It's winter, which means for most of us, we're taking extra precaution to be seen at night. One of the most popular (and cheapest) ways of doing this is to wear 'hi vis' clothing, also known as reflective clothing. But regardless of it's popularity and presumed effectiveness , does wearing hi vis clothing actually help you stay seen and safe?
According to various reports that have been carried out over the past few years, the verdict varies greatly. For starters, there are plenty of reports suggesting that hi vis can be effective - according to 'The Hurt Report' (a report that is regarded as 'the most comprehensive motorcycle safety study of the 20th century'), very few motorcyclists involved in collisions were wearing high visibility clothing, and that almost two thirds of the accidents recorded involving another motorist happened because the motorist couldn't see the motorcyclist properly. Furthermore, a case-control study conducted in New Zealand in 2009 found that 1/3 of motorbike accidents in the country might have been prevented if the motorcyclist was wearing high visibility clothing.
The people conducting these studies obviously want to promote the benefits of wearing hi vis clothing, so the outcome will almost always be the same - wearing this clothing is a good idea. But there are plenty of studies arguing that wearing it doesn't really make much of a difference. For example, a 2009 Australian study of drivers trying to see cyclists on a closed circuit found that fluorescent vests were not a significant improvement on black clothing at night. They also found that retro-reflective strips were more effective when attached to knees and ankles rather than on a jacket. This probably has to do with the fact that often the 'reflective' element of the clothing doesn't really work unless the wearer is moving. Lastly (and quite bizarrely), a 2014 case-control study in Canada found that cyclists wearing reflective clothing at night were more likely to be involved in a collision! Here's the alarming study if you don't believe us.
So what does this all mean? I don't think anybody could argue that wearing hi vis clothing is a bad idea, but wearers shouldn't automatically assume that everyone can suddenly see them clearly - they still need to be as cautious as they would be in any situation. Stay bright but also stay alert!