Visibility project

We're investigating what makes motorcycles more visible and conspicuous on the road

Safer vehicles

What helps drivers judge how far away a motorcycle is and how fast it’s travelling? The research focuses on lights and high-vis/reflective gear. But how effective are they really? This was the starting point for the Visibility Project.

We want to make evidence-based decisions about what kinds of visibility projects we might invest in to help make New Zealand riders safer. So far, we have commissioned a review and report of “visibility and conspicuity” research done in other countries, and we have commissioned testing and validation trials on different lighting configurations.

The validation trials

The visibility project testing and validation trials are finished. We have been testing for the effectiveness of additional lighting and different lighting configuration on the visibility of motorcycles in New Zealand conditions. This is ground-breaking work; we’re the first in the world to do this kind of testing.
The testing site was on a busy urban road in a main centre. The researchers recorded the responses of 600+ testers, as they viewed oncoming traffic, and indicated what they saw approaching them, and when they would consider it safe to pull out into the traffic.
Test bikes, kitted with three different lighting configurations, were ridden through the traffic and past the site three times in each session. The testing scenario measured when the approaching bikes are seen by the tester, the perceived distance away, and the decision about when it would be safe to pull out. Each session was video taped, and the results are now being analysed to compare the visibility and conspicuity of the different lighting configurations.

Bikes used and lighting configurations tested

We used two of the same model of bike. Each was fitted identically, to be able to display three lighting configurations, which were controlled with a switch.

The three tested configurations were:

Standard daytime running light
V formation


T formation

The rationale for these formations was that V and T formations should lead to earlier detection (attention and search conspicuity) especially at night, because there is more light for the observer to detect.

V and T formations should lead to earlier ‘no longer safe’ judgement especially at night. Because there is a greater ‘surface area’ for observers to use to make TTC (time to contact) judgement.
The data analysis will be finished in early 2014, and we'll report the results to you as soon as they are available.

Background information

This project started with literature review and report:

Summary of survey results

Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey about the Visibility Project report.

Here's a summary of responses to the questions

Your riding

  • 66% ride whenever you can, commuting and touring year-round
  • 21% ride mostly for fun, on weekends and holidays
  • 9% ride when the conditions are right, sticking to summer commuting and touring
  • 4% are strictly commuters, riding to and from work or school
  • The testing and validation work will be done in New Zealand, in real-life conditions on urban roads. Details about the testing process and sites will not be published until testing is completed, as we don’t want to risk skewing the results.

Your reading

  • 37% read the full report document
  • 25% read the Council summary
  • 23% read just bits of the report
  • 15% didn't read any of the documents

Do you use additional lights?

  • 27% of you DO use additional lighting on your bikes
  • 73% DON'T use additional lighting on your bikes 

Lights might make you more visible, but you’re not convinced about motorists’ ability to judge your distance and speed, even when you are well lit.

Many of the comments in this section of the survey mentioned that while additional lights can help, they are no use if motorists don’t take the time and care to look for motorcycles.

A few people raised the point that “additional” lights was a limiting concept, and other factors such as light type, colour, modulation and configuration should also be considered in any testing.

Hi-vis/reflective gear?

  • 39% never wear hi-vis/reflective gear
  • 33% sometimes wear it
  • 28% always wear it

Hi-vis/reflective gear is thought to be less likely than additional lighting to make your motorcycle more visible to motorists and to make your speed and distance easier to detect.

Response to email and survey

  • Email recipients: 889
  • Email open rate: 71%
  • Link click rate (from email to website): 53%
  • Surveys submitted: 189

You asked for it...

Here are a couple of points raised in the survey comments along with responses from Council.

I don't think it is your role to be looking for additional requirements to make compulsory so that the police have even more excuses to target motorcyclists. The NZTA needs no help in doing this. Increasing requirements and making more things illegal is business as usual for NZTA and the $30 levy is supposed to be for new initiatives which MotoNZ has utterly failed to identify, let alone deliver. Michael.

Thanks for your response.

It is not our objective to make additional requirements compulsory. It is our objective to provide motorcyclists with credible information from which they can make an informed objective decision for themselves about their safety. We consider the BRONZ statement "Education not legislation, saves lives" very apt for this project.
The work we are doing is strictly in accordance with the Terms of Reference we must abide by. The literature review identified areas that the Council could consider for further investigation as well as identifying areas not worthy of investigation. The initiative the Council chose is a new initiative.

There are some serious gaps in the literature surveyed in your report. In the interests of open debate you should publish the original database of papers examined - after all we paid for it. It is also a bit sad that you don't have enough confidence in the NZ academic community to have let people with a bit of local knowledge undertake this work. Nick.

Thanks for responding.

The database of papers is listed in on page 51 of the full visibility report.
We did not pre-judge any interventions. We were pleasantly surprised that the recommendations largely confirmed the view of the riding public and ourselves.
We did issue a tender for this work. The Council looks at a number of factors in determining the preferred supplier; while Council may have confidence in the local NZ academic community this is only one of the criteria considered.


Next steps

The trials concluded at the end of August 2013, the data has been analysed, and Council is now reviewing the findings.

You can read the literature reviews on interventions to improve motorcycle visibility and conspicuity here (scroll to the bottom of the page to read the PDF documents).