Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Compulsory Hi Viz Dangerous for Learner Riders

Today, the Law in Victoria came into force that makes it compulsory that all Learner Motorcycle Riders must wear a High Visibility vest.

Today, Car Drivers can no longer use the excuse Sorry Mate I Didn't See You if they hit a Learner Motorcycle Rider.

Today, the level of Driver Responsibility just went up a notch.

Will it change anything? In the experience of the author, who has clocked up over 1 Million Kms riding a motorcycle, who has tried the HiViz Clothing approach, I doubt that it will make any difference. Being seen on a motorcycle demands that one do far more than just look bright. In fact, in my experience - that can make things worse.

Compulsory high visibility (Hi-Viz) clothing for Learner Motorcycle Riders may result in more rider road fatalities. In fact, I would go even further and say that it will increase the risk for Learner Motorcycle Riders.

That’s an outlandish claim, I hear you say? But, Hi-Viz must be a great idea because it makes motorcycles more visible as the Victorian Government claims. Well, based on my experience over 40 years and some 1 million kms on a motorcycle I know that they are wrong. What’s worse is the truth that Hi-Viz has its down side and is not the savior non-motorcycle riders believe it to be.

Before I disclose the reasoning behind by hypothesis, let me explain the important elements, which have been overlooked by the people who came up with what I can only describe as a “Thought Bubble” which is not backed by any quantitative science.

The starting point in this debate is that motorcycle manufacturers chose, voluntarily, to hard wire headlights-on into all motorcycles manufactured kin the modern era (post 1980). But, even with my motorcycle’s headlight on car drivers frequently fail to see me. This fact is supported by the science and an analysis of the motorcycle road toll.

There are many occasions when wearing Hi-viz just won’t work, is of little use and does not make a rider more visible. Let’s examine these:

1.    Approaching Head On. Given that my motorcycle headlight is already on, both in the daytime and at night, wearing additional Hi-viz makes no difference. When viewed against the setting sun, or against a bright background it guarantees that a rider will not be seen.

2.    At a Distance. A moving motorcycle approaching at a distance will appear like a very small dot. Even if it is bright its approach speed and distance from the observer is difficult to get right. Most car drivers overestimate the distance between them and an approaching motorcycle. So, even if they have seen the motorcycle, Hi-viz won’t help here.

3.    Driver Blind Spots. Car drivers have at least six distinct blind spots, into which small objects like motorcycles become obscured. In heavy traffic, even a brightly coloured object is even harder to see as it blends in with other brightly coloured cars, or as it becomes hidden by other larger objects. Again, Hi-viz doesn’t help here.

4.    Approaching from Behind. All motorcycles, with their hard wired headlights-on, have an illuminated brake light. Again, this should be enough to negate the benefit of Hi-viz. Car drivers get the distance wrong when approaching a single point illuminated object. In my experience, I have learnt that car drivers are looking for familiar objects like other cars. Throw a small object into the mix and their brain always gets it wrong. Again, Hi-viz won’t help here.

The science behind why the human brain does and does not see things is something well understood by Illusion Artists. People look, but their brains fill in the gaps and the result is that some detail gets left out. Our peripheral vision (that outside the central point of our direct line of sight) is low definition. Our brain up scales this low resolution to give us the impression that everything is in focus by adding things it predicts should be there. Much of what we think we see is not 100% correct. More likely it’s far less than we believe. Thus in a split second – our brain can cause us to get it all wrong – horribly wrong. This is something that Hi-viz won’t help and on some occasions will make worse. How can I prove that? I have experienced it hundreds if not thousands of times over the last 40 years.

False Sense of Security. Compulsory Hi-viz supports the false hypothesis that a motorcycle rider will always be seen. It sends the wrong message to the most vulnerable – Learner Motorcycle Riders. By telling Learner Riders that they must wear Hi-viz, the Victorian Government is telling them that this is something that will guarantee their safety. “The Government supports it, they must be right,” is the view they will form. For those who do fall for this trap and therefore expect Hi-viz to keep them safe, the risk of being involved in an accident will increase.

Voluntary or Compulsory? I am not anti Hi-viz per se. Hi-viz is something that must be understood by the wearer. A Learner Rider is not the best start point for Hi-viz. The decision to wear Hi-viz should only ever be voluntary. I know many experienced riders who wear Hi-vz. But they also have a thorough understanding of the factors I have outlined and incorporate it into their overall safety regime. I choose not to wear Hi-viz, and therefore adapt my own riding techniques and habits to reduce the risk of my not being seen by car drivers.

Education of both Car Drivers and Motorcycle Riders as to how their brains interpret what they see is far superior to any move to forcing any motorcycle rider to wear Hi-viz.

1 comment:

Dave said...

I think in the modern era even most 17 yo (can you still get a learners at 17? ) would pretty much think the Governmint more often wrong than right. I agree with you tho.. this is an appalling idea. Aside from anything else it sort of puts a moral onus on the rider to be seen. If not wearing a Hi Vis Jacket is it not implying its your fault?