Professor debunks hi-vis clothing

Hi-vis motorcycle clothing candy

A University of Melbourne professor and bike rider who was hit by a car while he was wearing hi-vis clothing has called for the Victorian Government to axe its mandatory hi-vis requirement for new riders.

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Prof Richard Huggins

Prof Richard Huggins, Chair of Statistics, says he has reviewed several studies on motorcycle conspicuity and “look but fail to see” accidents and says there is “sufficient doubt” of the effectiveness of hi-vis to call for a repeal of the mandatory requirement.

“I also note that somewhat surprisingly given its reputation as a leader in road safety, there seems to be little Victorian research into the effect of cognitive factors on car/motorcycle collisions,” he says.

Prof Huggins goes through several examples of how hi-vis research is flawed, but ends with his very own example of a crash involving his Kawasaki: “I should add that I regularly wear a hi-visibility jacket when riding and have been hit by a car while wearing this clothing. The driver claimed they didn’t see me, from a distance of less than 2m, as they changed lanes on top of me. This adds to my doubts on hi-visibility clothing as a panacea.”

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Prof on his Kwaka

“I wasn’t badly hurt in my  accident. Slid along the road but didn’t hit anything too hard,” Richard told MotorbikeWriter. These days he rides a Triumph Street Triple in the Yarra Valley most weekends and a little scooter  around town.

The Victorian Motorcycle Council has included Prof Huggins’s letter in a further response to the government over the misconceived legislation.

In an accompanying document sent to Gary Blackwood, the Parliamentary Secretary for Transport, VMC secretary Jeremy Walton points out how hi-vis is a safety myth and calls for the reversal of the proposal. Among his claims are:

  • Wearing hi-vis clothing may impart a false sense of security for novice riders;
  • Modern research shows that people don’t recognise or react to motorcycles, rather than not seeing them at all;
  • Drivers are more likely to see a bike but make an error in timing; and
  • All bikes have hard-wired headlights yet no research has been done on how this affects hi-visibility.
  • He says that if hi-vis is a real safety issue, why are there no greater penalties for drivers who crash into people wearing them?

The VMC has instead called for more education for drivers and riders.

DayGlo Queensland Police
DayGlo Queensland Police

17 Comments

  1. Motorcyclists have no problem seeing other motorcycles & push bikes, so why do car drivers? SMIDSY is a pathetic excuse for not paying attention.

    1. I agree with what you’re saying. However, motorcyclists are looking out for other motorcyclists. Most car drivers do not look out for motorcyclists. So should we yell at them, fine them, abuse them until they see us? Or, should we take our safety into our own hands and make ourselves as visible as possible. It certainly doesn’t guarantee our safety, but its our choice to ride a more dangerous vehicle. I choose to wear a $20 fluro vest over my black leather jacket with armour. I know it doesn’t guarantee my safety, but every little bit helps me to stay alive and out of a wheel chair.

  2. I think adding DRLs to a bike will work as it makes it stand out in a different way. With a single headlight, bikes tend to blend into the traffic and drivers just think its an other car so just ignore it. Ive added two small LED lights and it does change its appearance quite remarkably. It must be doing sonething as I’m here typing this message. I ride the freeeays daily filtering 80% of my commute.

  3. I think hi viz has simply become too common. 30 years ago only the police and ambulance services wore it so it stood out and got your attention! Not abolutely everyone wears it kids, postmen, builders, canvassers, bicycle and motorbike riders, runners the list goes on. The fact is you are so over exposed to to hi viz you become perceptually blind to it!

    1. I agree, same situation, I think for auxiliary light, some time ago see a three light moving on the road was anormal, now is normality (fog lamp, drl lamp)

  4. Of all the bikes I’ve had there’s only two that I have never felt invisible on. One was a big white ex-cop K series BMW. Traffic parted for me like Moses parting the Red Sea. The other was an all black Harley. The average driver sees both of them as a threat (!). Richard is 100% correct. It’s not about being visible, it’s all about cognitive factors.

    Interestingly one of the reports that VicRoads is using to justify hi-viz states that it is less effective than a dark colour on a country road. In other words, by their own reasoning, they are happy to place country riders at risk.

    1. My experience is exactly the same.
      Riding for 28 years, at one stage I had a bike which looked similar to a police bike (white ST Honda) & boy, they saw that immediately from 500 m. Amazing. They couldn’t see my bright yellow SV650 nearly as well for some strange reason.

      Every car-driver knows that if you hit a motorcycle you just say “I didn’t see him” & that’s accepted as an excuse.
      Police accident report says “cause of accident – didn’t see bike”
      & we end up with fake statistics.

      Every academic report pushing hi-vis/reflective etc I have read is badly flawed. Rubbish.
      They are accepted because they reinforce an existing prejudice & so nobody questions them.
      The only purpose these reports serve is to generate attention & citations, esp via Google, to boost someone’s CV & academic career.
      They reflect poorly on the institution they come from.

  5. In your photo of the Prof on his Kawasaki – well, he’ ISN’T very visible, is he? Might just be the photo, but some bikes do just blend into the scenery, even with lights on – especially black ones.
    Compulsory Hi-viz bikes? Oh lord no!
    But maybe DRLs are a good idea – perhaps the TAC could shout every registered bike a pair from their $500 million profit…

    1. I see what you mean. You can be wearing a bright red helmet, headlight on, pointing at them & they’ll still say “I didn’t see him”.

    1. By the same token, I wonder if you have full hi-viz everything, and you look like a bit of dork, will the car drivers NOT see you because you don’t look like a threat?

  6. I’ve been a postie for 30 years and for me, I believe that it has made some people look twice. If only once person has a second look because I’m wearing hi-vis, then I think it’s worth it. By the same token, I know of plenty of idiot drivers that didn’t see a Postie…

  7. Mark,

    Good article but another issue raised by the VMC which needs highlighting is the question: if hi-vis is so important where is the legislation to require other vulnerable road users to wear hi-vis?

  8. you couldbe wearing hi vis clothing…… 100 flashing lights…… fog horn sounding every 10 seconds and car drivers still wouldnt see or hear you …why because they dont look simple as that….

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