© Copyright 2023, R. Fleischer
NOTE: Various helmets were used during the tests. I purchased a brand-new Schuberth C3Pro fluorescent yellow helmet for the majority of the testing. I also investigated, and tested, a number of things sold to motorcyclists to increase safety, from lighting equipment (all sorts....) to reflective items, ETC. I also consulted with two safety experts, both of whom have been involved in government-paid-for testing. Some conclusions were reached that you might not necessarily expect.
Conspicuity ....Recognition ....Safety ....
This article is primarily about improving recognition & actions by drivers of ONCOMING vehicles (whether from your front or rear or side), but also covers how YOU see other vehicles.
Many safety agencies ...and studies, ...have proven that safety is enhanced for motorcyclists having modulated headlights ...as the pulsing light attracts attention, particularly important to a motorcyclist who should want, an oncoming driver to notice & recognize that a motorcycle is present. Modulators have been shown to greatly reduce "left-turn accidents", & in general, reduce most biking accidents. Studies have also proven that bright clothing and certain colors of helmets considerably help reduce accidents. Unfortunately, there is a paucity of studies into other-than-modulator items, usually only passing statements, at best. While there are government studies, in depth, for cars/trucks/buses, there is a real need for investigation into the practical safety concerns for motorcyclists. It was my purpose to try to produce usable data in this regard. It turned out to be much more difficult than I had expected....the the results are very usable.
I conducted experiments with various lights. I did a lot of experiments with various reflective stripes on my sidecar rig. I additionally did experiments while wearing my white and other helmets and also with my fluorescent yellow-greenish intensely colored helmet. In order to gain real data, I did tests both with and without a modulating headlight; braking lights additions, turn signal changes, etc etc. I tried to get definitive information about safety for each item separately .....and did additional tests with combinations. I also did some tests while driving my SUV, even to the extent of judging other driver's responses to sudden display of colored reflective strips fluttering down the driver's door and the passenger's door.
Improving your visibility to others may possibly have a downside. There is some evidence that if you become TOO conspicuous during daylight hours, drivers of cars might fixate-on-you, & then run right into you. One military base tested this idea with collected information about only bright reflective jackets. But, at NIGHT, reflective stripes seem to help VERY CONSIDERABLY for safety. When I have enough solid information on daytime fixation effects, I will put it here. So far, it appears that high visibility is, overall, MUCH SAFER for YOU, over-all, day or night.
Headlight modulators are treated in their own article: https://bmwmotorcycletech.info/hdlite.htm, which is article 24C. That article also contains some legal requirements & laws; as well as technical information regarding light recognition by your brain. I advise you to read it ...it has many things you probably did not know!! ...it also contains information on front, side, and rear lighting, and use of reflector materials, etc., for all USA Vehicles.
The rest of this article is to be regarded as a companion article to that above linked article. What follows has sections that deal with HOW you and others recognize and deal with things you 'see'. This article does not deal with the mechanics of riding a motorcycle, as I assume you already know how to ride. You already know that you need to be 100% awake & 100% sober for the best functioning of your senses/brain. You need proper protective clothing. You need a motorcycle in good condition: good tires, proper inflation, good brakes, etc., & to not to ride beyond your abilities!
To improve YOUR safety, it is not simply a matter of improving your ""visibility"", in the way you may presently think of 'visibility'. I will get into all this in a way seldom presented, if at all, and when you are done reading this article, and the linked articles, you may, and I hope will, understand the 'I didn't see him' phenomena ...and know a considerable amount on how to deal with it.
THE problem, over-all, is how to speed up the time for real recognition, and speed up the time for acting upon such recognition. It is not just making yourself more visible and recognizable. It is increasing the speed of the approaching driver's own reaction(s), which will help avoid a collision. The information applies to YOU, too!
It is easy to misunderstand why visibility, recognition, and actions, are mixed-up by most people, particularly, I suppose, by motorcyclists.
Due to how the human eye works and how the human brain works with the human eye, drivers (AND RIDERS...like you!!) don't see and recognize anything the same way from central vision compared to peripheral vision. Drivers, in particular, do NOT recognize objects ...such a motorcycle with you on it! (and, even very much bigger objects) ...unless the object IS MOVING ...or APPEARS to be moving. Drivers, again in particular, tend to rather strongly 'recognize faster' motorcyclists who are taller (present a higher profile); motorcyclists who have brighter clothing (yes, even white); and motorcyclists who have brightly colored helmets. Rather prominent in the helpful things category is LIGHTED items, particularly items with lights that are considerably higher-up than where the common running lamps are located. If those lights flash at appropriate times, the recognition is even better. I advise you to re-read, slowly, this paragraph....because it is important, and includes most of my conclusions in a single paragraph, without the small details.
