When most people think about high visibility safety clothing, they think about the clothing that those who work in potentially hazardous situations where to make them more noticeable to people around them as well as any motorized vehicles nearby. Individuals like construction workers, emergency response personnel, law enforcement and even crossing guards. Not everyone think about high visibility clothing in relation to athletics especially cycling.
In 2013 a post-doctoral fellow at the School of Optometry and Vision Science at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia completed a research study about the safety of cyclists. The researcher, whose name is Philippe Lacherez, researched 184 cyclists (mostly from Australia) who had been injured by a vehicle or involved in a collision with a vehicle. Click here to find more.
According to the study, participants said that it often happened that drivers “looked, but didn’t see” cyclists soon enough to avoid hitting them. Most collisions occurred in low light conditions like dusk, dawn or at night. In the study, only 34 percent of participants said they were wearing high visibility safety clothing. Even though so few were wearing anything to make themselves more visible, only two of the participants attributed the crash to what they were wearing and how visible they were to drivers. The majority of the participants blamed the crashes on driver inattention.
Driver inattention may have been the cause of some of the crashes, but cyclists need to be proactive and protect themselves by making themselves as visible as possible in low light conditions. Dark clothing with a single reflective band across the back bike seat, for example, is not going to provide enough visibility for a driver to see a cyclist. The same is true for the reflective patches most bikes have on the wheels spokes, pedals and in front of the bars.
It’s important for cyclists to wear high visibility clothing for their own safety. However, Dr. Lacherez cautions that not all high visibility safety clothing will be suitable for cyclists. Fluorescent clothing is considered high visibility, but as soon as the light starts to diminish, this type of clothing loses its effectiveness. This is because fluorescent clothing needs light in order to work. It needs UV rays to active the colors reflective properties. Since there are no UV rays at night, fluorescent clothing becomes ineffective once the sun sets.
Cyclists should wear strategically placed reflective markings. Reflective strips should be placed on their knees and ankles. During the pedaling movement, the head from the headlights will bounce back off of the reflective surface making it easier for a driver to see the cyclist. A reflective vest is also a good idea as well as having lights on the front and the back of bikes to further increase a cyclists chance of being seen in low light and night time conditions. These steps aren’t difficult to do and can make the roads safer for both the cyclists and the drivers.
As more people choose to use two-wheel transportation, it becomes increasingly important for drivers to realize they share the roads with cyclists. But cyclists also need to do their part (besides following traffic rules etc.) to make themselves as easily noticeable as possible.
The European Transport Safety Council reported that what it calls “invisibility of cyclists” is a key problem for both drivers and cyclists. This is, as just proven, a significant concern at night. But it’s also a concern during the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest and the cyclists and drivers can see the roads clearly.
According to the European Transport Safety Council, cyclists are statistically four times more likely to be knocked off a bike when it’s dark out. This makes sense. But visibility can be compromised during the day too from fog, dust or just the general business of a road. So it’s vital to be as visible as possible anytime a cyclist chooses to go for a spin, even if it’s in broad daylight.
The human eye sees differently in different levels of light. When it’s broad daylight or bright outside, we rely on cone cells inside the eye. They are sensitive to color. In the dark, our eyes rely on dark rod cells (photoreceptors) which are sensitive to light. The cones are located in the middle of the eye and there are fewer cones than rods in the human eye. Rods are denser and located along the outer edges of the eye.
As amazing as the human eye is, it can take as long as 30 minutes for our eyes to switch seeing from cones to rod cells. It takes roughly 5 minutes for rods cells to adjust to cones. What this means is that it takes six times longer for our eyes to adjust from seeing in the middle of the day (or in bright light) to seeing under low light conditions, like dusk. Our eyes adjust much faster from seeing in low light to seeing in bright light.
This is one of the reasons why it’s important to wear high visibility safety clothing for cyclists but also to make sure there are lights on your bike. This is true even in city atmospheres where there is plenty of artificial light giving people the illusion or the misperception that they will be easily seen. It takes time for the eyes to send the information they see to the brain and anything you can do to assist with the processing time can mean the difference between being involved in an accident with a vehicle or enjoying a safe cycling commute or recreational bike ride.
The trick to choosing the right type of high visibility safety clothing for cyclists is to make sure you find the right combination of colors and reflective equipment. It’s rarely suggested that you wear something dark even if you have more reflective marking on your body and bike than you really need. You want to make sure you stand out from the background as much as possible. Sometimes all you need is a bit of color. It’s not necessary to dress head to toe in fluorescent green.