Cyclists and Night-time Conspicuity – A Research Note

The journal Accident Analysis & Prevention has published an article looking at cyclists perceptions of their own night-time conspicuity which finds that overall cyclists overestimate their conspicuity compared to previously collected recognition distances and underestimated the conspicuity benefits of retroreflective markings on their ankles and knees, i.e., we think we can be easily seen and we don’t value enough the benefits of retroreflective markings.

The paper by Wood, Tyrell, Marszalek, Lacherez & Carberry (2013) adds to earlier research by Wood, Tyrell, Marszalek, Lacherez, Carberry, Chu and King (2010) which looks at cyclists’ visibility at night and cyclists’ perceptions.

This latest research finds that:

  • Overall, cyclists overestimated their conspicuity compared to previously collected recognition distances and underestimated the conspicuity benefits of retroreflective markings on their ankles and knees;
  • Participants in the study mistakenly judged that a fluorescent vest that did not include retroreflective material would enhance their night-time conspicuity;
  • Flashing bicycle lights were associated with higher conspicuity than static lights;
  • These findings suggest that bicyclists have dangerous misconceptions about the size of the night-time conspicuity problem and the potential value of conspicuity treatments.

Thinking about my approach to night-time riding I think I need to make at least one change. I do ride with high-viz vests that do contain retroreflective material, so I tick that box.

However, I prefer to use a non-flashing light even though my DiNottee 400L does have flashing mode. I chose to use a non-flashing mode as I like to see where I am going as well as being seen. That said my lights are bright and rear lights (two) are used in flashing mode. ALso my dynamo powered lights a Busch & Muller Lumotec IQ Cyo Senso Plus and its companion a Busch & Muller Toplight Line Plus are non-flashing. I believe this is as per the German lightening regulations.

I have taken on board the findings about ankle reflectors and will be purchasing a set for use during this coming winter when I ride at night.

Hopefully I find a balance that works.


Wood, J.M., Tyrell, R.A., Marszalek, R., Lacherez, P., Carberry, T. (2013). Bicyclists overestimate their own night-time conspicuity and underestimate the benefits of retroreflective markers on the moveable joints. Accident Analysis & Prevention. Forthcoming.

2 Responses to Cyclists and Night-time Conspicuity – A Research Note

  1. perthcyclist 12 March 2013 at 3:04 PM #

    I haven’t had any issues with being seen since I got my Ayups, I only operate them on steady mode because they would really be horrible on flashing. I always keep the rear on flashing because I think a red light does fade into the background a bit. I have a bunch of ‘cycling instead’ reflective ankle straps and some other velcro type ones I bought. All of my bikes have 3M reflective tape on the chainstays and head tube – it is good as long as it isn’t dirty.

    I think I might need more than one rear flasher because I find that if a rear light fails often I am oblivious to that fact until I have reason to look behind me. I think a bit of redundancy helps.

  2. Andrew Priest 12 March 2013 at 9:27 PM #

    Like yourself I use my DiNottee 400L (up there with the AyUps) on steady mode for the same reasons.

    I run two Radbot 1000 for both being seen (have had positive driver feedback) and redundancy and have benefited from doing so. I have them mounted on the seat stays.

    I have yet to get a couple of ankle straps. Must do that soon.

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