An article on how the brain interprets things, that may open your eyes (bad pun!) is in BMW Owners News (BMWMOA.ORG) for August, 2015, at page 124. It is very worthwhile reading. That article is particularly good because it ALSO explains YOUR problems in seeing and acting upon dangers. DO YOU KNOW that what YOUR eyes & brain sees & allows YOU to "recognize" ...may well be different if you are looking straight ahead as opposed to angularly? ...and ...what if there is something off to the side ...like a deer? Did you know that the cones and rods in your eye react VERY differently to movement? ....and off-center focusing is excellent for MOVEMENT? You should read that article. It may explain things differently than I do, that you might find helpful in real life situations.
For further reference, I recommend you read the conspicuity studies done in New Zealand, and by NHTSA (especially regarding high-mounted braking/stopping lamps). Before these studies were done, nearly the only information was either guesswork, or, studies on colored strips and on some types of standardized lighting on the back of big trucks/trailers (those 18 wheeler types of rigs).
Here is an example of a situation that probably all of us motorcyclists have had:
You are riding. You naturally tend to stare down the road. It is certainly a LOT less tiring than moving your head side to side rather constantly; and it is certainly a LOT less tiring than constantly moving your eyes side to side. It is also less tiring than looking slightly and constantly towards one side of the road. Humans tend to avoid things that are tiring. You THINK, however, that your peripheral vision really is seeing what is to the side of you, whether just in front of you, or somewhat further down that road. You get 'surprised' by something. HOW did that happen? WHY did that happen? Is there anything you can consciously do to reduce such surprises? Statements like "That deer came out of nowhere's"; and, "She backed right out of the driveway in front of me..."; ...and many other statements ...are COMMON. Yes, this is pertinent for you and deer...but, yes, also pertinent regarding car drivers and you, the motorcyclist.
Problem areas for you, the rider, are from every direction around you.
A car is fast approaching the rear of your intersection-stopped motorcycle, and you are dressed all in black, and the motorcycle is also in black, ....the car driver may well 'not see you', and run into you. That seems like common sense ...and IS correct. In fact, it is correct for both bright sunlit daytimes, as well as at night, even if your motorcycle has many rear lights!! Human beings reactions tend to involve the size of an object, and the expected type of object. Read that underlined part again, slowly!
You may well conclude that making your motorcycle, and you, appear larger, is much safer. THAT IS TRUE. Thus, many bikers commonly wear a bright reflective helmet; have bright stripes on their jacket; and have other reflective & illuminated things that enlarge the area "seen" by car drivers. But, this doesn't really explain the size of your motorcycle all that well for recognition, and then action upon recognizing that it is a motorcycle. The problem of size, for any vehicle, is very complicated to explain in how the brain works, and a sort-of compromise...or improvements.... can be made, ....by adding APPROPRIATE lighting, reflective clothing or strips, etc. None are perfect solutions...but some things help way more than other things.
Highway maintenance crews, the Highway Patrol, transportation agencies, etc., are only too well aware that MANY a very well lit road barrier or big truck ...has been crashed-into on a dark night. That is why the Government specifies the color, reflectivity, type and placement of reflective materials for large trucks (A LOT OF TESTING WAS DONE BY GOVERNMENTS, ETC). If the approaching driver has been drinking, and reflexes are slow, things get very much worse, very fast. The government also specifies placement of reflectors, etc., for motorcycles...but it is the wild-west out there regarding anything but the simplest information.
It is NOT a matter of just the reflectiveness and/or color of reflective tapes/materials. Many a driver has "not paid attention" to flashing lights on a roadside sign ...or a stopped vehicle. DAY or NIGHT, this happens a lot. How could a driver fail to see and react? There can be several reasons, but just one is that the driver SEES, but the driver's BRAIN does NOT RECOGNIZE, and as such the driver does not act nor react.
Police are only too well-aware that drivers may not ""see"", nor ""react"" upon suddenly approaching, or coming upon, a police car at the side of the road, even if that police car is equipped with all sorts of flashing lights of multiple colors! Authorities know only too well that on a Freeway (another example), they are sitting ducks for being hit, if they are at the driver's door of a vehicle.
Anyone ...whether driving, riding, or walking, has parts of their eyes that strongly detect motion, and other parts of their eye that detect color & brightness. It is very unfortunate that these are quite different depending on what your eye is focused on ...and it is PERIPHERAL vision that can be critical, to detect MOTION. READ THAT MOA ARTICLE!
