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Professor debunks hi-vis clothing

Hi-vis motorcycle clothing candy

A University of Melbourne professor and bike rider who was hit by a car while he was wearing hi-vis clothing has called for the Victorian Government to axe its mandatory hi-vis requirement for new riders.

Prof Richard Huggins

Prof Richard Huggins, Chair of Statistics, says he has reviewed several studies on motorcycle conspicuity and “look but fail to see” accidents and says there is “sufficient doubt” of the effectiveness of hi-vis to call for a repeal of the mandatory requirement.

“I also note that somewhat surprisingly given its reputation as a leader in road safety, there seems to be little Victorian research into the effect of cognitive factors on car/motorcycle collisions,” he says.

Prof Huggins goes through several examples of how hi-vis research is flawed, but ends with his very own example of a crash involving his Kawasaki: “I should add that I regularly wear a hi-visibility jacket when riding and have been hit by a car while wearing this clothing. The driver claimed they didn’t see me, from a distance of less than 2m, as they changed lanes on top of me. This adds to my doubts on hi-visibility clothing as a panacea.”

Prof on his Kwaka

“I wasn’t badly hurt in my  accident. Slid along the road but didn’t hit anything too hard,” Richard told MotorbikeWriter. These days he rides a Triumph Street Triple in the Yarra Valley most weekends and a little scooter  around town.

The Victorian Motorcycle Council has included Prof Huggins’s letter in a further response to the government over the misconceived legislation.

In an accompanying document sent to Gary Blackwood, the Parliamentary Secretary for Transport, VMC secretary Jeremy Walton points out how hi-vis is a safety myth and calls for the reversal of the proposal. Among his claims are:

  • Wearing hi-vis clothing may impart a false sense of security for novice riders;
  • Modern research shows that people don’t recognise or react to motorcycles, rather than not seeing them at all;
  • Drivers are more likely to see a bike but make an error in timing; and
  • All bikes have hard-wired headlights yet no research has been done on how this affects hi-visibility.
  • He says that if hi-vis is a real safety issue, why are there no greater penalties for drivers who crash into people wearing them?

The VMC has instead called for more education for drivers and riders.

DayGlo Queensland Police
DayGlo Queensland Police
  1. you couldbe wearing hi vis clothing…… 100 flashing lights…… fog horn sounding every 10 seconds and car drivers still wouldnt see or hear you …why because they dont look simple as that….

    1. You sir have hit the nail on the head, hit the bulls eye plum centre. Using mobile phones, laptops, looking and talking to your passenger while driving, putting on your make up, reading the news paper and eating all while driving is the major cause of the piss weak excuse of SMIDSY.

  2. Mark,

    Good article but another issue raised by the VMC which needs highlighting is the question: if hi-vis is so important where is the legislation to require other vulnerable road users to wear hi-vis?

  3. I’ve been a postie for 30 years and for me, I believe that it has made some people look twice. If only once person has a second look because I’m wearing hi-vis, then I think it’s worth it. By the same token, I know of plenty of idiot drivers that didn’t see a Postie…

  4. The only motorcycle drivers see is a police motorcycle
    Because a police motorcycle is a THREAT

    1. By the same token, I wonder if you have full hi-viz everything, and you look like a bit of dork, will the car drivers NOT see you because you don’t look like a threat?

  5. In your photo of the Prof on his Kawasaki – well, he’ ISN’T very visible, is he? Might just be the photo, but some bikes do just blend into the scenery, even with lights on – especially black ones.
    Compulsory Hi-viz bikes? Oh lord no!
    But maybe DRLs are a good idea – perhaps the TAC could shout every registered bike a pair from their $500 million profit…

    1. I see what you mean. You can be wearing a bright red helmet, headlight on, pointing at them & they’ll still say “I didn’t see him”.

  6. Of all the bikes I’ve had there’s only two that I have never felt invisible on. One was a big white ex-cop K series BMW. Traffic parted for me like Moses parting the Red Sea. The other was an all black Harley. The average driver sees both of them as a threat (!). Richard is 100% correct. It’s not about being visible, it’s all about cognitive factors.

    Interestingly one of the reports that VicRoads is using to justify hi-viz states that it is less effective than a dark colour on a country road. In other words, by their own reasoning, they are happy to place country riders at risk.

    1. My experience is exactly the same.
      Riding for 28 years, at one stage I had a bike which looked similar to a police bike (white ST Honda) & boy, they saw that immediately from 500 m. Amazing. They couldn’t see my bright yellow SV650 nearly as well for some strange reason.

      Every car-driver knows that if you hit a motorcycle you just say “I didn’t see him” & that’s accepted as an excuse.
      Police accident report says “cause of accident – didn’t see bike”
      & we end up with fake statistics.

