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Motorcycle Conspicuity

Motorcyclists Are Safer Wearing Bright, Light, or White

“Conspicuity” is just a big word meaning visibility or noticeability that is fun to say to impress your friends. Bright-colored gear and bright, light, or all-white helmets help to increase your visibility, making it more likely that other motorists will see you directly in the traffic mix or even from long distances away—which means it is less likely a motorist will violate your right of way by turning in front of you, changing lanes into your path, or stopping at an intersection only to pull out right in front of you—or, worse, collide with you—as you approach.

Baby-boomer bikers like to wear all black garb: black leather jackets and chaps, black boots, black novelty helmets—if they bother to wear a helmet at all. Serving the same purpose as gang colors, the dark apparel identifies to others that those who wear it belong to a particular subset of motorcyclists commonly referred to as "bikers."

Yard sign reminds motorists
 to watch for motorcycles

Bikers want and expect other motorists to keep an eye out for them, but then dress in dark colors, taking no responsibility for their own safety and making it more difficult for motorists to see them.

Wearing protective gear, even black leather, and a good quality helmet will help cushion your fall in the event of a crash. But wearing brightly colored gear and a bright, light, or all-white helmet covering the highest, most visible part of your body as you travel down the road can help keep you visible to motorists, who can then keep a safe distance away from you and surround you with a protective "cushion of air."

Motorcyclist wearing bright-colored vest with reflective tapeMotorcyclist wearing a bright-colored vest with reflective tape
(image Minnesota Department of Public Safety)

As the motorcyclist on the right merges into the onslaught of traffic, his wearing a bright-green vest and a helmet with reflective tape makes him more visible to the other, oftentimes distracted, drivers. Wildlife and combat soldiers increase their odds of survival by blending in with their background. They have camouflage coats and wear camouflage uniforms to avoid detection. Motorcyclists who blend in with their background also increase their odds of avoiding detection…and being struck and killed.

SMARTER riders are covered, comfortable, conspicuous, and contemporary. The bright- and light-colored gear and helmets are definitely NOT your father's "colors"!

There is more, however, to conspicuity than simply wearing bright colors, so follow these links to learn about other ways you can make yourself stand out on the roadway:

  • Enhancing Motorcycle Conspicuity Awareness in Iowa - the Iowa State University Institute for Transportation Final Report (September 2010): This study reviews previous studies on motorcycle conspicuity and then compares single- and two-vehicle crashes and examines the distribution of conspicuity-related factors in light and dark conditions
Motorcyclist wearing reflective helmet and jacket and riding with headlight onMotorcyclist wearing reflective helmet and jacket and riding with headlight on
  • Motorcycle Conspicuity: The Effects of Age and Vehicular Daytime Running Lights - read the abstract and an extensive excerpt of this 175-page 2008 doctoral dissertation about research conducted to investigate the topic of motorcycle conspicuity and the influence of sex, age, motorcycle lighting conditions, and vehicular daytime running lights upon one's ability to effectively detect a motorcycle within a "high fidelity" simulated environment 

    This inquiry is essential so as to determine the most effective means by which motorcycle conspicuity can be increased, motorcyclist injury and fatality decreased and overall motorcycle safety enhanced. The end result of ineffectively detecting a motorcycle on the road, whether it be due to the physical attributes of the motorcycle or cognitive aspects of the motorist, is ultimately an accident between motorcycle and motorist.

  • What Helmet Color Is Most Visible? motorcycle rider conspicuity and crash-related injury: case-control study by the BMJ Group