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Conspicuously inconspicuous….

June 19, 2011

Thorne, England – One interesting aspect of the current….

Who ha in France over the French Governments proposal to introduce the compulsory wearing of high visibility clothing for motorcycle and scooter riders is that it has got rider conspicuity back on the agenda.

There are of course some among us that believe that the French hi-viz thing is also a very handy smokescreen for the Federation of European Motorcycle Associations (FEMA) to hide behind. Handy camouflage for the complete balls up FEMA has made over the lobby against the European Commission (EC) proposals on Framework Regulation for the Approval and Market Surveillance of Motorcycles. Just in case you are under any misapprehension unless a miracle of a proportion not yet seen takes place we will be enjoying on all new model motorcycles and scooters: mandatory anti-lock braking systems, automatic headlights on, on board diagnostics and specific modal anti-tampering, etc etc etc, all of course at your, the consumers, expense.

I digress let’s have look at conspicuity.

After three decades of EC propaganda it now seems the “norm” that hi-viz and headlights make you safer. The actual EC take on hi-viz and daytime running lights (DRL) stemmed from a think tank report penned sometime in the early 1980’s. Hard up for ideas this “expert group” suggested that DRL’s could save lives and the rest just sort of followed. The rest of course being the commissioning of research projects with specifications and briefs carefully worded to get the results that the EC wanted. Conspicuity became and still is the safety buzz, a handy quick fix for the EC mandarins and European Parliament politicians that gives the impression that they are doing something about safety on Europe’s roads.

Does conspicuity aid safety? Well there are numerous research papers that say it does and an equal number to say it does not. Add in the usual self-interest of the researchers, the professional discreditors,  the self-serving politicians and the road safety campaigners and the message to riders that hi-viz is effective seems at best mixed.

Thus as a rider I tend to be a sceptic on the issue, after all it is my arse that’s on the line most days. A recent paper from the people over at Right to Ride is worth a read it pretty well sets out where we are, see here…

Research done at Bristol University may also be worryingly relevant. Looking into the effectiveness of dazzle camouflage in relation to it’s use on military vehicles Dr Nick Scott-Samuel has evidence that dazzle camouflage can affect perception of speed – but only if the camouflaged object is moving quickly. Is this biker relevant? It maybe. It could be concluded from the Bristol work that an approaching motorcyclist, with headlight on and wearing a hi-viz jacket, may offer a high contrast “target” to an observer, a driver perhaps,  to the extent that the observer might  perceive that the motorcyclist is riding slower than he/she in fact is.

Then there’s complacency. Riding around lit up like a Christmas tree it might just be possible to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone will automatically see you. You just assume that the driver waiting at that junction ahead has seen you and won’t pull out. That could be a fatal assumption.

And eye tests. Well all this hi-viz stuff is really irrelevant if that driver at a junction and come to that the motorcyclist cannot see properly. The question as to why consecutive UK Governments have refused to introduce a requirement that drivers/riders must have an eye test every five years is one well worth debating. That’s one mandatory requirement that even I could be persuaded to support.

Live free, ride free!

© Back Roads Rider 2011

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