, requiring the city to order a second batch of vests, according to Roy. As of Friday, 120 vests had been picked up with the third batch of 80 vests ordered.

“We’re quite thrilled that the first batch is gone, and we’re on our second batch,” Roy said. “It shows people agreed with us. It was a good thing to do.”

Similar to the ones worn by Old Town Public Works employees, the vests are bright neon yellow with gray reflective tapes and orange stripes along the back. Roy suggests residents pick up a vest in a larger size so they can be worn over their coats in the winter.

Although it would not save every pedestrian, Roy said that if they can get people to wear the vest when they are near the road, it would help increase safety. He also suggests that residents keep the vests clean as it would help their effectiveness.

According to a study by the Governors Highway Association, an estimated 6,227 pedestrians died the first six months of 2018 including three in Maine. In January, a University of Maine student was killed after being hit by a plow at the intersection of Bennoch Road and Stillwater Avenue.

“We ask that when using these vests, you are still very aware of your surroundings, while the vests will dramatically increase your visibility, one must be mindful of your proximity to traffic,” the Old Town Police Department wrote in a press release.

Roy hopes that the success of the vests will encourage other areas to participate in similar projects.

“We’d love to have other communities jump on board and do the same,” he said.

Old Town residents can pick up a reflective vest at Old Town City Hall 7 a.m.- 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. The vests are available on a first-come, first-served basis and are available in most adult sizes.