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Research from Australia backs up earlier findings - but does it give SMIDSY drivers an excuse?

A researcher at an Australian university says that cyclists could be exposing themselves to greater danger of being struck by a car due to the driver’s inability to see them, particularly when the light is poor, and says reflective, not high-visibility, clothing is the answer to being seen in the hours of darkness.

Philippe Lacherez, who is a post-doctoral fellow at the School of Optometry and Vision Science at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) conducted his research among 184 cyclists – most of them Australian – who had been involved in a collision with a car.

Their responses highlighted that in a lot of instances the driver “looked, but didn't see” the rider in sufficient time to avoid hitting them.

"We asked the cyclist about the time of day, the weather and general visibility at the time of the collision as well as what they were wearing and the lights on their bikes," commented Dr Lacherez.

"We found that crashes disproportionately occurred during low-light conditions such as at dawn, dusk or at night. Only 34 per cent of cyclists in these low-light crashes were wearing reflective clothing and 19 per cent of them said they weren't using bicycle lights at the time of the crash.

"We're concerned that this means cyclists are making themselves more vulnerable by not being adequately visible to an oncoming driver.”

Some might see that finding as giving an excuse to so-called ‘SMIDSY’ – standing for “Sorry mate, I didn’t see you” – drivers, with the claimed inability to see a cyclist because they were dressed in dark clothing, or the sun was shining in the motorist’s eyes, at times employed as a defence in court.

Dr Lacherez went on: “What is surprising is that 61 per cent of cyclists attributed the crash to driver inattention,” he added. “Only two of the 184 directly attributed the crash to their own visibility."

He said cyclists could make themselves more visible through using reflective clothing but cautioned that high-visibility clothing by itself was ineffective at night.

"Fluorescent clothing needs UV rays to be reflective and so don't work at night," he said.

"Cyclists should add reflective strips to their knees and ankles because the pedalling movement makes light from the headlights bounce back to the driver making it easier to register they are there.

"Cyclists also need to wear a reflective vest and, of course, have lights on their bike to increase their chances of being seen in low-light as well as at night.

"Our previous research has clearly demonstrated that when cyclists add these strategic reflective markings it leads to a large increase in visibility, which in turn leads to motorists recognising a cyclist on the road much earlier. This simple step could make cycling in low-light much safer," he added.

Some of those findings – such as dawn and dusk being particularly dangerous times for cyclists – have been widely reported before, and doubts have also been raised previously about the effectiveness of fluorescent clothing whether during the daytime or at night.

Earlier this year, the Guardian Bike Blog highlighted a report form the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) – with the caveat that it was based on research of motorcyclists, not cyclists – which analysed a dozen studies, some of which had suggested that high visibility clothing could improve rider safety.

However, the TRL said that in many cases, that was based on the hi-viz clad rider being placed against a uniform background, rather than a changing one, as would happen in motion.

Two more recent reports cited by the TRL suggested that what was important was not the use of high-visibility clothing in itself, but rather the contrast against the background, with white or even black clothing found to perform that function.

The TRL said: “The results are interesting in that they show the previously held assertion that a bright reflective jacket will improve rider conspicuity may not always be true ...

“[T]he message seems to be that the most conspicuous outfit will be dictated by the lighting conditions and local environment at the time, which may be extremely variable within the confines of even a fairly short ride.”

It added: “Given that environments may differ over even fairly small changes in time or location, there is not likely to be a one-size-fits-all solution, meaning that motorcyclists need to be aware of the limitations of whichever interventions they use.”

In the United Kingdom, Rule 59 of the Highway Code says, among other things, that cyclists

… should wear…

• light-coloured or fluorescent clothing which helps other road users to see you in daylight and poor light

• reflective clothing and/or accessories (belt, arm or ankle bands) in the dark.

Some police forces have at times sought to distribute high-visibility vests to cyclists, with Hampshire Constabulary having undertaken a campaign in which it also targeted people riding bikes without lights in November 2009.

