The Brief: the law and hi-vis
Rule 83 of The Highway Code tells us that we, ‘could wear a light or brightly coloured helmet and fluorescent clothing or strips’ – that is it. There is no compulsion or even advice to wear day-glow, it is simply presented as a possible option for us to consider. The Highway Code, drafted as it is by thoughtful civil servants reflects the state of scientific knowledge on fluorescent clothing. Intuitively one would think fluorescent clothing would make a rider more visible, but the jury is out on this point. And the science is ambivalent: one European survey found it made a modest difference to driver perception of motorcyclists, but others have found no significant statistical link between the use of high visibility clothing and actually being seen. Personally, I wear high visibility on a bicycle because I am constantly being overtaken and my broad back presents a lot of visibility, whereas my upper body, behind a screen and the front aspect of a motorcycle is relatively obscured. The reasons are complex and a lot is determined by how the human brain and human eye work together – MRI brain scanning has revealed that much of what the eye sees the brain does not register. If something is not of interest to the brain, it ignores what is coming into it from the ocular nerve. So, what am I, as a lawyer on about? It is very occasionally run as an argument that a motorcyclist has contributed to his or her own misfortune by failing to wear fluorescent clothing, contrary to Rule 83. In fairness, this line of argument is rarely run by grown-ups because you ‘could’ wear dayglow, you could also choose not to get out of bed or you could choose to take the bus. This argument is occasionally run by insurance clerks with delusions of expertise, and horrifyingly sometimes accepted by paralegals masquerading as proper lawyers. So if you want to wear fluorescent kit by all means do so. It cannot do any harm, but do not feel compelled. For what it is worth, with my particular knowledge I have opted for a light, multi-coloured helmet, a jacket with contrasting arms and body, and auxiliary riding lights. These practices have some scientific evidence of making me a bit more visible, but as a six foot tall man on a 1290cc Orange and White KTM Super Adventure even if I am in matt black if you have not seen me you have not looked, and if you have not looked I could be lit up with a disco ball and you still wouldn’t see me. The cause of collisions is not motorcyclists being invisible, it is car drivers either not looking at all, taking a ‘micro-glance’ and failing to see the motorcyclist, or simply not processing that a motorcyclist is approaching them. Day glow does not really address these issues.
‘If you want to wear fluorescent kit do so… but do not feel compelled’