Revved-up reaction to hi-vis for bikers

11.52 | 12 July 2011 | | 19 comments

A recent news story in which a Road Safety GB motorcycling expert warned against hi-vis jackets becoming compulsory for motorcyclists in the UK attracted a record number of comments from readers.

Dave Glanville, West Yorkshire’s specialist PTW RSO, made his comments in response to a move by the French government to make hi-vis jackets compulsory for motorcyclists. He cautioned against this in the UK, preferring a ‘common sense approach’. He argued that hi-vis clothing will not improve conspicuity on bright days, but stressed that wearing it is always advised in poor light.

Taking a different stance, Honor Byford (North Yorkshire CC) felt that hi-vis clothing should be worn all year round, saying: “It’s interesting that we are offering different advice to motorcyclists than to horse riders and cyclists – who are exhorted to wear hi-vis at all times…. I would recommend using hi-vis all year round. We do not need to plaster ourselves from head to foot but a sensible item or items is a good investment.”

Kevin (Wigan) suggested that drivers pay scant attention to motorcyclists whatever they wear, saying: “I use Class 3 hi-vis and also ride with my headlight on all year round. No-matter what we wear, it doesn’t stop drivers pulling out in front of us.”

Mark (Wolverhampton) put forward a tongue in cheek argument, saying: “Why stop at motorcyclists? Let’s paint all cars, vans n lorries in Day-Glo too. Hey, make it law too. All pedestrians should also wear a hi-vis bib in case they want to cross the road at a non-designated crossing. What works for one, works for another…”

Derek Reynolds (St Albans) focused on discrimination against bikers, saying: “The more vulnerable are made to further suffer ignomy and discrimination. Is it any wonder they protest? Whenever visibility is an issue, it becomes the minority group that is made to comply with some form of legislation aimed at ‘safety’. Yet the largest and more powerful vehicles in terms of mass and inertia are seemingly exempt from such discrimination.”

Steve Barber (Northamptonshire CC) supported the use of hi-vis, saying: “Whilst I cannot argue against a person’s right to live their life as they want to, within the rules of society, it never fails to amaze me at how vociferously people will defend their right to ignore safety aids. Lycra wearing champions of pedal power demand the right to expose their cranium to contact with the tarmac instead of wearing wimpy crash helmets (which apparently reduce impact speed by 11 mph, so I understand) so I cannot expect motorcyclists to be any different.”

Alan Jones (Wiltshire) concurred with David Glanville’s original position, saying: “I have two main concerns about hi-vis jackets: 1. It gives the rider a false sense of security; 2. If everyone ends up wearing them people will just ignore them. So those who are doing dangerous tasks will be ignored, thus undermining the point of wearing hi-vis in the first place.”

Click here to read the original story.

Footnote: some comments have been slightly modified/edited to suit the house style and afford brevity.


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    Back in the 1960’s I rode a British bike when if you put your lights on the battery would go flat and the engine stopped! In the 70’s I rode a Jap bike and I could ride with my lights on, not just for safety but to show that I could afford a new bike, any vehicle with its lights on was a motorcycle & we stood out (much the same as a car with one light out). Then along came daytime running lights & we blended in! Also if you position in the middle of the lane you stood out because the vehicle behind would see three lights ahead so again you stood out, then along came the third brake light on cars so again we blended in, so now we wear Hiz & we stood out for a while! Now we find every man including his dog wearing Hiz so we blend in all over again! Where will it end? It’s been proved time & time again that if we had blue flashing lights on our heads we would still not be noticed. The best way to protect yourself is to not get in anyones way!

    Tom Bray Torquay
    Agree (1) | Disagree (0)

    I always wear high viz and a white crash helmet. Unfortunately,it seems to make little or no difference to SMIDSY as even in broad daylight, with high viz, white helmet and headlights, they pull out as they didn’t see me. “Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You” is the cry!

    I am a car driver too and accept that a lot of the time it isn’t always obvious that a bike is approaching as the safety measures that car designers seem to like nowadays include stronger or thicker door pillars which can at times hide a bike completely.
    The article about the camouflage effect of battenburg patterning on emergency vehicles breaking up the outline was very interesting. It reminded me of the dazzle camouflage that was used in WW2 so I can see the argument against it.

    Apart from educating drivers more thoroughly with regard to looking and SEEING bikes, I feel that campaigns need to be addressed to bikers too in many ways as I am sick of seeing bikers with inadequate or non-existent protection. I have been a motorcyclist for over 30 years and have seen some sickening injuries because of this.