Earlier this year, in separate inquiries in New Zealand involving the death of cyclists, two coroners said that bike riders should be required to wear high-visibility clothing.

Following publication of the verdict in one of those cases, a spokesman the country’s Ministry of Transportation said it was giving serious consideration to the coroner’s remarks.

DfT figures released last week reveal that in Great Britain in 2012, some 2,091 cyclists were killed or seriously injured in incidents that happened from Monday-Thursday.

The most dangerous times of day were between 7am and 9am, and from 3pm to 8pm, when each hour saw serious casualties reach three figures in aggregate across the year.

That’s partly explained by the fact that those hours coincide with the morning and evening commuting peaks, as well as rush hour.

Lighting conditions do vary across the year – in Manchester in midsummer, for instance the sun rises at around 4.4am and sets at approximately 9.4pm, while in midwinter, sunrise and sunset times are roughly 8.25am and 3.50pm.

While many cyclist casualties, even at peak times, will happen in hours of daylight – the summer months tend to see a higher number than winter ones, for example – changing light conditions at dawn and dusk are believed to be a factor as road users’ eyes adjust.

In 2009, the TRL published a study into cyclist casualties based in part on STATS19 forms completed by police after a road traffic incident, which are also used to compile DfT road casualty statistics.

It found that cyclists wearing dark clothing, or riding at night without lights were considered by police to be a factor in just 2.5 per cent and 2 per cent, respectively, of incidents in which the rider suffered serious injury.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

75 comments

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andybwhite [250 posts] 3 years ago
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And black cars? Do we see the same level of discussion about the likelihood of them being involved in a collision?

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jollygoodvelo [1626 posts] 3 years ago
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I've mentioned this before, but when I had my SMIDSY accident I was wearing all black. My own fault then? Well, not in my view. It was shortly before noon on a bright sunny day, the 'background' that the driver didn't see me against was bright early-summer green. I happen to believe that all black is more more visible than high-vis (or reflective) in such situations... having said that I'll be riding with a flashing front light even in daylight in future.

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Gkam84 [9100 posts] 3 years ago
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I have at least 3 rear lights, one is on whenever I am out, no matter the time or day or weather.

As for the comment about the black car.....They have powerful lights....making them visible in dark conditions.

They way this "research" is going, all cyclists are going to need a follow car shortly, with flashing lights and a sign warning of cyclists ahead.

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TheHatter [770 posts] 3 years ago
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Gizmo_ wrote:

I've mentioned this before, but when I had my SMIDSY accident I was wearing all black. My own fault then? Well, not in my view. It was shortly before noon on a bright sunny day, the 'background' that the driver didn't see me against was bright early-summer green. I happen to believe that all black is more more visible than high-vis (or reflective) in such situations... having said that I'll be riding with a flashing front light even in daylight in future.

sorry to hear you had an accident but surely at least some of your background would have been black tarmac?

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ribena [182 posts] 3 years ago
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Quote:

Only 34 per cent of cyclists in these low-light crashes were wearing reflective clothing and 19 per cent of them said they weren't using bicycle lights at the time of the crash.

So were cyclists with reflective clothing under or over-represented in this sample, or does the 34% figure also represent cyclists who weren't in crashes? This is the most important piece of information yet seems to be missing.

Quote:

“What is surprising is that 61 per cent of cyclists attributed the crash to driver inattention,” he added. “Only two of the 184 directly attributed the crash to their own visibility."

Yet it could be entirely accurate, there is seemingly nothing in the research to prove or disprove the statement.

This seems like a poor piece of research.

Where was it published and who has reviewed it??

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BBB [454 posts] 3 years ago
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Incredible.

Almost every study concludes that it's the cyclists who "should" be doing something, in order not to get killed. The most ridiculous being the one on body armour...

No wonder that judges love using lack of reflective gear or a helmet as a mitigation when "sentencing" drivers.

