Hi Vis Cycling


Why Cycling in Hi Vis May Help More than You Think


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 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.
hi vis cycling and bicycle safety

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.
hi vis cycling and night visibility

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.

Isn’t Contrast also important for High Visibility?

Contrast is also seen as critical to visibility. That’s why see me wear uses an enormous fluorescent orange chevron to contrast with, and provide a dimensionality to, the fluorescent yellow on our cycling jerseys and jackets. Our testing shows that in daylight and failing light, it’s the brightest cycling clothing you can wear.

Arguments Against Cyclists Wearing Hi Vis Cycling Clothing

Some criticisms of hi vis are strange. For example: It creates victim blaming. I think it’s just the opposite, more about this later. Other folks say it takes away from the larger issues of improving infrastructure with better bike lanes, road surfaces, etc. I’m more interested in keeping myself and other cyclists alive than dealing with what is basically a long term funding issue.

Some cyclists feel that if you ‘command the lane’ by riding in the middle of the right lane your position is so prominent that no matter what you wear you will be seen. Interesting point, before smart phones I’d tend to agree, but when someone is texting or talking, I want to wear the brightest clothing available to get their attention. I’m not aware of any research on the relationship of lane position to motor vehicle crashes. I do know, because, I share their concern, that a lot of cyclists, just don’t feel comfortable in the middle of the lane. I know it’s our legal right, but I feel very exposed there and tend to ride at 2 – 3 feet from the right edge of the road instead.

Other criticisms are silly: Hi vis doesn’t stand out because everyone wears it. The idea isn’t to stand out from other cyclists in a crowd; it’s to stand out from the background while riding to make drivers see you faster and farther down the road. I sure do wish that everyone really did wear it. Here’s another funny one: I used to wear hi vis, but it didn’t make a difference. Was this person hit repeatedly both with and without hi vis or never hit at all?
high visibility cycling

“It was just an accident.”

One cynical comment we sometimes hear has merit: “It’s not that drivers don’t see you, they just don’t care.” There’s something here, because if a driver hits a bicyclist and doesn’t drive away, it’s ‘just an accident’ and there are little if any ramifications. Even hit & run killers don’t get much in the way of penalties.

In our town in North Carolina, an 18-year-old driver hit and killed a cyclist, a local firefighter. The driver left the scene and later that day went to a Super Bowl party. A relative saw the damage to his vehicle and asked about it; the young man admitted it and received a four month sentence in prison plus community service. A reporter covering the incident was sympathetic that a young man’s life would be damaged by the bad decision of a few seconds. Not much mention was made of the fireman and the family he left behind.

Accidents must have consequences

The answer to cyclist deaths lies in educating drivers that hitting a cyclist has serious consequences. I think it’s long overdue time for us to get very tough with drivers who hit cyclists and hi vis cycling clothing is an important part of the solution. Remember in addition to the 817 fatalities in 2015, there were about 13,000 incidents where a driver hits and injures a cyclist. Cyclists wearing hi vis and others with LED lighting no doubt prevent a great number of crashes. But in some cases the driver was texting or comparably distracted and hit the cyclist no matter what they were wearing.

Some cyclists have said that when they see a cyclist in hi vis they think he looks like a clown. But when police, prosecutors, juries and judges see the same cyclist, they see a careful, serious, law abiding person trying to protect themselves from danger.

If every cyclist wearing hi vis hit by a driver immediately engaged a lawyer (cycling specific lawyers are all over the internet) and pressed for a felony conviction, we would see public attitudes change. Of course, it goes without saying that any cyclist fatality, which was the driver’s fault, should be prosecuted as vehicular manslaughter or other felony calling for substantial prison time.

An accident, but also a felony

First, you and your lawyer must convince the police that while your crash may have been an accident, that’s incidental, accidents have consequences. All “It was an accident“ means is that the driver was not trying to deliberately harm the cyclist. We assume that’s true, but lack of intent doesn’t matter. The driver has a responsibility to operate their vehicle safely and pay attention to the road. By texting or other distracting activity if the driver recklessly causes a crash resulting in injury, this can be a felony.

If the cyclist is injured, a felony charge is appropriate. If the cyclist was hit by a driver, while wearing high visibility clothing, it will take away the ‘I never saw the cyclist’ excuse completely. When the prosecutor shows the hi vis cycling jersey to the jury and explains that if the driver didn’t see the cyclist in this jersey, he wasn’t meeting his responsibility to watch the road. The jury will get it. BUT if the cyclist was wearing fashionable black, he hurts his own cause. He’s given the driver a way out.

The way to end distracted driving is to put offenders in prison for serious time and to take away their phones and their cars, when they kill or injure a cyclist or pedestrian. When this happens frequently enough that the citizenry notice, we will start to see the solution to the problem.

Won’t you join us in Making Hi Vis Cycling Part of the Solution?

So I call on the cycling community to consider wearing hi vis on every ride, to not only save themselves, but if hit by a texting driver, to see he’s taken off the road for a long time. Remember there are about 13,000 crashes in the US alone, where a driver injures a rider. If we get felony convictions for even one third of these, the country would sit up and notice and change would occur.

We have to take this into our own hands; the car companies simply are dumping more and more technology that encourages distractions in new cars. Without pressure from the cycling community, there’s a tendency to trivialize non-fatal auto/bicycle crashes. If we wear high visibility clothing and push for convictions, where appropriate for at fault drivers, we can make change happen and make cycling safer for everyone.

This is why I’m an advocate for hi vis cycling and ask you to seriously consider adapting this strategy and joining me.

The See Me Wear Team