    My bike has hi-viz reflective tape fitted and it does make a difference. I suppose it could be similar to the “silver car syndrome” in that there are so many silver cars on the road that we stop noticing them.

    I recently changed to a high viz helmet thinking that it would make a difference only to find the SHARP rating was terrible and went straight back to my white helmet. Bikers need to be made aware of this too.

    Maybe the problem isn’t about visibility, it’s about seeing instead of just looking. After all, SMIDSY is sorry mate I DIDN’T see you, not I couldn’t.

    Andrew Booth, Ormskirk
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    For those interested, MAG Ireland carried out a study of 800 motorcyclists and asked them questions regarding their use of Hi Visibility jackets or vests.

    Very interesting results on the MAG Ireland website, for example:

    “In effect, three quarters of riders have some degree of conspicuity built into the motorcycle jacket they use on a regular basis, while almost one in four have both high visibility feature and a retro reflective feature by default.

    We know from some comments that riders who wear armoured motorcycle jackets with high visibility panels built in choose not to use a typical high visibility vest over the top of the regular motorcycle jacket precisely because it negates their original investment in conspicuous gear.

    Of course, approximately a quarter of you have neither, which would tend to suggest the use of the traditional leather jacket common amongst weekend/leisure motorcyclists who, in the main, tend not to ride in darkness or particularly adverse weather conditions”.

    The question “Overall, do you believe that the wearing of a high-visibility vest or jacket improves your safety when riding the bike”? The response showed “Half of riders don’t believe that high visibility clothing makes any difference to their safety, and the other half either believe it does or remain unconvinced either way”.

    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    2 weeks ago a car turned across my lane from about 30 feet in front of me; 4 days ago a big 4 wheel drive tractor pulled out of a farm lane in front of me, despite the tractor driver sitting about 2 feet higher than me in his cab and having a clear view of the road in both directions… I don’t think a hi-viz vest would made much difference as in both cases I already had my headlight and 2 running lights showing to the front of my bike, so if you can’t see a 400 kilo harley coming with those lights on, what help would a piece of dayglo do?

    Iain, Northern Ireland
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    We wrote Mike Penning the UK’s Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport and asked:

    1. Are there any plans to introduce in the UK to mandate the wearing of HiViz/Day Glo jackets/vests for motorcyclists?

    2. Are you aware that the European Commission is planning to introduce legislation so that member states will have to introduce the compulsory wearing of HiViz/Day Glo jackets/vests?

    3. Are there any plans to introduce the wearing of compulsory protective clothing by motorcyclists in the UK?

    Our questions where passed on promptly to the Department for Transport (DfT). The DfT Ministerial Support Unit replied:

    “The importance of wearing the right clothing has been part of the Safe and Responsible Riding Syllabus and the CBT syllabus for many years. And examiners turning candidates away from test for wearing inappropriate clothing is not new. Representatives of the motorcycle community have been involved in developing guidance to new riders and also the Syllabus.

    Only those candidates who are wearing wholly inappropriate clothing should have their tests cancelled. Our (and DSA’s) aim is to reinforce the message that learner motorcyclists should take their safety seriously while riding, including during the practical test.

    It is for individual member states to set requirements on the use of vehicles in their country and there are no plans to change our laws simply because another member state chooses to do so.

    The (UK) Government has no plans to make Hi Viz/Day Glo jackets/vests and protective clothing for motorcyclists compulsory but encourages their use through publications such as The Highway Code.”

    The reply from the DfT regarding compulsory clothing focuses around concerns that the DSA (Driving Standards Agency in GB) has reminded motorcycle test candidates to wear suitable clothing – which contrasts with the Motorcycle Action Group (MAG UK), suggesting that “the spectre of compulsory protective clothing comes one step closer”.

    The DfT’s reply could not be clearer: “The Government has no plans to make Hi Viz/Day Glo jackets/vests and protective clothing for motorcyclists compulsory.” With regards to the EU and what other member states are proposing, “there are no plans to change our laws simply because another member state chooses to do so.”

    We also asked the Road Safety Authority (Rep. of Ireland) for clarification if the proposals in their 2009 consultation regarding the compulsory wearing of high visibility upper body clothing with full sleeves for riders and pillion passengers are being introduced into Ireland.