What I would like to find out is why even with high-viz/reflective gear and 900lumen flashing light(s), drivers still pull out at the front of me, regardless of the time of the day/night.

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b3nharris [44 posts] 3 years ago
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I'm reminded of a poem which applies to sailing:

"Here lies the body of Johnny O'Day
Who died Preserving His Right of Way.

He was Right, Dead Right, as he sailed along
But he's just as dead as if he'd been wrong."

Drivers may be in the wrong for the vast majority of SMIDSY accidents but that doesn't help much when you're lying under the from wheels of a car. It's plain stupid to not to do something which is likely to improve your safety on the basis that someone else should be responsible.

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shay cycles [385 posts] 3 years ago
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b3nharris wrote:

Drivers may be in the wrong for the vast majority of SMIDSY accidents but that doesn't help much when you're lying under the from wheels of a car. It's plain stupid to not to do something which is likely to improve your safety on the basis that someone else should be responsible.

The problem is in knowing what to do. Research tends to suggest that hi-viz is not very effective and that black and white clothing is best during daylight. So how does the rider know what is best to wear when the advice and research are neither consistent or reliable?

At the end of the day there could be anything on the road, a child, an animal, a skip, a big hole but it is ALWAYS the responsibility of the driver to be sure every piece of road is clear before driving onto it.

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Bedfordshire Clanger [345 posts] 3 years ago
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Like it or not we are all responsible for our own safety. I'm not convinced of the efficacy of hi-viz but I do think that reflectives and good lights make a huge difference in low light and in the dark. I certainly don't want to see a law that mandates that we all have to wear the YJA but if you ride outside of well lit town centres in poor light or in the dark then using reflectives and bright lights is just common sense.

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Neil753 [447 posts] 3 years ago
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There are so many drivers out there, not paying attention, maybe texting or even checking Facebook, I feel much safer wearing a hi vis vest.

They weigh virtually nothing and I carry two different sizes so I can still be fairly aero even if I strip down to just one layer. If you have a needle and thread, you can make any cheap hi vis a custom fit, so it doesn't flap about.

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RPK [101 posts] 3 years ago
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IMO, motorists often don't see cyclists simply because they are not expecting to see any. I noticed last night a few instances where riding past intersections, cars pulling up to the stop were not looking for me, but motor vehicles off in the distance behind me.

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imaca [79 posts] 3 years ago
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Speaking as a NZer, I was horrified at the coroners remarks. Apart from the "cyclists need to be responsible for their own safety so car drivers can ignore them" implications, here in Hawkes Bay high vis yellow is like camouflage against our bright spring/summer foliage and grass.

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Argos74 [434 posts] 3 years ago
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If you get a bunch of people running around carrying scissors, why are we looking at the behaviour of the people without scissors? And if some of the first group are carrying 12 foot long scissors and wearing an eyepatch, then wtf?

This isn't so much a question of victim blaming, more carrying out a semi-detailed study of the most effective way to blame the victim. And I ride out festooned like a bloody Christmas tree.

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sm [399 posts] 3 years ago
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Reflective clothing won't help in low light conditions if the car behind doesn't have the headlights switched on.

That said, I cannot understand why most cycling specific clothing lacks reflective strips. It doesn't cost much and doesn't detract from the style during the day.

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mattsccm [355 posts] 3 years ago
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As usual here its blame the cars.
I DO think that many of them are a bloody menace and that the drivers are complete idiots. I Do think that most car drivers show little interest at best in cycle safety.
However I doubt that very few actually want to hit a bike. We do need to make some contribution. Cars need lights on when they are out in poor light. Why shouldn't we as well. You rarely miss a lorry in the rain but you do miss smaller cars or silver ones for example.
It has to be accepted that we make some effort. Its not human to expect all car drivers to spot everything. I defy any of you to say that you have never lost your attention for a minute. Every little helps. It also gives us another weapon when we do get the SMIDSY excuse, especially if it goes to court. Sad to say that but it will be true.
Why the objection to bright kit?
Fashion and the I am too cool for sparkly bits.
Now if Rapha added reflective they would be come all the rage.
Maybe people such as the Rapha designers have a slight responsibility there. But would they dare make a reflective jacket.
NO

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Stumps [3471 posts] 3 years ago
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There are a lot of cars now that are made with sensors fitted that automatically switch on your side lights when certain light levels are reached (like street lights).

