Research from the UK suggests that the use of hi-viz clothing by cyclists will not prevent drivers from passing extremely close to cyclists.

The research was conducted by Ian Walker (Department of Psychology, University of Bath) and Ian Garrard and Felicity Jowitt (Brunel Institute for Bioengineering, Brunel University) and outlined in the paper ‘The influence of a bicycle commuter’s appearance on drivers’ overtaking proximities: an on-road test of bicyclist stereotypes, high-visibility clothing and safety aids in the United Kingdom.’

The study looked at whether drivers overtaking a cyclist influenced the closeness of their passes in response to the level of experience and skill suggested by the cyclist’s appearance. Five different cyclist’s outfits were tested, ranging from a stereotypical sport rider’s outfit, portraying high experience and skill, to a vest with ‘novice cyclist’ printed on the back, portraying low experience.

A high-visibility cycling jacket was also used, as were two commercially available safety vests, one featuring a prominent mention of the word ‘POLICE’ and a warning that the rider was video-recording their journey, and one modelled after a police officer’s jacket but with a letter changed so it read ‘POLITE’.

An ultrasonic distance sensor recorded the space left by vehicles passing the cyclist on a regular commuting route. 5690 data points fulfilled the criteria for the study and were included in the analyses. The only outfit associated with a significant change in mean passing proximities was the police/video-recording jacket.

Contrary to predictions, drivers treated the sports outfit and the ‘novice cyclist’ outfit equivalently, suggesting they do not adjust overtaking proximity as a function of a rider’s perceived experience. Notably, whilst some outfits seemed to discourage motorists from passing within 1 metre of the rider, approximately 1-2% of overtakes came within 50 cm no matter what outfit was worn.

According to the researchers, this suggests there is little riders can do, by altering their appearance, to prevent the very closest overtakes.

They also go on to suggest that infrastructural, educational or legal measures are more promising for preventing drivers from passing extremely close to cyclists.

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80 COMMENTS

  1. Contrast against the background (during the day) and reflective patches (during the night) increase visibility. And good quality lights.Not bright yellow jackets.

  2. If you get knocked off and injured
    The first thing the insurance company want to know is – “ where you visable ? What were you wearing ? Is it high visibility ? Did you have lights ?”

    Until that changes people will still wear stupid day glow yellow clothing

  3. Loads of close passes on Sunday. Rear light, 190 lumen strobe, visible from 2km. Doesn’t matter what you’re wearing / lights you have. A tosser passing you within inches at 100 kmh won’t care

  4. Personally if someone passes me too closely I try to catch them up at the next set of lights and boot their wing mirror off. It makes them think next time around. Arseholes.

  5. so? motorists who pass too close don’t care what you’re wearing. i know first hand my hi-viz works- motorists see me, wait for me, and make room for me when they can… that’s about all i can ask.

  6. Close passes have nothing to do with visibility! Motorists see the cyclists… they just don’t realise that they should give a cyclist more space when overtaking. Most motorists are of the opinion that as long as they don’t make physical contact, there’s no problem.

  7. Here’s my 43 years experience of cycling in trafic (and 38 years experience driving), this study is on point.

    When I first got involved in cycling advocacy in the late 80s, I went down the hi-vis path, everybody does, everybody wants to fit in and it’s a bit of a uniform for advocates.

    The truth is, based on driving at night, riding behind other riders, any weather, various levels of freshness and fatigue…

    IF YOU ARE PAYING THE LEGAL MINIMUM ATTENTION TO ROAD CONDITIONS YOU CAN SEE A CYCLIST, EVEN IF THEY’RE ALL IN BLACK, HAVE NO LIGHTS AND ARE RIDING AN UNLIGHT ROAD!!!! I have seen this many times. Bicycles are inherently visible because cycling is a cacaphony of movement. Most cyclists have no technique, a sack of spanners, the racers call it, all knees and elbows, up/down/in/out.

    The reason why motorists overtake too closely is because they’re inside a luxurious, private parlour, focused soley on their day and destinations. Anybody who isn’t in that parlour with them “isn’t human”, they’re an obstacle, including the car coming towards them when they overtake a cyclist. The psychology of driving creates a kind of mild sociopathy. Cars pollute the mind as well as the air.

  8. Hi-viz vests are not a good solution. Research shows visibility is increased through contrasting clothing (ie contrasting with other items of clothing), highly reflective tape, & high intensity flashing lights. Emergency services have known this for years, which is why they use these combinations. It doesn’t eliminate the risk but it reduces it significantly.

  9. A major thing you can do is not ride as close to the curb as you can possibly get. Humans are creatures of habit and are visually lead. Therefore if they can pass you without crossing over the white line in the middle of the road then they will (because drivers are taught to stay within the lines) Break that thought process and make them stray over the line then they will inherently give you more space. Humans are a strange breed.

  10. Not sure visibility is the problem. 80% of road bike accidents are during daylight after all. Significant no. of utility cyclists flaunt rules of the road, poor lights/reflectors, no lane signaling, moving at speed in pedestrian zones, running red lights etc etc. Because of this I think, especially in urban areas, it can be difficult for drivers to treat cyclists with the respect all road users deserve and acknowledge them as equal road users…

    • Most car drivers break the speed limit almost routinely, don’t leave advanced stop areas clear, fail to indicate, get in the wrong lane, drive in the middle lane on three lane roads, run red lights, do dangerous overtakes etc… So as a lorry driver I can’t respect them.

  11. Below is a copy of a post i put up last Saturday ! This was daylight and despite having very good flashing lights on this crap still happens! Hi viz is not the solution, driver education is!
    “Right, drivers need to cop ta fk on!!!
    60k spin today,
    3 close passes 1 of which was exceptionally close.
    If anyone wants to know what it’s like stand in a train station inside the white line as the train is passing through!
    Not fun!”