That brief bit of information may be opposite to what common sense is telling you. The MOA ARTICLE explains the phenomena.
YOUR red rear brake light and YOUR red rear running light may or may not trigger a fast brain response in an approaching driver! A very bright red rear light ...in fact a number of them ...may still not quickly trigger that driver's brain, and maybe not any more quickly than just one modest red light. We'd LIKE to have that triggering brain response happen fast, and thus spur that cage driver into accident avoidance action. We all know how to translate speed to distance per second. If that car is approaching you at some speed, the time of recognition and and the time of acting upon it can be very critical. PARTICULARLY TO MOTORCYCLISTS! IF you have lights that are on your helmet, those are recognized by your brain at a very much faster rate, than if the lights were lower. There are helmet lights available now that even flash during braking, etc.....with no connections to your bike electrical system needed. Studies exist showing that the safety enhancement is huge. I did not do testing of this myself....I'd like to.
Many safety agencies studies ...and others ...have proven that safety is enhanced for motorcyclists having modulated headlights ...as the pulsing light attracts attention, particularly important to a motorcyclist, who should want an oncoming driver to notice & recognize, and react, that a motorcycle is there. They has been shown to reduce left-turn accidents, & in general, reduce most accidents. Studies have also proven that bright clothing and certain colors of helmets help reduce accidents considerably. I conducted experiments with various lights. I did not test helmet lights. I wish I'd had time to do so, and, frankly, known about certain versions of these. I did a lot of experiments with various reflective stripes on my sidecar rig. I additionally did experiments while wearing my white helmet and also with my fluorescent yellow-greenish intensely colored helmet. I did experiments while riding my two-wheeler too (LOTS of experiments). I also did experiments with added lights, etc.
Various investigations and tests, including tests by the Federal Government, have so far not put-it-all-together for motorcyclists, although there is a very considerable amount of work that has been done with big trucks and for cars. The USA Federal Government quite some time ago passed rules/regulations/law on headlight modulators and they are specifically authorized for motorcycles ...which DEFINITELY DO, CONSIDERABLY, help recognition ...and, in particular, do so from a decent distance, so providing some decent time for the oncoming car driver to have his/her brain deal with it. But the size of the bike, and the FACT that oncoming drivers do not 'expect' to see a motorcycle, is a problem. Another problem, rather tied into the others, is that car drivers ...especially some of them...have a substantial problem in estimating the closeness of other vehicles ...and, believe it or not ...this is for ANY size of 'other' vehicle. In situations with not great lighting levels, and with poor reflective colors, even huge vehicles may not be recognized very fast.
Drivers and riders both have a problem in detecting motion, since human's peripheral vision is the PRIMARY method of recognition of motion. Peripheral vision does NOT mean turning one's head, or rotating ones eyes. If you are keeping up with what I am saying in this article so far, you should be getting the strong idea that objects in motion are 'seen/recognized/acted-upon' very differently, depending on if you are looking straight at them; or, 'seeing out of the corner of your eye'. This is a very peculiar property of our eyes and brain. It is MY conclusion that a goodly percentage of 'accidents' are caused by this phenomena. NOTE that 'objects' includes lights or other items of light.
The rear and sides of your motorcycle are not specifically addressed by the Federal Government for adding conspicuity/recognition, in anything approaching the way the front is (by allowing very specific types of flashing headlights ...that is, modulators). The modulator effect is well laid-out in my article. Here, again, is that link: https://bmwmotorcycletech.info/hdlite.htm
It is my conclusion that extra lighting nearly always helps, especially the front headlight being modulated, but the help in other areas of the bike is much less (except for turn signals & flashing brake lights, where it is only somewhat less). Yes, it is possible that for the specific instance of someone changing lanes and moving into YOU, that flashing side lights might be quite helpful, considering peripheral vision in particular ...and slightly or some for any side lights. This includes reflective materials; which I will talk about later, and for which I have done testing.
I have already mentioned recognizing movement by peripheral vision. This is a particular phenomena about movement and recognizing things that you may want to look into. Lighting products are now available that have a very strange effect on drivers who are NOT FOCUSED on YOU. Something in a drivers peripheral vision will be recognized by the brain when that something is moving ...or flickering, like a very special type of lighting product that only appears to be flickering if you are NOT looking directly at it! REALLY! Read the BMW MOA article, then look at https://www.skenelights.com/ website, carefully and slowly, because it is easy to think it is just another flashing light product.
I especially want you to look at: https://www.brakefreetech.com
Note: I have lost track of someone I used to know who had adapted a small red lamp to the rear of his helmet, and connected that lamp to his motorcycle's stock brake light circuit. I wanted to take photos of his setup, and see if I could develop a very cheap device from common parts. Inquiries, so far, have not been fruitful.