    The initial response from the RSA states, “Regarding the using of Hi-Vis clothing , Action 8 requires the Road Safety Authority to provide such clothing to increase wearing rates and to promote their usage (Action9).

    There is no reference to compulsory wearing.”

    The response continues “in the actions (Action 23) there is a plan to introduce compulsory wearing of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) scheduled for the end of 2014. However Actions 24 requires the Road Safety Authority to promote the usage of such clothing on an annual basis and Action 25 requires the authority to carry out a comprehensive research project on the matter. This research is ongoing at the moment”.

    In the meantime, MAG Ireland recently reported that they oppose the mandatory use of high visibility clothing as an unjustified and questionable “solution” to the problem of drivers failing to properly look for vulnerable road users, while quoting that the RSA National Motorcycle Action Plan states to “ Introduce regulations for the mandatory wearing of high visibility upper body clothing.”

    It seems to us that there appears to be a contradiction from the RSA which is leading to more confusion about whether hi-viz will be made compulsory in Ireland.

    We have asked if this could be clarified and voiced our concerns that if Hi-Viz or PPE clothing are made compulsory in the ROI (Republic of Ireland), then motorcyclists from Northern Ireland or from any other country for that matter, would then have to comply with the regulations in the ROI. These may not be a legal requirement in UK or in other European countries for riding on the road. We wrote that this would thus suggest that foreign motorcyclists would be open to prosecution for non compliance if travelling in the ROI.

    Interestingly however, While MAG Ireland opposes the mandatory wearing of hi viz, in their response to the RSA’s motorcycle action plan consultation, MAG Ireland stated that they are not against the use of high visibility clothing, they recommended for example a reflective purple “H” belt as the visual impact of this is much greater, they also believe that hi-viz colours need to be assigned to different classes of road users e.g. builders – orange, emergency services – green et cetera so that other road users will associate the various colours with the type of hazard that could be connected with them.

    FIM on the other hand has recently stated that ““Many motorcycling jackets are also adjustable for “climate control” with vents that can be opened in hot weather and closed when it is cold. If anything is put over the top, this feature is immediately affected. Experienced riders also know how important it is that all clothing works together and does not flap in the wind or restrict movement.” (which is what I Hi-Viz vest/jacket would do).

    Elaine Hardy
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    There’s been a lot of discussion (some genuine, some spurious) about the Motorcycle Action Group’s stance on Compulsory Day-Glo.

    As ever, we stand for riders’ freedom to choose what is best for them; day-glo or not (the ‘say no to day-glo’ message might be taken literally by some, but the context is clearly anti-compulsion).

    The threat of compulsory day-glo is real; French riders have correctly understood the intention of their government – the Interministerial Committee for Road Safety states it has “…decided to mandate wearing a retro-reflective equipment: high visibility vest or jacket with retro-reflective strips for all users of motorcycles and tricycles and more than 125 cm3. Failure to comply with these obligations will be sanctioned by a contravention of the third class and the loss of two points.”

    Thousands of riders protesting in French cities may have caused politicians to back-track and obfuscate, but the threat remains.

    Riders in Eire also understand the Irish Road Safety Authority’s intent is very real. “The Motorcycle Safety Action proposes the introduction of regulations for the mandatory wearing of high visibility upper body clothing with full sleeves for ride [sic] and pillion passenger.” The proposed completion date is 4th Qtr 2014.

    Compulsion is relatively cheap and the technocrats believe it will deliver savings from health care, so weakness in the Irish economy will not necessarily delay regulation.

    UK riders could soon be facing Forced Day-glo on it’s two borders with EU neighbours, that would start the ball-rolling in other member and in the European Commission.

    Compulsion cannot be good news for biking if it allows policy-makers to justify further restrictions on motorcycling – perhaps to the point of extinction.

    Nich Brown, General Secretary, MAG(UK)
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Being an MD for a company manufacturing high viz and reflective products, it appears everyone seems to think high viz yellow. There are fluorescents green, orange, red and pink also available plus various other lighter colours. Perhaps a different colour might engage the brain more!!

    Mike Hancox, MD
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Not usually one of the rabid “there all out to get us” motorcyclists but am I the only one to see a (all be it tenuous) link between this article where Hi-Vis is being discussed and the RAC “27% of drivers use mobile phones while driving” ??

    NO? ~ OK I’ll just get my armoured but Non Hi-Vis Coat

    Tony S, Bristol
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Kevin Williams – Excellent and informative.

