The recent focus on cycling safety, especially in cities, has regularly featured the suggestion that cyclists ought to wear high visibility clothing.

The promotion of hi-viz has included police operations to stop cyclists wearing ordinary clothes or cycling kit and give them official advice that they ought to be doing more to make themselves seen.

Into this consensus drops a timely study on cycling kit from researchers at Bath and Brunel universities. 269 participants used bikes with ultrasonic devices fitted to measure the distance at which motorists overtook them while they wore a variety of different cycling kit. This included a typical sporting rider’s Lycra, a casual rider’s normal clothing, and several different commercially available hi-viz vests.

The researchers found that the only kit that made a significant difference to the average passing distance was a hi-viz vest marked with the word ‘POLICE’ and a notice advising drivers that the rider was videoing their ride. This increased the average passing distance from 117cm to 122cm.

Contrary to the researchers’ expectations, there was no marked difference between ‘experienced rider’ kit, and a vest marked ‘Novice Cyclist’, nor between ordinary clothes and hi-viz kit.

Irrespective of any of the kit worn, 1-2 per cent of overtakes were within 50cm, suggesting that nothing a rider wears makes any significant difference to the incidence of very close passes.

The researchers suggest that improvements to infrastructure are a more effective means of improving rider safety than changing clothing habits.

External link

  • brian

    That’s very scary. Thankfully you were safe. When I have close calls, I avoid the possibility of it happening again. I take the quiet streets or combine it with the bus. Maybe I would quit cycling if there’s nowhere safe. At 80mph he probably didn’t notice you. We need a 10W LED tail light in flashing mode. I hate how we need more people to cycle so that drivers expect us to be there. The same route may be safe in summer but dangerous in winter.

  • brian

    Reviewers claim that by using a 10W LED tail light, driver gave more room. I wonder if it affects the 1-2 percent. I agree that the drivers still has to choose whether to drive safely or not. We can’t control them. It’s certainly more comfortable if drivers slow down and change lanes sooner when there’s plenty of space. If a driver tailgates you, it’s a good idea to find a place to pull over than to guess if he’s going to slam his brakes. I’ve been buzzed on a four-lane road where the inside lane was empty. Did the study take into account whether they cyclists took the lane and the vehicle and lane widths? The disadvantage of hi-vis is that you can’t wear a backpack and not block it. Sometimes you want to carry more stuff.

  • phil j

    I havnt rode a bicycle for 6 weeks now!
    The reason?
    On my commute that i,ve been doing for about 6 years now, a motorist passed me on a rural road at “in my estimation” 80 mph with a passing gap of literally millimetres.
    After that i couldnt shake images in my mind of what would have happened if an actual collision had taken place.
    I convinced myself that sain motorist would have carried on regardless of me being seriously injured or dead, and that has ended my cycling to date.
    Considering sunday clubruns at the moment but will never use bicycle as a commuting transport again!
    Its so depressing driving to work now, but i,m scared

  • Tom Gdansk Poland

    There should be just simply the real police, numerously patrolling the bike lines, and a chance to encounter such a biker should be less slim. Else the cyclists death toll will be rising.

    ‘Cause it is not only the problem of road infrastructure, but also of the drivers’ road manners.

  • David Heath

    Seems that this research was conducted in daylight conditions (see the original research paper here page 10, 3rd bullet point). The image illustrating this article is therefore a bit misleading. I’d be interested to know if similar research has been conducted at night time or in poor visibility conditions.

  • David Heath

    No link to the research paper? Was the research conducted in daytime or at night? What time of year? I’m a cyclist and definitely notice a difference when wearing high-vis clothing so surprised about the results.

  • mike chalkley

    @Rob – “can’t see” or isn’t looking properly? If they really “can’t see” the cyclist with or without lights, hi-viz etc they shouldn’t be driving so fast. They see well enough to avoid hitting unlit obstructions!

  • Stephen Chessor

    I’m happy so long as I don’t get hit, but I have to be seen to be avoided. I’ve nearly run into other cyclists who are riding at night with no lights or reflectors while wearing dark clothing, and pedestrians jaywalking or walking on the road when there are intersections or sidewalks nearby.

  • Liam McCarthy

    And how did the cyclists drivers couldn’t see fare in the trial?

  • Deb
  • spiderleggreen

    Hi-viz is just a part of the blame-the-cyclist movement. Putting the responsibility on the cyclist to be seen, instead of on the driver to watch where their going and look out for cyclists. At best it’s just a distraction. Let’s focus on getting people on bikes and stop trying to scare(or inconvenience) them off bikes.

  • Ken Evans

    “The researchers found that the only kit that made a significant difference to the average passing distance was a hi-viz vest marked with the word ‘POLICE’ and a notice advising drivers that the rider was videoing their ride. This increased the average passing distance from 117cm to 122cm.”—–1220-1170=50mm (about 4%). Maybe if cyclists dressed up to look like Speed Cameras they would be given more respect ??? (But if you are looking for some drafting assistance, the close proximity of vehicles would be an advantage.)

  • John

    None of this stuff makes any difference
    Hi viz, helmets, headphones, training, licences, tax, .
    Its all about the behaviour of the guy in the tonne of metal

  • Nigel Wynn

    Link to study added to the article above.

  • Riaan Coetzee

    What the actual F? You are complaining about 117cm passes? Come to South Africa, where 30cm seems to be the norm (at 60km/h plus)

  • Harry Harrison

    Link to the research article, or at least the researcher’s home page or department?

  • A. Cyclist

    3 months of cycling while wearing fluorescent orange or green jerseys and I could have told you the same thing. It’s not visibility that’s the problem, it’s uneducated and/or impatient drivers who don’t want to wait and who don’t realise how much room they actually need to give cyclists.

  • Trevor Anderson

    When I wear HiViz, my expectations are that I will be seen more quickly, from a further distance.

    I have always thought the best way to encourage drivers to give cyclists more room when passing, strap a garden fork to your pannier!!

  • Rob

    I guess I see a slight logical fallacy in the conclusion of this study. It does indicate that the passing distance is not directly affected by the use of hi-viz clothing. But nobody can deny the fact that a motorist can’t make a concerted effort to avoid hitting a cyclist he/she can’t see.

    If I’m riding in traffic, I use a combination of hi-vis and a vast array of lighting to make it nearly impossible for a motorist not to notice me. If I am struck by a passing motorist (which hasn’t happened yet, knock on wood), they must be either (A) Aiming, or (B) driving while distracted (i.e. texting, reading, putting on makeup).

    What the study shows is that a fair number of motorists refuse to yield ample passing distance to cyclists whether they see them or not. I agree with the conclusion that infrastructure and engineering controls are the most effective way to help us share the road safely. But I don’t want the ‘take-away’ message from this article to be that hi-viz has no safety benefits. Even the most considerate motorists can’t avoid you if they don’t see you. Why not greatly improve their chances of seeing you??

  • Dan Cook

    Have said it before – wear what you want on the bike, be it lycra, hiviz, helmet or just a cardie. But its better to campaign for better infra and better road use (including that from riders).

    This study should be put in with the ones taken on motorcyclists to see if car drivers see them better at junctions in and out of hiviz. Again with that study – no difference. Its lost its shock factor anyway.