Bicycle Visibility: Conspicuity of Bicycle Headlamps, Tail Lamps, and Retroreflective Garments in Nighttime Roadway Environments
Gibbons, Ronald B.
Williams, Brian M.
Connell, Caroline A.
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Cyclist deaths are overrepresented among traffic fatalities, and increasing cyclist conspicuity to drivers could potentially reduce cyclist deaths, particularly at night. This report describes an experiment with various commercially available bicycle visibility-enhancement systems in terms of their conspicuity to drivers during the day and at night. Visibility enhancements included a headlamp, tail lamp, spoke lights, and retroreflective clothing, including garments that highlight biomotion. The results indicate that active visibility treatments, such as bicycle-mounted lights, make cyclists more conspicuous than passive systems like retroreflective vests and biomotion bands. Flashing headlamps and tail lamps were the most conspicuous treatments during both the day and at night; fast flashing headlamps (6.7 Hz) had higher detection distances and rates during the day, and moderately fast flashing headlamps (3.4 Hz) had higher detection distances and rates at night. Spoke lights and flashing tail lamps, along with retroreflective vests, also aided cyclist visibility during the day and at night, especially for vehicles approaching intersecting cyclists. Passive retroreflective visibility treatments were most effective at night, when the vehicle was passing the cyclist from behind. However, that approach also used reflectors, so the discrete effect of passive retroreflective treatments could not be determined. This study also found that biomotion markers alone do not significantly increase cyclist conspicuity in visually complex natural environments. For most approaches, flashing lights had greater detection distances than biomotion markers, which in turn had higher detection rates than headlamps and tail lamps.