Hi-Viz, the new helmet debate.

Hi-Visibility clothing is designed to make you stand out. The bright flourescent colours absorb UV light and output it in a light form that is visible to us. Hence why during the day, they stand out but at night, it’s a different story.

With every Tom, Dick and Harry wearing Hi-Viz on a bicycle, does it actually make you stand out?

When cyclists talk about hi-viz, we normally refer to yellow jackets. These things are normally too heavy and thick for day use, which the hi-viz is designed to work in. Reflective strips of tape make you stand out in the dark. Are these jackets actually effective at making you visible or is hi-viz the new helmet debate?

A recent study in Australia shows us which one is true.
The study was conducted on a closed road circuit at night where driver participants of various ages were in a specially equipped vehicle and bike rider participants wore various combinations of clothing.
Due to hi-viz working off UV radiation, the hi-viz is useless at night due street lighting and headlights not producing UV radiation. The results showed that flourescent colors did not provide a significant improvement on black clothing at night.

Due to many cyclists thinking that Hi-viz makes them stand out at night, they could be putting them selves at risk if their clothing doesn’t contain reflective material.

Even when the cyclists wore a reflective vest, the drivers said it wasn’t as clear as reflective 3M scotchlite tape on their ankles and knees. This is thought to be down to the torso of a cyclist mostly being still and the ankles and knees are more often than not moving.

Whilst there aren’t many studies out there about Hi-Viz and its apparent safety features for cyclists, I don’t think the study in Australia is one to be sniffed at. It certainly makes more sense that reflective tape on a cyclists ankles will be more attention grabbing in car head lights rather than a vest which won’t get as much light.

I’m not a fan of the Altura NightVision jackets and similar jackets because during the day they are too thick for wearing and at night the reflective tape is often covered by a bag.
And as the study shows, the opinion from drivers, is the hi-viz doesn’t work at night and reflective tape is much better situated on the leg where it is moving more than the torso.

ProViz came up with the idea of using a strip of lights on their jackets and bag covers to make yourself more visible. I’ve yet to see one of these in the real world so I can’t comment on how well they work.
Some cyclists over at CycleChat have been talking about self illumination to make your self morevisible, that is pointing an LED light at yourself rather than the other way. To clear results have yet been seen but it can’t hurt trying.

My personal feeling on hi-viz is just go with out. With over 70% of cyclists wearing it, you really don’t stand out whilst you’re in it. I would much prefer to spend the money saved on Hi-Viz on some reflective tape and a good set of lights for my bike. I use my lights during the day to make up for the lack of hi-viz.

10 thoughts on “Hi-Viz, the new helmet debate.

  1. Too many “ninjas” think they can wear hi viz and forget about using lights. Almost ran into 1 guy the other week around regents park as he just blended into the surroundings.

    1. Exactly, whilst his jacket is probably ok for use in the day. At night time you really do need a good set of lights to be seen. Espcially around regents park where parts of it are pitch black!

  2. It hadn’t occurred to me that a lot of people might believe hi-viz clothing would work at night. Of course, you need reflectors and lights then. The Australian study you referenced is specifically about night time visibilty, so it really doesn’t answer the general question about hi-viz apart from this misconception about night time use.

    I would take issue with the assertion that they are not useful in daylight, though. If you are among a lot of cyclists all wearing hi-viz stuff, then I don’t see why you would want to stand out from them. Surely the point is that the drivers can see all the cyclists more clearly. However, the time when hi-viz is most useful is when you are not surrounded by other cyclists, so that you stand out against the ambient light from other objects.

    This is particularly apparent when the sky is overcast or when the sun is coming up or going down. At those time, the UV intensity is much stronger relative to the ambient visible light because the sky and/or clouds scatter light down to the ground most effectively at the blue end of the spectrum, especially in the UV. In twilight, I reckon there are times when flourescent materials appear brighter than a lot of lights. (Of course, we should use lights as well at those times.)

    Also, hi-viz doesn’t have to mean thick or heavy. I have some pretty good hi-viz cycling jerseys that are lightweight, comfortable, fast-drying, and actually pretty cheap from Sports-Direct. (Always wash them with a colour catcher and they stay very bright.)

  3. I read that study in a pdf from “journal of australasian college of road safety”

    Reading the study was scary. The old drivers did not see people in fluorescent hiviz at all, even the young ones saw only a few of them. Reflector vests were seen at about 50% accuracy, vests+ankle straps were near 90%. So the ankle straps almost doubled the detection. Ankle+knee reflectors work because they help the driver’s brains to recognise the shape of a human.

    It would have been interesting to see how pedal reflectors etc would have rated in their test. The test bikes had no reflectors on them at all.

    Also on that same pdf, they report a study that found out that mandatory helmet law had minimal effect on head/arm injury ratio. With helmets, there should be less head injuries. But the ratio declined a lot even before the mandatory helmet law, and declined even after the helmets were widely used. They stated that other methods (lowering speed limits etc.) were more effective.

  4. It is of course worse as Hi-Vis jackets with or without reflective flashes are worn by everyone from council workers to the chartered surveyors . Some of whom, of course, wear them on the walk home. This means most drivers are “blind” to the clothing and little old you on your bike with a visibility jacket are consigned to the rest of the pavement ephemera.

    With driver hazard perception being recorded at an all time low, not surprising with the number of hazards thrown at you on the average 20 min journey, I think even having a bright neon sign with “I am here” above your head will improve your chances above having a decent set of lights. A least the lights give you a decent chance of being considered a road user.

  5. Thanks for the heads-up on this study. Had missed it completely. BTW here in Australia there is a standard for high visibility clothing and as I understand it has to be clearly labelled if it is suitable for night time use or not. A lot of clothing as alluded is not suitable for night time use.

  6. I think the thing that upsets me most about hiviz is the uniform-like appearance. Cycling should be about freedom, but if we all suddenly have to look the same it bears questions about what happens when one is hit. Will insurers be arguing that we have been wearing the “wrong shade” of yellow, LOL!?

    Incidentally I did once have a driver say this to me in Southampton. I was cut up at a traffic island (despite a shoulder check and moving into primary they accelerated past impatiently). I caught up within 20 seconds as they’d turned off to park (don’t they always), I asked politely, and somewhat out of breath because it was on a hill, that they show more caution. Her response was that I was invisible despite being directly in front of her because my reflective hiviz tabbard was “the wrong yellow”. This was all in daylight I might add. I found her excuses amusing afterwards.

    I think it is also worth reminding all that bright colours and reflectives wont be picked up by drivers waiting at junctions to pull out as you approach on the main road. Car headlights dont shine around bends and this is where you correctly show – that decent lights mean so much more.

    Lastly I do wonder if the reflectives on ankles were more visible due to the movement because there is a varying angle of reflection. Movement always seems to draw the brains interest too.

  7. anyone read vander bilt’s “traffic”? there’s a chapter in there referring to research suggesting that particularly in instantaneous motorist’s decisions made at junctions looking sideways and roundabouts, hiviz yellow in particular in daylight does not get recognised as “A VEHICLE” and explains some anecdotal evidence that some motorcyclist’s and cyclist maintain that they get pulled out on much more often when wearing hiviz than leather or black. mmm interesting (scratces beard sagely….)

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