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Three headlights better than one

Harley-Davidson FLHTK Ultra Limited
Bright lights

Drivers have a better perception of the approaching speed and visibility of a motorcycle if its has three headlights in a triangulated layout.

That’s according to UK research that has been cited in the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) motorcycle safety report.

We can’t find any motorcycles with standard triple headlights in a triangular format.

But if you believe the study and want to add auxiliary lights to your motorcycle to make a safe triangle, be aware that could render it non-compliant! Seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?

BMW with auxiliary lights
BMW with auxiliary lights

The UK study says “misperception of vehicle approach speed” is a key contributory factor in SMIDSY (Sorry mate, I didn’t see you) motorcycle crashes.

There has been research in the past that shows the smaller the vehicle the more the other motorists perceives their speed to be slower than it actual is and to perceive the coming vehicle as less of a threat. This is one reason why motorists tend to drive out in front of an approaching bike.

The UK researchers investigated drivers’ judgments of motorcycle and car approach speeds with different levels of lighting, including motorcycles with triple headlights, such as some touring motorcycles.

Harley-Davidson Road King
Harley-Davidson Road King … three lights, but not triangular

“The accuracy of car approach speed judgments were not affected by changes in lighting conditions, but speed judgments for the solo headlight motorcycle became significantly less accurate as lighting reduced in the early night and night-time conditions,” the study found.

“Incorporation of a tri-headlight formation on to the standard motorcycle frame resulted in improved accuracy of approach speed judgments, relative to the solo headlight motorcycle, as ambient light levels reduced.

Based on their findings, the WHO report recommends motorcyclists, scooters and other powered two- and three-wheeled vehicles should be fitted with triangulated headlights.

Or maybe it’s best to accompany two friends on bikes each with a single headlight and ride in a triangulated formation.

BMW laser headlight revolution
BMW with triple headlights
  1. I have a Road King Mark. No one can tell me if it’s actually legal to use the side lamps during the day. I do, as I long ago assumed that it was safer.

    Can anyone answer the question as to the legality of using the passing lamps during a regular day, ie not only on reduced visibility days?

    1. Hi Dan,
      It would vary from state to state depending on the police interpretation of the road rules.
      If they deem them fog lights, you can be fined for using them unless there is fog.
      Direct them down so they don’t dazzle oncoming traffic and ride so as not to attract the attention of the police and you should be ok.

  2. I find that the low power LED ahem ‘running’ lights make a bike more visible than standard halogen ‘fog’ lights. They’re not dazzling but very noticeable.

  3. Just another study trying to prove that lights on works. It is a well know fact that the human eye can not judge the speed or distance of any light with any accuracy. Just attaching more lights is a cheap way out of admitting that lights on in normal daylight conditions in Australia is inherently unsafe. I have a number of older motorcycles and they have an off switch that I use, I also have two newer motorcycle that I have fitted switches to, to turn off low beam. Since I have turned off my lights in normal daylight conditions I have noticed that motorists have stopped cutting me off and even while filtering they have given me room, in other words they “see” me and know just how fast I am going and where I am in relation to them. I know I am fighting a loosing battle as we have been so brainwashed to think that lights on works that it is now the culture. I would like some other riders to just turn the lights off and try, takes a bit of courage as even I felt vulnerable for a day or two until you notice other motorists do “see” you.

    1. Anthony.. my experience is the opposite. Coming back from Western QLD with low beam and “running lights” on (2 x 10watt LED spots, 1 either side of the main headlights) members in the party heard truck drivers commenting on the CB how they could see us miles away. Around town I often flash drivers if I think they haven’t seen me.. and it works. You can tell by the startled look on their faces! One of our riders has a DR650 and it literally disappears into the road behind me until he turns on his “running lights” .

      1. Hi Mark, I think you just proved my point. They saw me “miles away”, yes I agree but they are not presenting you with a problem “miles away” and it is only when you are directly in front of the other vehicle that they see you, a few degrees to either side or up and down (undulations in the road) and your headlight just disappears which is typical what happens as you approach another vehicle. It still does not change the way the eye works, it can not judge the speed or distance of a light. The other thing you mentioned was flashing your high beam, I think you just proved the point that the other road user “did not see you” and yet you ride with your “light on”. I think I have proved my point again, road users do not see you when you ride with your light on, no matter how many you have. As for the DR, in your mirrors that no doubt are the ones that make things small and far away he will disappear, but he is behind you so he is no danger to you, next time you go for a ride ask him to ride towards you on a wide open road that is typical in outback Australia, you just may change your mind. Just an aside, running lights are not spot lights, they are very different in use. Running lights are usually LED and as seen on new cars around headlights etc, they shine for won’t of a better word in all directions unlike spot lights which have a narrow beam and can only been seen from directly in front like headlights.

  4. In my 2008 Street Glide I fitted Led lights in my ‘passing lamps’ that also had a halo lamp. As Robert says, they are very distinctive on either side of the Led main headlamp, giving a broadly lit front that hopefully can’t be missed by other motorists (and pedestrians).

    I am exceptionally pleased with the front on visibility of the bike in any light conditions, especially in rural areas.

  5. The reason cars pull out on you when you’re overtaking
    is the dangerous curved side rear vision mirror which makes you look a lot further away than you are.

  6. The study recommends “triangulated” headlights but this article repeatedly mentions and all the photos within depict a triple headlight arrangement with three headlamps in a row. This is not the same thing at all. You need two running lights down low, either side, such as mounted on the engine bars or forks.

    1. Headlights are amongst the most significant and basic necessities of a bike.
      Best Headlights for Harley Davidson.

  7. Having a couple of extra lights helps with there safety slogan “be seen be safe” but here’s your ticket for non compliance.
    There not too bright (pun intended) in Vicroads and the plod takes advantage of it, having said that I haven’t Been bothered by them on my Ultra identical to the one ^ in the article and always ride with them on, but did get hassled & told by a plod to turn them off on my L’s bike when i put 2 small LED lights under the headlight, can’t win with sketchy rules!

  8. I run the fog lights and headlight on low beam, on my Tiger, always have, figuring at the very least it increases visibility. The fog lights aim fairly close, so no issue with dazzling on coming traffic. I suspect, although I haven’t checked, that this is probably illegal, but feel the added safety outweighs the risk of a ticket, and I’ve yet to be stopped, and I live in one of the most heavily policed regions of the state.

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