Such a device might well, with use of bright clothing, modulating headlight, and a few 3M type of reflective stripe material, be THE answer for the vast majority of motorcyclists. Probably would be helpful for cars too!
This article is considerably about trying to help the speed of recognition and actions by drivers approaching or near us ...and possibly some distance from us. The same sort of things that affect drivers also affect us, as bikers. How quickly do we 'see' and 'act' upon a situation? In fact, how quickly do we act upon seeing a rock in the road in front of us? Did you know that many motorcyclists will STARE DIRECTLY at something, take NO avoidance action; and, essentially, almost seem to aim at that obstacle? That sort of thing can happen with oncoming car traffic ...and YOU, the biker, "becomes" the target. Have you ever ridden your bike and 'suddenly' you see/recognize something in the road? Do you chalk that up to the speed you were going (does NOT have to be fast!)? What about an animal 'suddenly' appearing? What if the animal is coming from the left or right? Any difference?
I get slightly deeper into the drivers (and you as rider) peripheral vision here, although the bulk of this article is mostly on practical information on how to make yourself visible AND RECOGNIZABLE, & QUICKLY, when someone IS looking in your direction; OR, when their peripheral vision responds to reflective items, or movement. Hints are given too. Please do not fail to understand the difference....but, it is very obvious that rotating the head and eyes at good intervals, in order to use peripheral vision PROPERLY, is a necessity, to avoid unpleasant surprises.
Humans need a certain amount of TIME to process information from our senses. Humans can not directly handle speed beyond our own running ability ...or, maybe a bit more, in animal comparison terms.
Speeding up the TIME to See, Process, and to ACT, is very important for us all, but especially for motorcyclists ...and that INCLUDES you the rider and also for approaching car drivers, from our front, or from our rear, or from our sides.
I will give an example of a recognition hint, that every one of us should be aware of. I hope every motorcyclist already knows about this one. This particular example of recognition deals with movement, and the movement in this example is usually nearly straight ahead, but can be somewhat or more peripheral; and even multiple vehicles can be watched. This hint also applies, to a lesser extent, for a car driver. Suppose you are at an intersection, or approaching it, and there is a car that is presently stopped for a traffic light, in front of and left of your lane. That car will be coming towards you, even if one lane over, when starting-up from that intersection. There are plenty of dangerous things that could happen. One that motorcyclists are only too well aware of, is the car could start moving and then seemingly suddenly turn left into you as you proceed into the intersection. YOU will find that YOUR "recognition" of any movement of the approaching vehicle is much faster if YOUR vision is NOT concentrated on "that car" ...but, rather, concentrated on the car driver's-side front WHEEL. If the car is stopped, watching the driver's front wheel hubcap or similar structure, is typically the way to see if the car has moved yet. Obviously you also want to use your peripheral vision, which is much better than your straight-ahead vision (for recognizing MOVEMENT) to watch for that car and for cars to left and right of you. Often this watching does not require moving your head. That can give you maximum safety due to the sensitivity of your brain to peripheral movement. In scanning, do not stare constantly at that car. Maximum effect is if you are scanning and looking off-center. This type of scanning is not all that 'natural', and requires some practice.
Most car wheels have 'features' that, when the wheel is moving hardly at all or more, will quickly, via your eyes, message your brain, and your brain understands quickly that the vehicle must be moving. This is a much faster recognition than trying to watch for any movement of the whole vehicle, or its hood or front area. It also helps that the angle is usually such that movement is faster recognized. All sorts of recognition factors also can get involved. Even sound, brightness of the day/night, etc. Truly experienced motorcyclists watch (but don't stare at) the oncoming driver's front wheel, because ANY movement of the car is recognized much faster, via its wheels. This effect is most often used at intersections, where the oncoming car is stopped for a stop-light or stop-sign. But, it also happens if the car is 90 degrees from you at that intersection ...and may happen differently, from peripheral vision by both of you, as you have already learned herein. If you are not using these techniques, try it a dozen times ...you may be surprised!
There are other aspects to seeing & recognizing. Recognition & estimate of distance is vastly reduced at night for all people. Pedestrians and motorists ...including you, of course ...not just that oncoming driver from your front, rear or side.
Various types of effects are comparable ...in others' recognizing your vehicle when they are not especially trying to recognize it ...after all, they are not likely expecting a motorcycle, so are not concentrated in looking for one. Even if they 'see it', their brain may not be acting on seeing it, as they suddenly turn left in front of you. Another phenomena is also happening ...if that driver is looking and focused straight at you ....then he/she is not using peripheral vision ...which is faster at recognizing movement. It is from this that comes the statements often heard: "She was staring/looking right at me, and still turned in front of me".
