October 8, 2012 by Rider Newsletter Staff
If you want to be safe, be seen.
If you’ve been riding a motorcycle for more than a half hour or so, you’ve probably had a close call or two because a driver didn’t see you. Perhaps the most common of these is when an oncoming motorist makes a left turn immediately into your path when it’s too late to stop. Experienced riders know that, to maximize safety, you have to assume you are invisible and the drivers around you are distracted idiots.
Drawing attention to yourself can literally be a lifesaver. The fact is: A rider on a black motorcycle wearing black leather and a black, full face helmet is not going to stand out in traffic. To maximize safety, you have to be as visible as possible.
Add a Light Show
Even in daylight, the type and amount of lighting you have on your bike can make a difference. Since many cars now have running lights, a motorcycle headlight in daylight may not have the effect it used to. A study released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in November 2011 showed that adding certain lighting systems can make you stand out more, or as they call it the world of science, enhance your conspicuity (it’s really a word, you can look it up). Among the systems tested, only a modulated high beam headlight and Illuminated lower auxiliary lamps increased the visibility of a motorcycle crossing the path of a car making a left turn.
Headlight modulators are designed to oscillate the intensity of daytime headlights making them much more noticeable. Check the laws in your state because, although modulators are legal nationwide, there may be some regulations you need to know about. One key function to insist on is a sensor that stops the modulation process as the ambient light diminishes. Using a headlamp modulator at night can be distracting and dangerous.
The study included the addition of running lights mounted high or low on the fork. As mentioned, the results indicated that mounting auxiliary lights low on the fork added to visibility in daylight. Lights mounted higher did not show a significant benefit.
Dress for Success
Your black motorcycle, black leathers and minimal, black helmet certainly look cool, but, let’s face it; they don’t really make you stand out on a black asphalt highway. The truth is; you may have to give up just a bit of your image to stay safe.
Wearing highly visible clothing is sure way to increase visibility. Many manufacturers offer clothing that adds both color and reflectivity to your riding gear without sacrificing too much style. You might also consider a bright, reflective vest. The advantage is you can quickly take it off when you get where you’re going. You might also consider a lighter color for your next bike, or choose a white helmet.
Adding bright, reflective tape or decals to your helmet is another way to achieve “removable conspicuity.” For a low-cost, but not removable, alternative, consider reflective tape on your bike, your helmet or yourself.
Watch what you do
Your actions on the road can add to your visibility. Never, ever ride in a car’s blind spot. Be sure you can see the driver in their mirror. One item that’s often overlooked is using hand signals. Movement of any kind can make drivers notice you. That’s a simple solution that won’t cost you a dime.
There’s nothing you can do to make drivers take a second look for a motorcycle, but you can make it more likely they will see you on their first look. Just a few simple steps can help ensure you won’t end up on a stretcher (or worse) hearing some driver telling the cop, “I just didn’t see him.”
If you’re interested in reviewing the NHTSA conspicuity study, click here. Note: this is a pdf file, so you’ll need the Acrobat Reader. Also, it’s really, really long. The section referenced here is on page 46.
About.com offers a basic, but reasonably useful video on visibility here.
Ultimate Motorcycling provides some visibility tips here.