    If any politicians are considering forcing bikers to wear Hi-vis (or indeed any other motorcycle laws), I would ask such politicians to meet up with Kevin Williams to present their reasons (and evidence, if they have any).

    Dave Finney, Slough
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Forgot to add – the data in the BMJ article was nearly a decade old at the time of publication (mid-90s) and took three years to collect!

    To quote: “…drivers wearing reflective or flourescent clothing had a 37% lower risk of crash related injury…”

    This conclusion is spurious. The research links visibility with INJURY, not instances of ACCIDENTS. It may well be that riders with hi vis clothing also wore highly protective equipment. No such question was put to the riders during the survey. Furthermore, it makes no mention of the circumstances of the accident – if the accident was single vehicle then hi-vis clothing is clearly irrelevant!

    Kevin Williams, Kent
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    The study carried out in New Zealand and referred to above by Bob Craven was reported in the BMJ in 2004 and seriously flawed.

    The study tried to draw a link between conspicuity aids and injury risk. Whilst the conclusion the author drew was that riders wearing hi-vis and using DRLs were less at risk of accidents resulting in injury, the results actually showed that those having the accidents and suffering injury were unlicenced, disqualified, riding under the influence of alcohol, inexperienced, or riding an unfamiliar machine. All of these are known to be high risk factors.

    There were also unresolved contradictions. Whilst the author claimed that white helmets were effective in reducing accident risk, it was also found that a white fairing (far bigger surface area!) was NOT effective.

    The Langham study was far more relevant to understanding why motorcycles are ‘invisible’ as it addresses why the shape of a motorcycle/rider isn’t picked up by car drivers when it should be in clear view. It should be obvious that there’s only a small zone in which the rider is actually at risk of being hit by an emerging car – very close and the rider can pass the junction before the car can emerge into its path, and further back the rider can stop.

    In urban accidents where the majority of SMIDSYs take place, the distance where the rider cannot avoid the collision is a matter of ten metres or less!

    It should be pretty obvious that at this kind of distance the bike and rider are almost certainly in plain view if the rider has adopted a basic “see and be seen” strategy and put himself where he is in line of sight.

    So why isn’t a rider 10m from the driver seen? There’s some research (it was reported in MCN around 10 years ago – I can’t find the link right now) to the effect that we don’t actually look for vehicles when looking to emerge into a stream of traffic – we learn by experience to look for gaps we can pull out into!

    In other words, drivers and riders both fail to implement a proper ‘scanning’ regime at junctions and because of the nature of their inadequate search pattern, they tend to look BEHIND vehicles that are close up, whilst relying on a combination of the eye’s sensitivity to movement to detect a hazard and on the ‘shape detection’ system that Langham recognises to identify the hazard.

    As a motorcycle on a collision course barely moves against the background, the ‘motion detection’ system fails and the lack of recognition of bikes by car drivers means out of sight, out of mind and if the rider is equally unaware of the issues, the result is often a “looked but did not see” accident, in which hi-vis and DRLs are equally ineffective –

    If hi-vis and DRLs worked, there should be a redistribution of accidents away from junctions since riders first started using DRLs in the mid to late 70s and hi-vis in the 80s. The fall in junction accidents should have become more pronounced since permanently wired headlights were introduced in the last few years. As far as I can see, there’s no such evidence shown by accident statistics.

    Kevin Williams /

    Kevin Williams, Kent
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Quite right Roy, hi viz is not the be all and end all. Conspicuity is only part of the problem and it’s obvious that a bus, lorry or car will be more easily seen and recognised than say a scooter in a town situation and therefore will be avoided, whereas the scooter may be overlooked. Some argue that it is seen as a bicycle and not considered to be going fast or a danger. There is also the argument that drivers do not expect to see a bike as there are so few of them and therefore they are not expected and so the image do not register in the optical cortex. So much for smidgy.

    I agree that as more and more twv appear on the roads either more will be injured or the rest of the motoring public will become more aware and therefore will be more accomodating.

    On a personal note I will repeat that whilst riding, some 30% of drivers at junctions, I am approaching, look to the left first before looking in my direction and sometimes they are already moving out into my path or they dont bother looking my way at all. Frequently when I see a driver looking away from me, I sound my horn as an audible warning but the bike horn is a weak one and sometimes is not heard and it has no effect. I am forced to travel even slower which I dont mind as its safer to do so. But it is disconcerting.