In today's crop of poor and unsafe drivers we have a relatively new problem. In the past, this problem was lumped under Driver's Inattention & Distractions. That could mean a driver momentarily bent down to pick up something off the floor of the car; or reached to one side for a piece of paper; or turned around somewhat to deal with noisy children, etc. Today, we have driver's having longer periods of inattention and distraction, by such as texting. This is a very serious problem. An allied problem is that of driver's, and a few motorcyclists, talking on cell phones, whether or not they are holding them. Anything that requires the brain to pay attention to something other than the road and area surrounding the driver, etc., is going to detract from recognition and response. It is the same for you and your riding. It behooves you, as a driver....and as a rider....to practice faster recognition methods of looking and seeing.Besides helping to bring attention to such problems, helping to pass stricter laws, heavier punishments, etc., the best that motorcyclists can do is to be quickly visible and quickly recognizable, as best possible. The science of Recognition and Avoidance is fairly well-established now.
As you can see from all the above discussion items, many things are at play at the same time, and can be synergistic, both positively ...and; unfortunately, negatively.
One of the things you can do to improve your visibility (and, yes, weaving back and forth in your lane does help the oncoming driver to see/recognize you, this is not an old wives tale ...) is to increase your actual visibility, by using reflective clothing or add-on reflective tapes, besides using lights/lamps (and, if legal, flickering or flashing those lamps, and this category includes small lamps as well as the already legal in all States headlight modulators). Some things you can do help only marginally ...but, collectively, things do add up to make a larger difference. These things work best by making the vehicle seem larger. Thus, two running lights at the rear work much better if spread widely apart. It helps even more to have lights (or reflective materials) higher-up; such as reflective stripes on your jacket and a brightly reflective helmet (especially of a color that attracts attention quicker).
Some reflective materials (I am using reflective materials for this example because they are always brought up in discussions of 'visibility') ...will show up movement MUCH faster than others, due to the TYPE of reflections. Color? Shape? This includes when the reflections seem to be moving, particularly in colors & shapes (usually from angular prismatic effects). In this respect, some materials are vastly better than others.
We already know (it is well-proven) that some colors affect humans much faster, light level being the same. One of these is a sort-of-lime-green-yellow. Said another way, humans have more actual sensitivity to low light levels of some colors. By convention, GREEN means GO; RED means STOP; Yellow means CAUTION. But we do not have stop lights, etc., that are lime-green-yellow; although that color would be much better for RECOGNITION that there IS a light. That is also NOT THE SAME, as you have learned here, as understanding the meaning of the light, nor its color ...that follows, with the brain hopefully reacting very quickly and translating that also quite quickly to physical action. There may be historical reasons for the colors we use. You CAN get helmets and strip material, etc., of that highly recognized lime yellow-green color. The best versions appear to reflect light and seem to have movement.
My original intention was to do real testing of reflective items for bikers, including prismatic and diamond type surfaces on reflective materials, including materials that glow, etc. ...and other things ...and to, somehow, devise a means of measuring recognition time, and maybe reaction time ...for both conditions of knowing an event might occur, and not knowing that an event might occur. The goal was to make recommendations for improved safety for motorcyclists, by utilizing specific types of reflective materials, possibly in specific patterns, colors, etc. Eventually I probably would have added lighting products to my article. I very specifically wanted to compare my results with Government testing reports (cars, trucks, and the very few available studies on motorcycles and bicycles), and see if I could make suggestions that would make a considerable difference in our safety, as bikers. I would be unable to test all types of materials and conditions, but hopefully would come up with some definitive ideas.
I did a lot of research and thinking about how to measure recognition time. I understood the phenomena of recognition time, and had wondered if, by means of size, shape, color, reflectivity, etc. ....shortening recognition time would always result in shortened reaction time, and if not, how to improve that.
I did testing with lamps, front and rear, colors for items including color strips, helmet, etc. ...and read a lot on the subject. I'm not going to get into this deeper right now.
Initial work, basic testing of materials and methods, etc.
One needs to start someplace. I decided to do some simple tests, and see if I agreed with various published reports ...including tests done by the government. Was recognition better, and how, if the rear lamps were placed wider; and higher? Yes, I was able to agree fully with the published literature. The tests I did were rather extensive. I did projected moving displays; and did some on-road tests too. I also decided to use myself as a test subject, and tried three helmets, white, black, and one of the latest special recognition colors, fluorescent yellow. Setting up the method for testing recognition time was quite tricky at first. I am thinking of patenting my method.
