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High-visibility clothes won’t save cyclists from dangerous drivers, study claims

Think bright clothes make cyclists more visible to motorists? Well think again. A study by the University of Bath and Brunel University has found evidence to the contrary.

Oh we can see you alright. We just wish we could un-see you.
Oh we can see you alright. We just wish we could un-see you.

New research has revealed that 1 to 2 per cent of drivers will still overtake ‘dangerously close’ to cyclists regardless of whether they’re dressed like Batman or wearing a luminous pink jacket with a bright green hat. 

During the research, project leader Dr Ian Garrard of Brunel University cycled his usual commute between Berkshire and outer London each day with an ultrasonic distance sensor measuring the gap between his bike and passing cars. Each day he wore a randomly selected outfit (see below) ranging from Lycra to a high-visibility jacket with “novice cyclist” printed on the back and even a coat modelled on a police jacket with “polite” written on the back. 

Data revealed 5,690 vehicles overtook Dr Garrard over a period of several months.

The results showed there was no difference between the outfits in the most dangerous overtakes, where motorists passed within 50cm of the rider. 1-2 per cent of motorists passed within this extremely close zone regardless of the outfit worm. 

The research also found the average gap left between a car and bike when overtaking has shrunk from 179cm in 1979 to 118cm today, no doubt owing to increasingly congested roads.

“Many people have theories to say that cyclists can make themselves safer if they wear this or that,” project leader Dr Ian Walker explained. “Our study suggests that no matter what you wear, it will do nothing to prevent a small minority of people from getting dangerously close when they overtake you.

“This means the solution to stopping cyclists being hurt by overtaking vehicles has to lie outside the cyclist.”

Dr Walker went on to explain some of the ways in which life could be made safer for those who travel on two wheels.

“We can’t make cycling safer by telling cyclists what they should wear. Rather, we should be creating safer spaces for cycling, perhaps by building high-quality separate cycle paths, by encouraging gentler roads with less stop-start traffic, or by making drivers more aware of how it feels to cycle on our roads and of the consequences of impatient overtaking,” he added.

It must be said, one set of statistics does not paint a picture for the entire country so we would suggest you keep wearing bright clothing where possible — particularly when cycling at night.

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