Stay visible this winter

Published: 03 November 2015

The nights are drawing in, and for most people it's now dark on the way home from work. If as a new rider you've never ridden in the dark, it can be quite a daunting prospect, especially if you add in the joys of rush hour traffic.

But fear not, biking injury lawyer Andrew Dalton knows what makes riders stand out. Here are his survival secrets.

Don’t put your faith in day-glo

Does day-glo clothing help your visibility? The jury is out on this. There is mild evidence to suggest it may, and it certainly can’t do any harm... but it’s nowhere near as effective as die-hard fans of day-glo (which include many judges) might think. You have secondary problems that go with high-visibility: namely being mistaken for a copper.

Car drivers do strange things if they think you’re a policeman, such as dropping to 15mph below the speed limit or braking suddenly. They’ll drive like numpties. I’ve seen drivers put their tyres into the kerb and bounce off it because they’re so keen for a hi-vis biker to get past them.

Do this
Be prepared for drivers to think a rider in a day-glo jacket and white helmet must be a copper. Few police riders wear day-glo on their civilian bikes for this very reason.

Don’t do this
Assume the public can tell the difference between a Panigale and a Pan European – if you’re day-glo, you’re police.

Make some lateral movements

The human eye struggles to perceive a small object coming towards it in a straight line, whereas moving from side to side greatly increases the chance of the eye picking it up.

Do this
Use the whole ‘safe’ three quarters of your carriageway – it makes you far more visible to fellow motorists.

Don’t do this
Leave the responsibility with the driver to see you. 

Shine a light. Shine lots of lights

LEDs draw very low power but can make you appear much bigger at night. Some clothing now comes equipped with LED lights and studies show that the adventure bike set-up of auxiliary lights either side of a centre light increase your chances of being seen.

Do this
Keep your lights on in all conditions. Always.

Don’t do this
Worry about overkill – the more lights the better.

Master the art of reverse camouflage

Don’t dress like a sniper hiding his form. Evolutionarily we are programmed to recognise the human form so staying visible is a matter of mastering the exact reverse of camouflage.

Do this
Aim for contrast as much as possible. Wear a helmet that’s a different colour to your leathers and kit with different patterns.

Don’t do this
Assume bright colours are enough. 

You cannot be too colourful

I’m not a big fan of day-glo green (the typical lime yellow colour of most hi-vis items) because it’s so common. Drivers won’t see it purely because they’re so used to seeing it. One of the girls I used to work with has a bright neon pink jacket and you could spot her very easily because the colour is so unusual.-

Do this
Combine your coloured clothing with lights and contrasts. The girl who wears that pink jacket every day does that and has never once come into the office complaining that somebody’s pulled out on her on her ride into work. It might be a bit garish, but it does the job.

Don’t do this
Get hung up on wearing pink. Bright orange also works well, as does just about any bright colour that contrasts with your regular riding kit. 

Twinkle like a fairy

Fairy lights that modulate at 300-400 flashes per second will be perceived as twinkling. That’s important because the movement draws the eye, increasing your visibility, but it won’t look like it’s flashing. There’s a bit of legal interest here, because the only vehicles permitted to use flashing lights are those working by the side of the road or being used by emergency services. The law is completely silent as to auxiliary lights which are modulated to flicker.

Do this
Use twinkling auxiliary lights, which fall on the correct side of the law.

Don’t do this
Use strobe or flashing lights. Ever. You won’t get points on your licence, but it can carry up to a £5000 fine.

Don’t surprise people

If you’re in an area where you’re likely to come into conflict with other road users then move at a speed that is not significantly greater than the flow of traffic. The last thing you want is to surprise people. The common thing they’ll say after an accident is “the bike came out of nowhere”. Well it didn’t, did it? We don’t live in the Star Trek universe. It came out of somewhere – it didn’t materialise on your bonnet.

Do this 

Bear in mind that drivers just don’t look, or don’t look properly.

Don’t do this
Be too cavalier with brisk overtakes. I’m a big fan of them, but bear in mind that other road users will react much better to something they expect than to something that comes as a surprise. 

Know your enemy

Try to predict driver behaviour at junctions. You can actually be exuberant in filtering through London’s West End and the City because drivers expect bikes to be there and will look in their mirrors (they know that if they don’t they’ll probably get one torn off). Do the same thing in Leeds or Manchester and you won’t get anything like the same reaction. Some people might even resent you just for filtering.

Do this
At junctions, try to move to the centre of the driver’s line of sight. They will concentrate on what’s in the middle of their vision, not what’s in their peripheral vision.

Don’t do this
Approach every junction as though you’re invisible. It will lead to such a hard and frustrating life on a bike that you’ll want to give up and buy yourself a van. 

Get reflective

Reflective clothing and strips help in low-light circumstances. Twice I’ve acted for people that probably would have died had they not had reflectives on. One guy (bizarrely) was catapulted off the road and couldn’t be found. It was only a copper picking up his reflectives in torchlight in the dark as he lay unconscious in the boughs of a tree that saved him. Another guy got pinged across an unlit service road off the London North Circular road in the early hours. If it wasn’t for the reflectives the driver on the opposite carriageway almost certainly would have run him over.

Do this
Wear clothing with reflective strips.

Don’t do this
Think that lights are enough. Bike lights soon get covered in filth.