Next, I obtained some high quality diamond reflective tape samples of the prismatic type and a few pieces of other reflective types and some types of fluorescent tapes. All were in various 'colors', such as a sort-of lime-yellow, yellow-orange, white, red, and silver. I also obtained some materials that appeared to be very dark, almost or actually black, but appeared as whitish-silverish reflected materials when a car's headlights shown on them. These particular materials are already popular with motorcyclists, for use on the rear of saddlebags.
Initial tests were conducted at night, and then in bright sun, and again when illuminated by incandescent lamps (clear lens), and again when illuminated by 'bluish-white' LED lamps. I used both quite minimal light from various angles, including angling the reflective materials. Later, as an added test sequence, I used headlights with those annoying blue tinted bulbs. It did not take long before I found that many manufacturer's claims were not well-founded (being polite here). I decided I had to make my best judgment about the various materials available, and obtain some more, and install and test them. Contributions to my website are used for site upkeep and for testing of items, which I usually resell. I managed to get most, not all 'samples' for free. I, unfortunately, had to pay for my helmet out of my own pocket! https://bmwmotorcycletech.info/donating.htm
I had recently replaced my overly-old helmet with a very high quality Schuberth helmet with a color very specifically supposed to have highly increased recognition, a fluorescent yellow (I also think it has a tiny amount of green in it) color. In order to get a baseline, and some information about height effects and basic recognition and reaction, I very specifically tested that helmet in various ways.
(1) A black motorcycle with no special lighting.
(2) A large dark-colored sidecar rig, with many and variable types of special lighting (mine!).
(3) A WHITE motorcycle with almost no special lighting.
(4) Several motorcycles of assorted colors and sizes (bags? no bags? ...windshields or not...etc...etc).
In addition, I did some other tests:
(1) I wore the helmet in a convertible sports car, the top down (yes, I really did this!). With some help I studied the looks, distances, time of recognition as best I could of other drivers (in two instances, oncoming bikers!).
(2) Sitting or standing alongside and/or approximately 50 feet from the side of a road, at night, no street lights, just myself, wearing that helmet and also tested with a white helmet, with no vehicle near me. I did each test multiple times, and while all tests included the roadside and 50 foot tests, I also did some by slightly hiding myself in a modest way, and tested angularly too. This was a fun day and evening of testing! What made it take up a lot of time was that, to obtain good data, I did NOT tell my own testing people exactly where I was going to be, what I was going to be wearing, etc. Of course, my own testing people were hardly the only folks I tested against.
(3) I also did a few of the tests with waving a rather small flashlight, and another set using waving a 1-1/2" wide and 4" long same of my reflective materials, glued to a piece of cardboard.
These tests became more involved than I expected; particularly when I added something. In most of the tests, not all were done with my fellow known testers, but in common traffic. My idea was to not only test materials, colors, height, size, etc. ...but sudden unexpected MOVEMENT. I also did one testing series not yet fully done, and I don't want to talk about it yet.
As you can imagine, just basic testing in those conditions and categories took a LONG time; after all, one has to eat, sleep, and have a life. I also wanted to repeat testing using actual lights, placed at various heights and widths.
I have confirmed the government findings; plus, I know more that is going to be useful for motorcyclists.
Another round of testing began in the Spring of the following year:
Initial testing was with three types of reflective (and some reflective AND fluorescent materials), at front, sides, and rear, of a motorcycle sidecar rig, said materials being of two types:
(1) A high quality diamond patterned 3M material, in silver, yellow, lime green, ...etc.
(2) Similar, but United States Coast Guard approved and registered materials. These various 'tapes' are of different sizes, colors, and shapes, and were placed in such a way to help with gathering reports from approaching drivers (and drivers to rear and sides), as to which attracted their attention first, besides the typical photoelectric measurements, for which a wide spectrum photoelectric measuring instrument was borrowed from the local college.
Simultaneous or similar tests, under the same conditions, likely at the same time slot of same day, same areas, were also run by a friend on a small motorcycle, (a rather plain colored Ninja 250) that was selected purposely to have very little size-and color presence by itself without reflective materials.
Tests were run with the various materials covered and uncovered. An attempt was made to talk to drivers that were NOT expecting to see me. A few tests were run with massive amounts of borrowed reflective material, to see if effects were greatly improved OR NOT. I wanted to compare such large area amounts (compared to small area amounts, such as short 1" reflective strips). Strips were made and tested in not only vertical and horizontal application, but also an attempt was made, if done very grossly ugly, versus an artistic basis of application.
