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High visibility clothing – should motorcyclists wear it?

4th November 2021

High visibility clothing – should motorcyclists wear it?

Andy Shaw, Head of Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence at Higgs LLP and with a specialism in motorcycle claims, investigates the legal implications of motorcyclists not wearing high-vis clothing when involved in an accident.

In representing seriously injured accident victims for over 20 years, I have occasionally encountered arguments raised by a defendant that my client was not wearing high visibility clothing and, as a result, the global value of his or her claim should be reduced to reflect that failure.

In my view, such arguments are often made with total desperation and are completely unfounded in law. They are no more than a ‘try on’ and any experienced solicitor who has an expertise in motorcycle claims will be well placed to refute any suggestion that any deduction should be made at all.

The very fact that insurers raise such arguments suggests that they occasionally have success in obtaining reductions, which is a worrying turn of events in itself.

Whilst the Highways Code encourages motorcyclists to wear high visibility clothing to make themselves more visible, there is no requirement in law to do so, unlike the legal requirement to wear a helmet.

A motorcyclist is there to be seen. He or she is not invisible. If the Defendant fails to keep a proper lookout, it matters not in my view whether the rider is wearing high visibility clothing or not.

I have personal experience of not been seen when riding a motorcycle. On numerous occasions, vehicles have emerged from a sideroad into my path. The stock response I often get, much like the clients I represent, is that they did not see me. Why, I ask?

The way the human brain processes information has been extensively researched by neuroscientists. Small things like a motorcycle approaching in a straight line is, apparently, hard for the brain to process as movement. The brain will instead focus on the background, prioritising larger items first. When you add into the equation the fact that the driver emerging from a sideroad will often carry out a micro glance, because he or she will be looking both ways, it perhaps explains why motorcyclists approaching in a straight line are not seen.

So apart from wearing high visibility clothing, what else can a motorcyclist do to reduce the risks? The introduction of daylight running lights clearly helps. Triangular lights, as often seen on adventure bikes, certainly stand out and help the brain process the image as a movement.

When I approach a vehicle which is positioned in a sideroad, I often do so with caution and expecting the driver to pull out.

I look for obvious signs that the driver has seen me, often eye contract. Even then, I cannot be certain that they will not emerge from the sideroad as I approach. Slight movements to the offside of the carriageway most often helps to break up that static image.  On occasions, if I am not absolutely sure that the driver has seen me, I will sound my horn. 

Different parts of the brain process visual and auditory information. Visual information is processed by the occipital lobe, which is at the back of the head. Auditory information is processed by the temporal lobe, which is at the side of the head.

Various studies have concluded that an auditory stimulus reaches the cortex of the brain faster than the visual stimulus. Therefore, the auditory reaction time is faster than the visual reaction time. The faster the stimulus reaches the brain, the faster the signal is processed.

In conclusion, whilst high visibility clothing may help a rider get noticed, varying position on the road and the use of a horn is probably also worthy of consideration. Sounding a horn will also be successful in breaking any lapse of concentration from surrounding drivers.

For any advice on motorcycle accident claims, please contact me on andy.shaw@higgsllp.co.uk or 01384 327200.

 

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