Current Road Safety advice is for people riding bikes to wear ‘bright, light or reflective clothing’ to increase the chances that drivers will see them. But does this work?
SMIDSY, the acronym for ‘Sorry Mate I Didn’t see You’, is a common experience for people who ride bikes on the road. Motorbike riders suffer the same phenomenon and this article and video explains the science of blind spots. People driving cars focus their vision on the area of the road where they expect to see other cars, and may literally not see people riding bikes.
Wearing all black can make riders hard to see
Adding a high visibility vest can help increase visibility in some environments
High visibility vests can also blend into their surroundings
Wearing a variety of contrasting colours is best when riding
Transport for London Transport Research Laboratory studied visibility issues for motorbike riders. Research suggested visibility may have more to do with the contrast between the colour the rider wears and the background. For the 8% of men and 0.4% of women with poor colour vision, colour contrast may not work at all.
On ABC Radio Sydney Afternoons (23/5/2019) a caller said she appreciates the efforts riders make to be seen by wearing hi-viz vests. However hunched over the handlebars most of the driver’s view is of their buttocks clad in black lycra, and in low light or at night she struggled to see riders.
Dr Rick Tyrrell, director of the Visual Perception and Performance Lab at the University of Clemson has an insight into human vision that can help. Humans have 2 visual systems: focal vision which helps see colour, detail and recognise objects; and ambient vision that creates spatial awareness and helps move through the environment.
People riding bikes are not chameleons and can not change colour to contrast with their environment. They can become more noticeable to this ambient vision system by making the parts of their bodies that move the most apparent.
Bright colours by day and reflective strips in low light on the parts that move the most i.e. legs, feet or ankles, may make you stand out to driver better. Reflective trim on your wheels and tyres can also help at night by emphasizing the distinctive movement of a bicycle to someone driving.
“Riding a bike does not require special clothing but to increase your visibility bright and contrasting socks, ankle bands, shorts or tights may be more effective than a bright shirt or hi-vis vest,” said General Manager of Public Affairs, Bastien Wallace.
“As the days get shorter we encourage everyone to ensure lights are clearly visible front and back at dawn, dusk and at night,” said Bastien.