Unfortunatley its all the big expensive models that have it fitted. Perhaps its time to get them all fitted.

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merckxman [40 posts] 3 years ago
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I think its an individuals own choice but I feel slightly safer with a front and back day light lights on plus my Hi Vis ruck sack when I commute to work from Stockport to Manchester, if I can make drivers notice me I stand a better chance of getting to work safetly, now the mornings are getting darker I am horrified to see cyclist riding dressed in normal or Black clothing surely they are putting themselves at risk, I am not to happy for cyclist to ride on the pavement in busy areas but it makes me smile to see cyclist riding on the pavement with flashing lights on..

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WolfieSmith [1380 posts] 3 years ago
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Mattsccm: Rapha winter stuff normally has reflective panels. My wind jacket has reflective arms and back lettering and my pro team jersey has a reflective arm band. Neither will help if a car pulls out on me from a side road of course!

Rapha also do bright orange and yellow macs but you won't catch me wearing them as I don't want to dress like a prat just to allow motorists to keep on braking at the last possible moment. Reaction time is not governed by visibility but by speed.

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Hasis [37 posts] 3 years ago
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Vehicle headlights operating on dipped beam are *designed* not to cast significant amounts of light upward beyond a certain angle. Accordingly, if you are in the carriageway on an unlit road wearing Hi-vis only (i.e. no lights, no reflectives)...you will not be sufficiently illuminated to be seen by a driver travelling at anything above ~20-30mph until it is too late. Reflective is the only thing that works in those circumstances.

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mrmo [2093 posts] 3 years ago
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Gkam84 wrote:

As for the comment about the black car.....They have powerful lights....making them visible in dark conditions.

And silver/grey cars in thick fog who don't bother using their lights!!!!

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mrmo [2093 posts] 3 years ago
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stumps wrote:

There are a lot of cars now that are made with sensors fitted that automatically switch on your side lights when certain light levels are reached (like street lights).

Unfortunatley its all the big expensive models that have it fitted. Perhaps its time to get them all fitted.

Laws changed, ALL new cars have to come with daylight running lights, there is usually a way to turn the lights off, but if tends to be involved.

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KiwiMike [1291 posts] 3 years ago
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Meh. This is the helmet debate writ large. Sciencey-types can't agree what is better, 'common sense' is apparently wrong, and in the real world people don't like the danger-ification / looking like a road worker.

Seems the only answer is to get into the arms race that is ever-increasing lumens front & back, day & night.

...

FWIW, my lovely ShuttVR kit is almost totally black, but with lovely contrasting white and rainbow bits. And there's reflective stuff sewn in all over the lovely black Performance jacket.

Now we just need some seriously chilly days to justify getting it out  1

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Stumps [3471 posts] 3 years ago
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mrmo wrote:
stumps wrote:

There are a lot of cars now that are made with sensors fitted that automatically switch on your side lights when certain light levels are reached (like street lights).

Unfortunatley its all the big expensive models that have it fitted. Perhaps its time to get them all fitted.

Laws changed, ALL new cars have to come with daylight running lights, there is usually a way to turn the lights off, but if tends to be involved.

Didn't know that mate, thats good news for us that cycle when its getting dark. Mind you they shouldn't be allowed to switch off the system.

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Cycle_Jim [264 posts] 3 years ago
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Hmmm, I light myself up like a feckin' Christmas tree on commutes - 2 rear 2 front lights (one set to flashing one solid) reflective strips on the bike and my bag has reflective tape.