Testing will hopefully continue by others. I'd like to see testing done to compare the before and after effect of the type of tapes that are nearly invisible until headlights shine upon them. These types of tapes are quite popular. Testing should be done daytime and nighttime. This includes rainy nights (and dark days in a busy city), where reflections from most anything, including wet windshield glass, wet roads, etc., could greatly affect recognition time ...and ...identification. That testing has not yet begun by anyone that has been in contact with me regarding this article; although testing in dense ice-fog has been done.
A method to measure/calculate response time even more accurately has been worked out and also needs to be tested. Day tests should be in bright sunlight, and not just at shadowless midday. I am especially interested in tests at dusk AND night tests in-city with a typical city type of street lighting illumination, and lots of stores and other lighting, where the motorcycle would be more likely to NOT be seen amidst the light clutter. Tests should also be run on very dark black roads, with NO lighting. Testing should be done, as best possible, using 0 degrees, 45 degrees, 90 degrees, and close to the limit for peripheral vision. There are now eyeglasses available that will track eyeball movement.
Much has already been accomplished. Much is yet to be done.
A try at wrapping this up:
I found some results that I did not expect & have been unable to find discussed in literature. Photographs of 'seeming' reflective amounts and associated brightness, under standard conditions of these products, may well not be truly informative, and may well confuse the needed information: results of recognition and action time. That is, I expected calibrated light level photography to be of value, and show real amounts of light reflection, etc. This was found to be not so straightforward. This complicated ...at first ...my thoughts about how to compare materials.
I did tests to see if photographs and human thoughts of levels of brightness had anything to do with each other, and was further surprised. I also found that light levels recognition or estimations, are on a par with sound levels, which are well-reported in the literature. Humans respond logarithmically! Example: a doubling of actual levels is not recognized as a doubling ...it takes much more to recognize a doubling. But, humans, as with tone changes, easily recognize very short intervals of any slight change in levels. This means that human responses to movement of small levels of light, sound, etc., are reasonably easily recognized. Whether or not changes would be recognized on the road by deer ...light changes that is, ...is unknown to me ...certainly Deer Whistles are proven to not work, not at all; ...an article on testing deer response is here: https://bmwmotorcycletech.info/deerwhistles.htm
Just for fun (and, perhaps moreso, my usual level of high curiosity), I made up a bit of electronics that duplicated the 3 or 4 Hz changes in a headlight modulator, but for sound. I found this very easily done, with a powerful amplifier and some oscillators and a simple combining circuit. It is relatively easy for me, having a well-equipped electronics shop, to do such things. I decided to test some things on customers who happened to be here in subsequent weeks. One of these tests was to play ordinary music through my shop speakers, but to modulate the music by very tiny amounts of pitch changes. This was certainly noticed by customers, who actually, almost all, mentioned that whatever radio station I was listening to, had faulty speeds on their records or tape recorders. I next tried this 'modulation' at a very low level ...fewer folks noticed, as expected. Eventually tiring of this with my customers, I changed tactics. I tried various rates from about 1 Hz to about 10 Hz on shop lighting, at very low amplitude. I tried reflective strips that were used on the sidecar rig, reflecting the light in my shop and I even motorized the movement, with a controller I designed and built. I even put some strips, quite narrowly cut, on Scotch tape on my large living room windows on the outside, where birds tended to, now and then, fly into. They also noticed it! I found that human brains are VERY MUCH disturbed by about 4 hz (hmmm...that is what the government says must be used for motorcycle headlight modulators ...). My final test was to use the most annoying speeds, depth, etc! ...all, together. I will relate the circumstances, and reactions, later-on ....combined with another experiment on my customers, having to do with a very small change in light frequency, reflecting through my adjustable speed fan; a clever idea I had.
There is NO doubt in MY mind, NOW, that the yellowish lime green tapes and helmets create earlier, and annoying, recognition.
I had not expected, and tests were repeated over and over, is the extent that lime-green, and to a slightly lesser extent, orange helmets, made in recognition, day or night, in various conditions. The effect was considerably larger than if my motorcycle or my sidecar rig had quite a few various types of reflective materials of various colors and types, applied angularly, vertically, and horizontally ...at some distance from each other.
Being perverse, I did further testing with black jeans and black jacket ...and the sidecar and the bike are painted in a rather dark color, appearing black at night. I then wore a white helmet, a black helmet, and a lime-green-yellow helmet ...and, finally, my fluorescent yellow helmet.. The brighter and more reflective items, high-up, did attract more attention, but not hugely. After some testing, I proved that it was the HEIGHT of the helmet above the vehicle, or ground surface, that ESPECIALLY attracted attention. This tended to fit in with the government testing of reflective stripes in higher areas of big trucks. ONE conclusion, of course, is that it might be that an unexpected height of 'something' .....& possibly an "unusual something" .....attracted attention.
