As you will undoubtedly have noticed, the long nights are here again and that means many of us will be riding in twilight or even full night conditions, either out on unlit roads or under street lighting. And equally predictably, the annual forum conversations have struck up:
“The lights on my new bike aren’t as good as my old one. What do you recommend to make them brighter?”
And equally inevitably, talk turns to up-rating the main light or adding auxiliary lights.
But for some, the lights aren’t to see where we’re going rather more effectively; “I want brighter lights to be seen better”.
And that’s risky thinking.
Many years ago, I attended an early Met Police Bikesafe day. As well as the observed rides, there was some useful classroom content, including an extremely insightful and brutally no-nonsense analysis of three fatal motorcycle crashes, a part of the course they have now dropped.
Three crashes were explained to us. One involved a relatively inexperienced rider who simply tried to take a corner too fast and struck a lamp post. The second happened to a rider cautiously filtering down the outside of a queue, who was nudged off-balanced by an unexpected movement of the car he was passing – he went under the wheels of an oncoming car.
The third was the most complex and involved lights, lighting and the background.
At first sight, it was a classic ‘SMIDSY’; the bike on a priority road, a driver who didn’t see the bike pulling out from a junction to the rider’s nearside. The car stopped blocking the lane, the rider was unable to take evasive action and was killed.
What was unusual about the crash was that it was at night, and the bike was a Triumph Speed Triple, with big twin headlights. It’s the sort of bike that gut instinct would tell us should be easy to spot after dark and the idea that driver could fail to spot such a bike on a brightly lit road is totally counterintuitive to a lot of riders. Many would jump to the conclusion that: “the driver didn’t look”, or “wasn’t paying attention”, or “needs an eye-test”.
Both lights were still working after the collision so there were no faults with the lights themselves, and the street was well-lit. Too well lit, it turned out.
It was the photo taken from the driver’s perspective that suggested the likely explanation.
As the driver looked to her right, the bike was approaching against a backdrop of bright lights; other vehicles behind the bike, yes. But also illuminated shop windows and signs, illuminated bollards in the centre of the road and even the street lighting, all thanks to that curve and slope.
The police investigation appeared to suggest that either the bright twin lights on the bike appeared to belong to a car further off, or they simply blended in with the brightly lit background.
In either case, the driver never realised she was looking towards a motorcycle until it was too late, hitting the brakes and blocking the road.
So are there any answers?
The first is simple enough. Assume we WON’T be seen by each and every driver rather than the other way round. Expect to have to take evasive action and we’ll be on the alert to do just that with the absolute minimum delay. It may not prevent a collision – but at least we won’t ride into it without reacting.
The second is a little more complex. We need to make ourselves stand out. And in a sea of white lights including increasingly bright CAR lights, we need to understand that adding MORE and BRIGHTER white lights isn’t the answer. With the wrong background, it’s simply more camouflage!
My suggestion? Fit a yellow headlamp cover for night time use in a built-up area. Held on by Velcro, it’s simple enough to remove once out of town. Does it work? Well, hard to say from crash stats as so few riders use yellow lights. But there IS research evidence out there to suggest drivers find bikes sporting coloured lights easier to see.
WHAT IS THE SCIENCE OF BEING SEEN? (SOBS)
SOBS is an in-depth look at the ‘Sorry Mate, I
Didn’t See You (SMIDSY) collision. Originally
created in early 2012 for Kent Fire & Rescue as
Module 3 of the pilot Biker Down course. Until
2020, most Biker Down courses across the UK
used a ‘slimmed down’ version of SOBS.
SOBS has been recognised internationally. Our
KFRS team was awarded a Prince Michael of Kent
International Road Safety Award in 2012 and an
insurance industry award in 2013. In 2018 & 2019
I took SOBS to New Zealand for the Shiny Side Up
roadshow. SOBS featured on the US REVVTalks
in 2020, on the RoadSafetyGB PTW safety event
in 2021 and was delivered to NZ again via Zoom.
SOBS has featured on the Devitt Bike Blog here:
SEE THE ORIGINAL PRESENTATION LIVE ONLINE
I’m delivering the FULL 40 minute presentation
updated with the LATEST research every two months.
NEXT DATE: Wednesday TICKETS: £5
SIGN UP: at http://thq.fyi/se/012097de78a5
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