High-visibility vests, often handed out by the Gardai and schools, are unlikely to help cyclists from the most dangerous overtaking according to researchers.
The conclusions came from a study using an ultrasonic distance sensor attached to a bicycle used on a daily commute.
The average gap which a motorist left while overtaking the cyclist was recorded at 1.18 meters, a decrease of more than half a meter from a study at the end of the 70s when the average gap was 1.79 meters.
Today’s average is notable shy of the 1.5 meter minimum passing distance recommended by safety bodies, including the Road Safety Authority.
Researchers at University of Bath and Brunel University have just published their findings in ‘Accident Analysis and Prevention’, a peer-reviewed public health journal.
Wearing one of seven outfits at random on his commute in London over several months, Dr Ian Garrard from Brunel University, used the same bicycle and always cycled in the same way.
The study included Garrard wearing seven outfits at random – a number of types of high-visibility jackets and vests, a plain cycling jersey with plain trousers, a rugby shirt with a small rucksack, and a colourful skin-tight Tour de France cycling jersey.
The researchers expected different appearances would signify the cyclist’s experience level.
One of the high-vis vests warned “novice cyclist”, but researchers found that the amount of space left by motorists as they overtook a bicycle was not related to the outfit worn.
The authors say: “The only substantial change in drivers’ behaviour was seen in response to a high-visibility vest which invoked the name of the police and suggested the rider was video-recording the journey, although at present it is not clear which of these components was responsible for the effect.”
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But not even the ‘police’ high-vis vest deterred a small proportion of overtaking drivers from passing within 50cm of the rider. The 1-2% of motorists who came this close did so “no matter what was being worn”.
Given this result, the authors conclude: “There is little riders can do, by altering their appearance, to prevent the very closest overtakes. We suggest that the optimum solution to the very closest overtakes will not lie with bicyclists them selves, and instead we should look to changes in infrastructure, education or the law to prevent drivers getting dangerously close when overtaking bicyclists.
Brian Farrell, spokesman Road Safety Authority, said that the agency’s research department would need to study the research in more detail to provide a full and considered response.
“This problem of inappropriate clearance distance from cyclists when overtaking is something that needs to be tackled though education and that’s why we have dealt with it directly in our TV advert which aims to show drivers how they should interact with cyclists. I can also confirm that this ad will be back on TV screens in January and throughout 2014,” said Farrell.
Lead researcher Dr Ian Walker from the Department of Psychology at University of Bath told this publication that “at some point you have to question the utility of high-vis”.
Walker said: “I’d note that there is a surprisingly substantial body of research which suggests there’s no real benefit to wearing it. For example, a recent case-control study found no difference in accident likelihood between users and non-users. So it doesn’t seem to reduce accidents, and [their research shows] it doesn’t seem to stop drivers getting close.”
Mike McKillen of Cyclist.ie says that the research confirms his “experience of 42 years” and that he thinks the level of close overtaking is “magnified” on Ireland’s often narrow bus lanes where buses, coaches and taxis regularly attempt to overtake cyclists too closely.
MORE: RSA overtaking cyclists video:
OUTFITS USED IN STUDY (also pictured above):
COMMUTE: Plain cycling jersey, plain trousers, reflective cycle clips, Bell commuting cycle helmet, cycle gloves.
CASUAL: Rugby shirt, plain trousers tucked into socks, woollen hat or baseball cap, plain gloves, small rucksack.
HI-VIZ: Bright yellow reflective cycle commuting jacket, plain trousers, reflective cycle clips, Bell commuting cycle helmet, cycle gloves.
RACER: Colourful, skin-tight, Tour de France cycle jersey with sponsor logos, Lycra cycle shorts or tights, sleek race-fitting cycle helmet, cycle gloves.
NOVICE: Yellow reflective vest with words “Novice Cyclist, Pass Slowly”, plain trousers, reflective cycle clips, Bell commuting cycle helmet, cycle gloves.
POLICE: Yellow reflective vest with words “POLICEwitness.com – Move Over – Camera Cyclist”, plain trousers, reflective cycle clips, Bell commuting cycle helmet, cycle gloves.
POLITE: Yellow reflective vest with blue and white checked banding and the words
“POLITE notice, Pass Slowly” looking similar to a police jacket, plain trousers, reflective cycle clips, Bell commuting cycle helmet, cycle gloves.