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Strategies to Increase Rider Conspicuity and Use of Protective Clothing

Effectiveness: 1 Star Cost: Varies
Use: High
Time: Medium

Motorcycle riders should wear clothing that provides both protection and visibility. FMVSS 218 helmets (See Countermeasure “Universal Motorcycle Helmet Use Laws”) with face shields protect the eyes from wind and foreign objects in addition to protecting heads in crashes (Brewer et al., 2013). Well-constructed jackets, pants, boots, and gloves can prevent abrasions and bruises. If made of impact-resistant materials, they even may prevent arm and leg fractures or serious torso and spinal cord injuries (NHTSA, 2000). The benefits of protective clothing, in particular protective clothing equipped with body armor, was further confirmed by a series of studies of Australian motorcyclists involved in crashes (de Rome et al., 2011; de Rome et al., 2012).

A common perception among riders is that a frequent cause of motorcycle crashes involving other vehicles is that other vehicle drivers do not see the motorcycles. The 1981 Hurt et al. (1981) study from the United States and a 2007 study from the United Kingdom (Clarke et al., 2007) report that right-of-way collisions involving other motorists are more frequently the fault of the other motorists. Failure of the other motor vehicle driver to perceive the motorcyclist seems to occur in a significant portion of these types of crashes. One easy way to increase motorcycle conspicuity is through continuous headlight use. Most motorcycles manufactured since 1979 have headlights that turn on automatically when the vehicle is started (Potts et al., 2008, Strategy D2). Additionally, 24 States require daytime headlight use for all motorcycles manufactured after a certain date (all at least 20 years ago) (MSF, 2020). However, the increasing prevalence of passenger vehicles using continuous headlights may reduce the visibility and effectiveness of motorcycle headlights (Cavallo & Pinto, 2012).

A second way to increase conspicuity is to wear brightly colored clothing, use white or bright- colored helmets (for increased visibility during daylight), and incorporate retroreflective materials or devices (for increased visibility at night). Research studies confirm that motorcyclists wearing conspicuous clothing or helmets are less likely to be involved in crashes (Wells et al., 2004; Potts et al., 2008, Strategy D1). However, many riders choose not to wear brightly colored clothing or riding gear.

Additional technology such as auxiliary head and brake lights, flashing headlights, and other vehicle technologies enhance conspicuity, but the effects on crashes have not been studied. Adoption of these technologies may be useful to promote among the motorcycling community, may require changes in laws if visibility enhancing technologies are restricted by States, and may also involve working with manufacturers and producers of motorcycles and auxiliary devices (Potts et al., 2008).

Communications and outreach campaigns promoting protective and conspicuous clothing have been conducted by States and by motorcyclist organizations. Some States also teach the benefits of using high-visibility clothing in their training programs. Potts et al. (2008, Strategy D1) provide examples of material from Oregon and the MSF and references to additional material from the SMSA, and the Gold Wing Road Riders Association.


As of 2008 of the 44 States responding to a survey question, 33 reported encouraging conspicuity-enhancing clothing and helmets to enhance motorcyclists’ visibility (Baer et al., 2010). The extent or nature of these efforts is unknown. There are no data on how many motorcycle riders wear various types of protective clothing (other than helmets) or use auxiliary devices. Helmet manufacturers and distributors report that more than half the helmets sold for street use are black and the predominant color of motorcycle clothing is black (Potts et al., 2008, Strategy D1).


The use of high-visibility clothing and protective gear enhances safety. There is some limited evidence to suggest that a program aimed at increasing conspicuous and protective clothing would be successful. An Australian study found that the observed proportion of riders wearing full body protection increased in the month following an enforcement/educational campaign with an emphasis on conspicuous and protective clothing (among other safety issues). However, it is unclear whether any real safety benefits were sustained (Baldock et al., 2012).

In Puerto Rico, changes to motorcycle safety laws were accompanied by an outreach effort to inform motorcyclists about the changes and to encourage compliance. In response, motorcyclists adopted the practice of wearing protective clothing, and law enforcement officers expressed that riders appeared to be aware of the law and expected to be stopped and cited for infractions (Fell et al., 2017). Four years after enactment of the law, observations of motorcyclists found that more than 80% of motorcyclists wore protective apparel, and 68% of riders wore reflective vests after 6 pm in compliance with the law.


Good communications and outreach campaigns can be expensive to develop and implement. Information promoting protective and conspicuous clothing is available from various sources including MSF, other motorcyclist organizations, and States that have conducted these campaigns (Potts et al., 2008, Strategy D1).

Time to implement:

A proper campaign, including market research, message development and testing, and implementation, will require at least 6 months to plan and implement.

Other considerations:

Thermal discomfort: While some protective gear is vented and designed to mitigate overheating, some motorcyclists may avoid wearing protective clothing in hot weather. Riding in hot weather while wearing protective clothing has been shown to elevate body core and skin temperature and cardiovascular stress, leading to increased reaction time, errors, perceived workload, and mood disturbances (de Rome et al., 2016; de Rome & Brown, 2016; de Rome, 2019).