      Every academic report pushing hi-vis/reflective etc I have read is badly flawed. Rubbish.
      They are accepted because they reinforce an existing prejudice & so nobody questions them.
      The only purpose these reports serve is to generate attention & citations, esp via Google, to boost someone’s CV & academic career.
      They reflect poorly on the institution they come from.

  7. I think hi viz has simply become too common. 30 years ago only the police and ambulance services wore it so it stood out and got your attention! Not abolutely everyone wears it kids, postmen, builders, canvassers, bicycle and motorbike riders, runners the list goes on. The fact is you are so over exposed to to hi viz you become perceptually blind to it!

    1. I agree, same situation, I think for auxiliary light, some time ago see a three light moving on the road was anormal, now is normality (fog lamp, drl lamp)

  8. I think adding DRLs to a bike will work as it makes it stand out in a different way. With a single headlight, bikes tend to blend into the traffic and drivers just think its an other car so just ignore it. Ive added two small LED lights and it does change its appearance quite remarkably. It must be doing sonething as I’m here typing this message. I ride the freeeays daily filtering 80% of my commute.

  9. Motorcyclists have no problem seeing other motorcycles & push bikes, so why do car drivers? SMIDSY is a pathetic excuse for not paying attention.

    1. I agree with what you’re saying. However, motorcyclists are looking out for other motorcyclists. Most car drivers do not look out for motorcyclists. So should we yell at them, fine them, abuse them until they see us? Or, should we take our safety into our own hands and make ourselves as visible as possible. It certainly doesn’t guarantee our safety, but its our choice to ride a more dangerous vehicle. I choose to wear a $20 fluro vest over my black leather jacket with armour. I know it doesn’t guarantee my safety, but every little bit helps me to stay alive and out of a wheel chair.

  10. Richard is right… hi-vis is not the panacea that the government claims it is. The research is shoddy and does not identify any clear benefit.

    Furthermore your rider representatives have failed you by not being vocal in their opposition to hi-vis laws.

    It would be nice if Vic Roads finally recognised the failure of some of these poorly thought out laws.

    This demonstrates the need to keep safety interventions focussed on research based interventions rather than opinions… otherwise we end up with a plethora of rules (mostly pointless)… which make it harder for riders to get licensed… and thus encourage unlicensed riding.

    It also results in good road safety interventions being ignored because they’re elbowed out by bad ideas.


  11. Motorcyclists are such a pack of pussies. Terrified of wearing visible clothing are we girls? You morons are eroding motorcycle culture by voting for fashion rather than function.

    1. You know all of them, do you? You know, for a fact, that we all think the same way and have the same opinions? Obviously, yours is so important you can be offensive and ignorant. Twat. Oh no, you have me doing it now.

  12. Obviously the best approach is to wear dark asphalt-grey clothing. That way the car drivers can be demonized for hitting bike riders.

  13. This maybe somewhat unfair to say but since I’m an American I’ll say it anyway. University Professors tend to be somewhat awkward in many common sense situations. It’s like a balance of inteligence where they can recite a sophisticated formula, but fail at climbing a ladder. Hi viz helps although I do wonder about the green when going through a forest area. White helmets definitely show up better in mirrors but you won’t look as cool, which may mean you won’t get laid. Take it that they don’t see you, ride with a distance buffer, stay out of blind spots, practice emergency bracking, slow into turns, do the speed limit, wear something hi viz or white.

  14. How many times was the Professor NOT HIT while wearing Hi-Viz clothing. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater….

    1. Exactly. Sounds like he was riding in the driver’s blind spot – in that scenario nothing will save you. As a driver I’m definitely more conscious of motorcycles coming towards me when they’re covered in fluro.

  15. The way the brain works is to recognise a silhouette first, the colours come into play after that happens, if you are not even looking for a motorcycle in the first place your brain will ignore that silhouette. We need to be showing a silhouette of a motorcycle on adverts making drivers more aware, not blaming the victim for not being brightly coloured enough.

    1. While it feels good to blame car drivers (and yes it usually IS their fault when they hit us) we can’t control their behaviour, nor will legislation achieve our goal of staying alive. In the end, all we can do is control our own actions. If wearing a hi-viz vest saves me from a wheel chair future just once, then why not try it. I will be.

  16. Another reason Australia has no system of enforced driver training, multiple states do not implement regular roadworthy checks on vehicles, and we do not conduct further testing of licensed drivers to reinforce good driving habits. Heaps of trucks and cars on the road legally in Victoria but they are literally falling apart because they not road worthy as they are never checked except when sold.

  17. Plenty of car drivers pull out in front of other cars so perhaps there should be a call for fluoro coloured cars? :/

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