  12. Drivers simply treat cyclists with contempt regardless of whether you play by the rules, simple! I have lights/hi-vis/bell etc and they STILL ignore the fact that you are present. They see/hear you, but choose to either ignore it or the response is painfully slow! Living amongst the ‘locked-in’ brigade don’t help either, whether in cars or pedestrians!!

  13. High viz is over used, everyone wears it these days so nobody notices it. The best strategy is ride like you can’t be seen and never trust anyone even other cyclists.

  14. I always face traffic. So I can see and watch them. But that’s illegal and kind of a war in itself. So I never bike on anything but a real bike lane. Even then a true accident would be fatal. So do therapy stay on a trail and stay safe people.

  15. Although education must be the most effective long term solution (getting car drivers to understand they are driving a potentially lethal projectile and that the bicycle reduces congestion for them) I will continue to use bright coloured clothing and bloody good strobes front and rear to give myself the best possible chance of being spotted and missed!

  16. I’m a cyclist and a driver.
    As a driver I appreciate it when a cyclist is highly visible, it gives me extra warning and I can give the correct allowances.
    As a cyclist I try to reciprocate, even if I know I look a knob!

  17. #CambridgeshirePolice did you read the last line. “They also go on to suggest that infrastructural, educational or legal measures are more promising for preventing drivers from passing extremely close to cyclists.”

  18. Drivers do overtake to close either due to lack of driving skill, ignorance or aggression.
    I still want to be seen. At intersections, busy roads, side visiblity and low light. This is why I wear hi-viz. Cyclists get tired of the life threatening SMIDSY excuse. Sorry mate, I didn’t see you.

  19. Yes Neill. Along with a few other articles. One mentioned that according to police figures in only 2% of accidents involving cyclists were the riders wearing dark clothing.

  20. The first thing out of the mouth of every driver who hits a cyclist “I didn’t see him/her”. High-visibility clothing is a good idea for road cyclists for a number of reasons in my opinion. I have looked at it from both the optimist and pessimist/realist points of view. Optimistically speaking, your neon yellow jersey/jacket will be visible to the motorist long before they get to you and they can slow and or adjust their driving and give you more room, at least theoretically. Pessimistically speaking, should a car hit you have demonstrated your intent to be visible to traffic and the driver’s standard excuse of “I didn’t see him” is even less valid than usual. The police are more likely to charge the driver if it is obvious the cyclist is highly visible. I log about 4000 miles on the bike and about 12000 miles behind the wheel of a car every year. I have observed the difference in seeing cyclists wearing high-vis from almost a mile away and observed bicyclists in darker/muted clothing that you do not spot until much closer, high-Vis works. I’m also a cyclist who has been riding from my childhood up to my 50th birthday so far and I have experienced changes in my own vision. Yes, I know that the fashionistas cringe and that high-vis is a favorite target of every hipster crowd, save it. Me, I will stack up every advantage I can. I do not usually bother with high-vis on group rides or off-road of course but when I am out by myself on the road, I wear it. Plus if I am hit my family every advantage in the civil suit against the driver.

  21. The first thing out of the mouth of every driver who hits a cyclist “I didn’t see him/her”. High-visibility clothing is a good idea for road cyclists for a number of reasons in my opinion. I have looked at it from both the optimist and pessimist/realist points of view. Optimistically speaking, your neon yellow jersey/jacket will be visible to the motorist long before they get to you and they can slow and or adjust their driving and give you more room, at least theoretically. Pessimistically speaking, should a car hit you have demonstrated your intent to be visible to traffic and the driver’s standard excuse of “I didn’t see him” is even less valid than usual. The police are more likely to charge the driver if it is obvious the cyclist is highly visible. I log about 4000 miles on the bike and about 12000 miles behind the wheel of a car every year. I have observed the difference in seeing cyclists wearing high-vis from almost a mile away and observed bicyclists in darker/muted clothing that you do not spot until much closer, high-Vis works. I’m also a cyclist who has been riding from my childhood up to my 50th birthday so far and I have experienced changes in my own vision. Yes, I know that the fashionistas cringe and that high-vis is a favorite target of every hipster crowd, save it. Me, I will stack up every advantage I can. I do not usually bother with high-vis on group rides or off-road of course but when I am out by myself on the road, I wear it. Plus if I am hit my family every advantage in the civil suit against the driver.

  22. Hi-viz vest will make no differents , motorists will always be distracted with so many in car devices, it only takes a few seconds of eyes off road and not paying attention to kill or injure a vulnerable road user

  23. You have a point Phil but a lack of respect is a big problem generally on the road. Too many car drivers are cocooned in their soundproof safe spaces and don’t realise how vulnerable other road users are. Aggressive driving in a car seldom leads to danger for a car driver but invariably the opposite for a cyclist whether attired in hi viz or not. If hi viz is the solution why are dark coloured cars allowed on the road?

    • Agree Charlie. Interestingly cyclists were brought under the fixed charge penalty notice scheme in ROI a year or two ago and can be given on the spot fines of 40 euro. A couple of thousand have already been issued but with 10 cyclists killed already this year more has to be done to educate drivers too and deter unsafe or agressive driving.
      The #seethecyclist PSNI campaign in NI is a great start.

    • Yep. It’s a side issue. The real one is educating car and other drivers into safer behaviour. Look at countries where cycling has been more widespread for far longer to see how motorists behave.

    • I just about took out a cyclist at a t intersection last week. The idiot was wearing complete dark grey blue and his bike was the same colour. He was asking to get run down.

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