    I feel that I must also point out that many more vehicles now park temporarily or otherwise on a road [even on double yellow lines] right up to the corner and this totally obstructs vision of any oncoming motorcycle. Indeed some double yellow lines are only 5yds long from the apex on corners and therefore drivers believe that they can park that close to a junction whereas years ago they would have committed an offence.

    By the way Roy, its been a pleasure reading your comment and not only the balance u have given but the informative way u have responded to many of the subjects on this site. May u enjoy more time now to ride your bike and if u are ever in the Lancs area come and look me up, we may enjoy a cuppa and a ride out together. It would be my pleasure to show u the lovely countryside that we have up here. Enjoy your retirement mate and keep inputting.

    Bob Craven
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Research into this topic was carried out in the late 1990s by Dr Martin Langham of Sussex University. Martin demonstrated that motorists are psychologically programmed to look for what he called geometric icons. A car is a horizontal rectangular icon and seen frequently; a motorcycle is a vertical rectangular icon and seen very infrequently, hence drivers appear to be speaking the truth when they say they did not see the motorcycle. This is conveniently linked to interesting historical data. In 1923 the number of vehicles on the road exceeded 1 million for the first time. 40% were motorcycles. In 2011 there are 34 million cars on the road. Motorcycles are only 1-2% of all vehicles hence drivers do not “think bike”. Dr Langham’s theory proposed that it is not it is not simply a question of conspicuity and supported this with evidence of stationary police vehicles being written off after being struck by other cars whose drivers claimed not to have seen the police car. A survey carried out with the co-operation of Sussex Police showed that, of the 40 police motorcyclists based at their Brighton Traffic Unit, 39 had been hit by cars at junctions, again with drivers claiming they never saw the rider. Need I ask, how hi-viz is a police motorcyclist?

    It seems to me that the answer lies in education, both for the driver and rider. I am not sure how this can be progressed effectively because drivers tend to be inaccessible but I never cease to advise fellow motorcyclists to assume drivers have not seen you and allow the maximum margin for error. At junctions, slow down, move away from the danger and expect the driver to cross your path so be prepared to brake. Very defensive, yes, but, after 48 years of motorcycling, I am still here.

    Roy Buchanan, Epsom
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    I think the study Bob refers to concluded that wearing reflective/fluorescent clothing reduced the risk of a crash injury by 37%, a white helmet by 24%, and riding with headlights on by 27%. Obviously you would need to check the methodology before basing any action on it. Lots of motorcycle safety research is summarised on

    Mark Jessop, East Yorkshire
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    I use to driver a lorry which is 13’6″ high & 8′ wide & bright yellow cars would pull out in front of that making brake hard. It’s the car drivers that are the problem lack of concentration maybe less toys & no phones at all hands free or not may help? You could make day running lights compulsory.

    Steven Bradbury, (was Devon now Finland)
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    Phil I only responded to the comment by Honor who asked the question if any research had been done.

    Look under BMJ journal website for the info that you want because I cant answer it. And I take your point as I have responded on this site previously. If you can find that then you would know where I am coming from… and hopefully agree…..

    Bob Craven, Lancs
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    Do you mean research by the same industries that stand to make a profit from ‘Hi-vis’ sales, Honor?

    Bob, do you know if the NZ survey took into account such factors as the experience/riding style/journey type of those who tend to wear HV or not? Otherwise it’s a bit like telling us that all accidents can be attributed to rider conspicuity, without considering all the other facts.

    Anecdotal evidence from many sources – including my own experience – suggests that wearing fluorescents in good visibility results in a much higher level of driver rights of way violations.

    Phil McFadden, Pembrokeshire
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    Conspicuity is not a new thing. They were talking about the same as us in the 1970s and probably before that.

    So its an age old problem that has been with us for at least 40 yrs. Shame someone hasn’t sorted it by now.

    As regards the question of a survey….. only one to my knowledge has been done and that was in 2009/10 in New Zealand of all places [obviously got the same problems with motorcyclists there]. Anyway, I don’t think it hit the relevant authorities here as it was undertaken through their NHS [or similar] and appeared, wait for it, in our medical journal the BMJ in April 2010.

    It did come out in favour of high vis and also white helmets. I believe that this is the only record of a survey done on conspicuity.

    Bob Craven, Lancs
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    There is an obvious need for a research study to demonstrate whether hi-viz for bikers, cyclists and equestrians is effective and, if so, what style or pattern and which items work best. One for the industries to take up please?

    Honor Byford, North Yorkshire
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