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Motorcycle Factors: Conspicuity Table of ContentsHomenhtsa

Introduction to Motorcycles

Motorcycle Design


Vehicle Modifications


Lane Use


Motorcyclists who are conspicuous are under-represented in crashes.

A common complaint of street riders is that other motorists fail to observe them. Motorists who violate motorcyclists’ right-of-way frequently state, “I didn’t see him,” or “He came out of nowhere” (Hurt, 1981).

The problem of other motorists failing to observe motorcyclists apparently exists on several levels (see Motorist Awareness, page 31). An important Hurt Report finding was that conspicuous motorcycles and riders were less likely to have their right-of-way violated by other vehicles.

A variety of recognized tactics exists to make motorcycles and their riders more conspicuous: lighting, surface color and size, and rider traffic strategy.

Lighting factors include:

• Since 1979, most motorcycles sold in the United States have been equipped with automatic-on headlamps to meet some state requirements. This seems to have been an effective method of making them more conspicuous and reducing right-of-way violations. Currently, 86 percent of motorcycles on the road have their headlights on during daytime (Turner, 2000).

• Using the high beam of a motorcycle’s headlight during the day also helps to prevent violations of the motorcyclist’s right-of-way (Hurt, 1981).

• In the cruising and touring categories, auxiliary headlights, usually of reduced wattage, are gaining popularity. Many sportbikes are equipped with dual headlights.

• Recently, some automobiles have started using daytime running lamps (DRL), which may reduce the effectiveness of motorcycle automatic-on headlamps.

• Headlight modulators, which cause the light to alternate between a higher and a lower intensity during the day, also increase conspicuity (Hurt, 1981). Headlight modulators are federally regulated lighting devices and as such, all state laws governing them are preempted. Motorcycle headlight modulators have not been studied to determine their effects on other motorists.

• Many modern street bikes are equipped with position lamps in their front turn signals. This may help other motorists to identify the vehicle as a motorcycle and to better judge its distance and speed.

• Few motorcycles have more than single-point rear lighting, though multiple lights at the rear would seem to offer similar benefits and also provide redundancy for the single taillight.

The color of and equipment on a motorcycle can play a significant conspicuity role.

• Motorcycles equipped with additional frontal bodywork (fairings which protect the rider from wind and weather) were found to be under-represented in crashes where motorists violated the motorcyclist’s right-of-way. The larger the fairing and the brighter the color, the more effective it seemed to be in preventing other vehicles’ right-of-way violations (Hurt, 1981).

• During the period of study for the Hurt Report, most fairings were aftermarket accessories added to motorcycles for touring comfort. By the late 1980s, most manufacturers offered some motorcycles with fairings as original equipment. In addition, most sportbikes have smaller, more aerodynamic fairings, that tend to be more brightly colored and often have elaborate graphic designs. Whether the newer sport-style fairings have a significant effect on conspicuity is not known.

• One of the easiest and most effective ways for a motorcyclist to be seen by other motorists is by wearing brightly colored, upper-torso cloth-ing and/or retro-reflective material. However, only a minority of motorcyclists choose such brightly colored apparel, whether for fashion or other reasons.

• Social and fashion pressures are apparently a powerful reason for not wearing brightly colored clothing. Although sportbike riders, who imitate racers, have largely accepted bright colors, the larger cruiser category chooses apparel in almost nothing but inconspicuous black. Other categories often choose other hard-to-see colors such as gray, beige, and other neutral colors. The olive-drab and camouflage apparel that the Hurt Report found over-represented in the typical right-of-way-violation crash is still worn.

• Manufacturers and distributors of helmets confirm that more than half of the motorcycle helmets sold for street use in the United States are black, which seems to be chosen primarily for fashion.

Rider traffic strategy strongly affects visibility (see Rider Education & Training, page 17 and Lane Use, page 51).


We want motorcyclists to be aware of how conspicuity issues affect their safety and prepare accordingly.

We would like states to reconsider regulations that prohibit proven and safe conspicuity-enhancing modifications to lighting systems.


Education of motorcyclists to overcome their resistance to employing conspicuity strategies is needed. Protective apparel manufacturers can help by promoting conspicuity in their advertising and in their apparel designs. Efforts that focus on peer acceptance of conspicuous colors are also suggested.

Research is needed into the matters of conspicuity and why motorcyclists are overlooked by other motorists. Programs should be implemented based on the findings to correct this.

• Research that explores the reasons why drivers fail to observe motorcyclists despite attempts to be more visible should be a high priority.

• Information about specific high-conspicuity colors and the uniqueness of applying them to specific locations on the bike or rider would be useful to riders seeking greater conspicuity.

• DRL usage on cars may influences the environment and effectiveness of motorcycle automatic-on headlamps and warrants investigation.

• Motorcycle lighting should be studied to find safe ways to increase conspicuity and enhance recognition during the day and at night.


• Conduct research to determine why other motorists fail to see and identify motorcyclists and implement countermeasures.

• Encourage motorcyclists to enhance their conspicuity.

• Encourage manufacturers to make motorcycle apparel and parts conspicuous.

• Reconsider state requirements that prohibit safe conspicuity-enhancing modifications, including safe modification to lighting systems.

• Conduct research on the effect of automobile DRL on motorcycle safety.

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