HI VIS CYCLING HELPS – HERE’S WHY
Why Cycling in Hi Vis May Help More than You Think
THE CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING HI VIS CYCLING CLOTHING AND BICYCLE SAFETY
There are a lot of comments on the internet about the value of hi vis cycling for cyclists, and whether wearing hi vis cycling apparel will make cyclists safer. I design and market see me wear fluorescent cycling jerseys and am an advocate for hi vis cycling clothing. But don’t stop reading now; one of the reasons for my advocacy will surprise you. If you read this through, you may even come to agree with me. If not, at least you’ll have more information that may get you thinking more about hi vis cycling and bike safety.
THE PROBLEM: CYCLIST DEATHS UP SHARPLY SINCE 2010
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety provides data about highway fatalities going back to 1975, when over 1,000 cyclists were killed in the US. Population then was only about 60% of what it is today, and bike helmets were very rare. With the growth of helmets, and positive safety features in new cars, cycling fatalities have trended steadily downward through 2010, when 621 cyclists were killed on the roads, the lowest number ever.
But since 2010, the trend has reversed sharply. In 2015, the most recent year data is available, 817 cyclists died in the US alone. That’s a serious 31.6% increase since 2010.
Cycling Fatalities by time of day
Death by time of day directly relates to visibility. One quarter (24%) of all fatalities happen between 6PM and 9PM and 17% between 9PM and Midnight. So 41% of all cyclist deaths occur in the six hours from 6PM to Midnight when the amount of cyclists on the road is relatively low. This is why we recommend you ride during those hours only if absolutely necessary.
Cyclists injured by motor vehicles
The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center estimates that in addition to the bicyclists killed by motor vehicles, another 13,000 cyclists were hit by cars and injured in 2015. That’s a lot of car/cyclist crashes.
Why the big jump in cyclist deaths?
A 31.6% increase in cyclist deaths since 2010 is steep. What has changed since 2010? The smart phone was born in 2007 and really took off. Additionally, our motor vehicles were getting TV screens, and a whole host of entertainment features. Distracted driving became a very serious threat to everyone on the roads.
The NHTSA estimates that about 10% of both driver and cyclist deaths in 2015 were caused by distracted driving. Most safety experts believe this seriously understates the problem, and that up to 50% of all crashes are caused by distracted driving.
The three kinds of drivers Cyclists Face on a Given Day and How Hi Vis Cycling Can Help
1. The bike haters
Unfortunately there are a small number of drivers who resent our being on the roads at all. Some of them deliberately try to annoy and terrify cyclists by buzzing, passing very closely, throwing objects at cyclists, etc. Whether we wear a high visibility cycling jersey for these few misfits makes no difference. They aren’t going to stop unless we stop them, but thankfully, they are a small minority.
2. The responsible drivers
Attentive drivers aren’t a problem; although under some lighting conditions they may actually have trouble seeing a cyclist, even when paying close attention to the road. Even the best drivers might not see you sometimes. In cases like these, hi vis cycling can definitely help.
3. The distracted drivers
Our real problems are the inattentive, distracted drivers, who are either using a phone or doing something other than paying strict attention to the road. They are even worse enemies than the bike haters, because there are so many more of them. With these drivers, we want to do everything we can to make them see us, and that’s where hi vis cycling comes in.
Hi Vis Cycling and Daytime Visibility
Wearing a fluorescent cycling jersey allows an attentive, alert driver to see the cyclist earlier and further down the road. The driver then has more time to plan his path around the rider safely, without inconveniencing himself.
Research done by Bicycling Magazine (December 2010, p. 34) concluded “When cyclists wear fluorescent clothing, a driver’s perception distance (when the driver first spots something on the road) increases from 400 feet to 2,200 feet during the day…” This squares with our testing, although we didn’t go out to 2,200 feet, as it didn’t seem necessary. For the attentive driver, wearing hi vis cycling clothing provides a real advantage for the driver and the cyclist, a win-win.
Does Hi Vis Cycling Help with Nighttime Visibility?
Cycling at night is extremely dangerous, and in my opinion, no clothing will protect you, including ours. While reflective cycling apparel looks terrific, our testing indicates it only works when illuminated by a vehicle’s headlights. This tends to be only a few hundred feet in front of the motor vehicle.
Since a vehicle traveling at 50 mph covers 73 feet a second, even reflective cycling clothing doesn’t provide enough protection to the cyclist. If you must cycle at night, use powerful LED/laser lights front and back. There are quite a few choices, and some are exceptionally bright.
Please don’t compromise, buy the brightest lights you can afford. If at all possible, arrange your affairs, so you no longer need to bike at night.
How Can Cyclists Deal with Distracted drivers during the day?
Since most bicycling is done during daylight hours, what can we do to protect ourselves from the daytime distracted drivers? We must use every method to attract their attention and wrench them away from the distractions. One of those methods is wearing high visibility fluorescent clothing. A recent study also showed that steady, non-flashing red lights on a cyclist’s moving legs were extremely visible to drivers. It makes sense.
What do brand designers say about wearing hi vis?
Does wearing hi vis cycling clothing make a difference? Some designers say we should wear black with reflective strips. But reflective strips don’t do anything in the daylight. Others believe you should wear whatever you feel like. Nick Hussey, founder of Vulpine, says he’s skeptical that there’s any point in wearing hi vis in daylight. “I’m a big believer in wearing what looks good. The research on visibility is so mixed if someone isn’t going to see you, they won’t notice whether you’re in a yellow jacket or a black one.”
The science behind hi vis cycling clothing
Oscar Huss, head of product development at Swedish cycling company POC disagrees, “First off, it’s not true to say that bright colors don’t help with visibility. A conventional bright color is able to reflect about 90% of a colour present in the visible spectrum. Fluorescent colours can reflect as much as 200 to 300% by using a larger amount of the visible spectrum, and by re-radiating some of the absorbed ultraviolet rays and colours in the lower part of the visible spectrum they can be seen with the human eye. This ultimately results in the eye perceiving a more intense colour. On the road, the advantage of this is that it increases the distance from which an object is seen, and some studies show that fluorescent clothing is five-and-a-half times more visible than conventional clothing.”
I’m with Mr. Huss and ask you to look at this simple video which dramatically shows the advantage of see me wear fluorescent cycling jerseys compared to blue, not even black jerseys, in moderate shade. I think you’ll find this very convincing evidence of the value of hi vis clothing for cyclists.