That didn't stop some moron try overtaking me at a pinch point and nearly running me of the road, he backed off when I suggested 'kindly' to reconsider.

What really pissed me off though was this particular moron decided that he didn't need to see out of any of his windows - they were completely steamed up which would have meant even with lights and what nots, if he'd gotten past me he would have most likely not given me the clearance due to obstructed mirrors and quite possibly cut inside of me again due to no visibility.

Cyclists can only do some much - unfortunately there are eejits like this on the road prepared to risk the lives of anyone in the way.

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Cycle_Jim [264 posts] 3 years ago
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@stumps - I can't turn my '12 plate corsa lights off. They are now always on - I think as others have said it is now mandatory.

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jason.timothy.jones [293 posts] 3 years ago
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I think that there is a few things happening here, and as you would expect, rather than sorting out the cause, we are trying to find and fix the symptoms.

In the first part, Hi Viz vests are now to common place, you see someone walking to work or HGV drivers, as well as cyclist and runners. So drivers are becoming blind to Hi Viz. Have a think for a moment, anyone that drove into work today, how many white vans did you see? probably lots, but you wont remember how many you saw, but if you saw a gilded coach drawn by 6 white unicorns you will remember that.

The next problem is Cognitive capture, there is so much going on in our lives and in our cars that we loose the ability to take everything in, its pretty much the same in some ways to inattentional blindness, especially during work commutes, on the way in everyone is paying attention to the car in front, listening to the radio, thinking about how is following them on twitter, the in car Sat Nav, looking for speed cameras..the list goes on. Unfortunately there is probably nothing can be done about this. I recently read about a scheme where bikes are fitted with a device that will send a signal to a receiver in a bus or HGV and an alarm will sound. This, like the Hi Vis will work well for a little while, but it will not take long until the sounds are ignored, or become white noise.

So what we cyclist are becoming is white noise on the road, and we need a way to fix this.

I agree that lights should be used during the day, especially at the back of the bike, and both front and back should be flashing during the day. Appropriate clothing is also a good idea, but this wont solve the issue if its not noticed.

There is an answer, but it will never be popular, and I doubt that it will ever be implemented, and this is by changing driver behaviour. When driving home last night, I took note on how drivers we behaving on the road, in a 2 mile stretch down the A49 in Warrington i saw 5 cars change lane without indicating, and only 1 did indicate, at every set of lights cars had front wheels over the stop line...note, this was at every set of lights, at the McDonalds a car come out of the car park turned right and traveled at speed down the wrong side of the duel carriageway, at high speed, and took the corner dukes of hazzard style, anyone crossing the pedestrian crossing would have been killed. A car in front of me merged into the gutter at a set of lights to stop a cyclist from filtering, a HGV run a red light in a roundabout, 2 cars overtook and changed lane in another roundabout....

The reason all of this happens is that the Police are not doing anything to stop it, and this may well be due to staffing, or other priorities, but if there is no one enforcing the laws people will brake them. I lived in Australia for 36 years, the road laws are very heavily enforced and penalties are very high, and as a result the culture on the roads is completely different, thats not to say that its safer for cyclist as I dont have those figures, but if we use that example in introduce strict laws for drivers behaviour around cyclists, and also enforce the laws that we have in the first place, drivers may be more conscious of what they are doing behind the wheel. Imagine if there was a £200 FPN for driving without due care around a cyclist.

And whilst Im at it, the fines for cyclist should be enforced, especially no lights at night, running lights etcettera

As an example of the difference in road policing between Australia and the UK, at least every 3 months, I would be stopped by traffic police for either a Random BAC test, or licence check. When ever a driver is stopped the police administer a BAC test as normal procedure, and I think now they are doing saliva tests for drugs. I was once stopped because the police saw me drive past and thought that my tyres were to worn...and they were close, they did the normal checks, put me on the bag, rego check and sent me on my way. I was stopped once by a plain car as one of my rear lights was flickering, the copper told me I should get it fixed, did all the checks and sent me on my way, all with a smile, very professional.

