Be safe – be seen - Marcello Bergamo

Be safe – be seen

January 29, 2022

As a cycling clothing manufacturer, we spend a great deal of time thinking and debating about the safety features of our garments. Why do we think this is important? Because we are cyclists like you and we often have to share the road with motor vehicles. Approximately 85% of cyclists deaths are cause by motor vehicles; so we want to do whatever we can to make our customers safer. 

One of the most polarising topics of the cyclist safety is garment colour. Some cyclists (and non-cyclists) feel passionately that clothing should be bright and fluro and another cohort of cyclists feel that darker colours are more suitable for what is essentially an outdoor sport and that we should rely on detailing on garments to help motorists see them while they are sharing the road.

In a bid to see if we can shine some light (pun intended) on the debate we have gone to the scientific research to see what the best way to be seen and therefore be safer actually is. We found several studies into cyclist safety with the majority of the studies recommending separation as the best strategy for improving cyclist safety. Unfortunately, many of us must use the same roads as cars so separation is not an option. We did however find several other studies that analysed visibility and visibility aids and this is a quick summary of the findings that we found most useful.

  1. Powerful lights with interruptive flash pattern greatly improve visibility during the day and night.
  2. Placing lights or fluorescent materials (during the day) and retroreflective materials (during the night) on parts of your body that are moving (knees or ankles) greatly improve visibility.
  3. The further away you are from a motor vehicle when they first notice you, the safer you are.
Riders riding in early morning low-light with lights and fluorescent elements to their clothing.

 If you are into the detail, then read on…

In a plain language summary of one study conducted by the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, National Collaborating Centre For Women's and Children's Health they noted the following;

“Pedestrians and cyclists are often killed or seriously injured in traffic crashes, especially in developing countries where walking and bicycling are essential modes of transportation. In the UK, one in three road traffic fatalities is a pedestrian or cyclist. Usually, in these crashes drivers fail to see the pedestrian or cyclist until it is too late. In recent years reflective garments, flashing lights, and other visibility aids have been used to try to prevent crashes.

The authors of this Cochrane review looked for studies which showed how effective visibility aids are for protecting pedestrians and cyclists. They focused their search on a type of study called a randomised controlled trial, which compares two similar groups of people who only differ on the issue being studied, for instance, the rate of crashes in communities with and without introduction of visibility aids. The authors found no studies that compared number of crashes but to date they have found 42 studies which compare driver detection of people with or without visibility aids. These studies showed that fluorescent materials in yellow, red and orange improved driver detection during the day; while lamps, flashing lights and retroreflective materials in red and yellow, particularly those with a 'biomotion' configuration (taking advantage of the motion from a pedestrian's limbs), improved pedestrian recognition at night. Although these visibility measures help drivers see pedestrians and cyclists, more research should be done to determine whether the increased visibility actually does prevent deaths and serious injuries.”

Another highly relevant study was conducted by Darlene Edewaard from Clemson University. These are excerpts from an article published in VeloNews in relation to this study. According to Edewaard “Generally speaking, research showed that cyclists drastically overestimate the distance at which they are seen by motorists, and unless they are actively doing something to increase their detectability (be it with lights and/or visibility-enhancing clothing), they may not be seen at all. 

Research has shown a whopping 270% increase in driver recognition of a cyclist with a flashing rear light compared to without, while another study revealed a 33% decrease in accidents for cyclists equipped with daytime running lights. Edewaard’s advice to cyclists purchasing bike lights is to make sure that the light is visible from far distances before pulling out their credit card. A true daytime running light will have specific flash patterns designed to capture attention along with a focused beam that is visible and noticeable from far enough away for drivers to see the light, recognize the cyclist and react safely.

Edewaard also emphasized the importance of light placement, noting that during research they had the four bicyclists display different placement manipulations of taillights. One had a seatpost light turned off. Another had a steady helmet light. A third had a steady seat post light, and the last rider had half intensity steady lights mounted to each ankle.

The results showed that the rider with the ankle lights was significantly more conspicuous than the other three riders even though the intensity of the ankle lights were half that of the seatpost and helmet lights. This was further evidence to the importance of biomotion, which is essentially the idea that humans have increased perceptual sensitivity to the movement of other human beings.

All that said, bicyclists should use taillights while riding both during the daytime and nighttime, and whenever possible emphasize their movement with lights or high visibility material (fluorescent during the daytime and retroreflective at night) to help drivers see them from safe distances.”

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