So far, the recognition of the light scattered from most of the reflective type tapes seems somewhat the same. This was even though the actual reflectivity (measured!) was quite considerably different. This was quite contradictory to advertised claims. I needed to do more testing in this area.
(1) I finished testing reflective effects when streets were very wet AND REFLECTIVE from rain, using both cement and asphalt roads. All materials were OK. There were minimal (although noticeable) problems with driver's to the rear in seeing and recognizing the motorcycle. Did not test further, but it appears (PUN INTENDED!) that recognition happened faster, due to the multiplying/spreading effect of the rear lights of the bike, AND, some reflective effects of the tapes used ...but that the reflections onto the wet street OVERALL made things worse, not better, when RESPONSE to the stimulus was considered. Blending-in was my conclusion.
(2) The particular helmet colors help considerably. So do reflective clothing, and reflective tapes, with only a slight edge to the tapes being assorted in placement (angles, horizontal and vertical too). Extra rear lights help, so long as the braking light is very bright and particularly if very distinguishable, especially from running lights and turn signals (the speed of which has an effect)....and... this was exceptionally notable.
Diamond pattern reflective-fluorescent tapes are best.
Widely separated lights and reflective items, plus same at some height, were quite effective.
Height of the helmet, as previously noted, is a substantial factor. Color of the helmet is an additional factor.
(3) I did some testing on temporary changes to my own sidecar rig. I used colored film to change the appearance of the front lighting, to find out the effect on oncoming drivers. First was the change to quite mild yellowish-green, hardly noticeable to me, the driver of the sidecar rig, during the dusk period. The film was placed only on the headlight, which was the stock H4, stock lens and stock reflector, that emitted the normal 'white' light without the film. This affected both Lo and Hi beams, of course. After testing, that film was removed, and taped over the front light on the sidecar, a standard small base multiple LED plug-in type, quite small, approximately an inch in size. Originally, the front sidecar light was a small 1156, etc., type lamp, incandescent, and the lamp had been changed to a small aftermarket plug-in LED type. In other words, a small running identification lamp, not a real headlight by any means, as it did not really add illumination to the road for me, the driver. When finished with those tests (both of which improved recognition), at the suggestion of a friend, I taped a small LED lamp onto the top of my most visible helmet, a yellowish-greenish type, which was then my standard touring helmet. The LED faced forward, and had a specified 120 degree wide beam. This improved recognition by a huge amount, surprising me. More detailed testing needs to be done in other conditions, such as bright sunlight with conflicting other lights, etc., in the natural daytime environment. Results are tentative very positive for a change in frontal color, and especially for a helmet light, even one that is quite small. My suspicions are that any high placed lamp, even if quite low in light output, will have a large positive effect. Also needed is more testing for rear lighting. I'd like to see experiment with helmet lamp colors.
(4) There is no doubt in my mind that use of bright clothing, correct helmet color, modulating headlight, a few 3M type of reflective stripes material, and use of modulated helmet lighting, would, all together, be THE big safety improvement answer for motorcyclists. BTW...I forgot to mention in the article about the stock flashing brake lights on many modern cars...located at the top of the rear windshield during braking....you can hardly not see them...
Some of the many sources for products I have tested:
https://www.reflectivelyyours.com/ You will find this to be a very interesting source for reflective products for motorcycles.
Solas; 3M company 3150-A, gray/white 14 mil adhesive tape.
3M Diamond grade florescent adhesive tapes, useful day and night, and best is lime green-yellow. $$.
3M 983 series, heavy duty. 983-23; 1FYG; yellow, not fluorescent; 983-71 school bus yellow.
680-71 yellow; 680-81 lemon-yellow; 680-14 orange
High Intensity Prismatic series, in lime-yellow
Non-reflective red and white.
Note: fluorescent is useful in the daytime, and reflective for nighttime. Combining the two is fun.
Lighting: various lamps, bulbs, reflectors, placement width, and height.
I did not have access to the Brake Free Light at the time of my testing.
Read this one first:
https://bmwmotorcycletech.info/hdlite.htm, which is my article 24C. The article contains the legal requirements & laws for headlight modulators; as well as technical information regarding light recognition by your brain. I advise you to read it ...it has many things you probably did not know!!
Lighting changes for motorcyclists may improve safety:
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Last check/edit: Friday, August 18, 2023