So whats my point? Im not to sure now, I have lost my thought trail, but what I think im saying is we need to police to enforce the laws and we need the Government in introduce new laws to protect cyclists. Make drivers more aware of us on the road, and enforce penalties when they do not

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jollygoodvelo [1626 posts] 3 years ago
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TheHatter wrote:
Gizmo_ wrote:

I've mentioned this before, but when I had my SMIDSY accident I was wearing all black. My own fault then? Well, not in my view. It was shortly before noon on a bright sunny day, the 'background' that the driver didn't see me against was bright early-summer green. I happen to believe that all black is more more visible than high-vis (or reflective) in such situations... having said that I'll be riding with a flashing front light even in daylight in future.

sorry to hear you had an accident but surely at least some of your background would have been black tarmac?

Not from the height of a car driver's seat. And when was the last time you saw beautiful clean new tarmac in this country?

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rich22222 [166 posts] 3 years ago
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Research done by me suggests:
As the majority of motor vehicle drivers are lower down than cyclists, the most obvious colour to wear is the one which will contrast most greatly with the sky, black covers this in most daylight situations.

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qwerky [183 posts] 3 years ago
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Lights/reflectors work at night and hi-viz works in low light (dawn/dusk).....how is this news? Surely its obvious?

Sure, you'd be stupid to ride at night wearing black with no lights down an unlit road in fast traffic. This isn't the typical case though.

On the subject of visibility, the elephant in the room is that plenty of accidents happen in broad daylight. How can a driver say that they didn't see someone they hit in broad daylight. Of course most of us have a suspicion as to what the true answer is; bad driving.

It seems to me that most accidents happen because a driver wasn't paying attention or executed an ill-advised manoeuvre. If you bother to get an explaination from the driver (which this study seems to have failed to do) then its only to be expected that a driver will try to defect the blame and make an excuse. Its extremely rare for a driver to admit fault. Don't ever recall anyone saying; "Mi-lud, I overtook around a blind corner, suddenly was suprosed by the oncoming traffic and drove over the cyclist to avoid a head on collision."

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Jack Osbourne snr [635 posts] 3 years ago
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My observations as a commuting cyclist and occasional car/bus user:

Hi-Vis - okay during daylight, useless on its own at night. Best spotted at medium distance 2-400 yards

Black clothing - why did Ninjas wear black? It doesn't stand out against anything other than snow. You may look cool in black but it does not, in general, help make you visible.
White clothing - stands out slightly more than black against most backgrounds. Quite visible at close range.

Mixed clothing with high contrast is the most visible at close range.

Reflectives - limited daylight application. Effective at night IF caught by bright white light. Starts working under 200 yards from light source.

Lights - Flashing attracts attention  35 Red light has limited visibility in daylight unless VERY powerful lamp.

I do around 4000 commuter miles per year in all weathers and ambient light conditions. This is in Glasgow where it is probably generally darker than the UK average due the prevalence of cloud and rain. My standard visibility kit consists of:

Clothing:
Jacket/jersey - whatever is clean, generally two colours from red, white or green and usually having a small reflective strip as part of the garment. (I wear mostly TORM gear). I never wear hi-viz, mainly because I don't own any.
Bottom half - bog standard black. May or may not have any reflective bits.
Shoes - Gaerne TRON shoes, which I love http://img2.annuncicdn.it/6e/52/6e522cdc640c7e6787ffe02cdc9c5f86_orig.jpg No idea if they work.
Lights - front on flash at all times. Rear on flash in low light and Flash + constant in darkness.

Taking "incidents" to date as the measure, I'm far more visible in the dark than during the day! As mentioned above though, it doesn't matter what you do or wear when you are at the mercy of the "inevitable idiot".

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