UBC Okanagan research has found that high-visibility vests with arrows may curb traffic accidents and cyclist fatalities.
Gordon Lovegrove, a UBC Okanagan associate professor in the School of Engineering, and industry collaborator Takuro Shoji, conducted road tests with cyclists in Kelowna between 2016 and 2017.
According to Lovegrove, the tests were done to determine the role communication plays in the safety of vulnerable road users.
For the initial road test, a total of 25 participants either wore the high-vis clothing they usually wear or a proprietary visibility vest called ArroWhere with an arrow design directing traffic away from pedestrians and cyclists.
The participants rode bikes equipped with inertial sensors, proximity sensors, and video recorders, all of which monitored rider position in relation to passing traffic separation and distance.
Before and after the rides, they also filled out surveys about their perceived safety and comfort.
“We were curious to find out if communication aids like signage could possibly be more important than visibility aids like reflectors,” Lovegrove said.
According to the study, the results of the initial road test suggested that riders felt safer wearing ArroWhere and that passing cars drove by in a safer manner.
The researchers then conducted an online survey with 103 participants and another in-field test, where a total of 85 participants rode a two-kilometer stretch of urban collector in a bike lane, wearing ArroWhere designs.
The overall results, which were published this month in the journal Sustainability, indicated that traffic provided wider berths when the riders were wearing reflective apparel with an arrow symbol.
“It’s funny that sometimes small visual cues for drivers can have a big impact,” Lovegrove said. “Drivers have the narrowest margin of error in traffic environments due to the masses they control and the speeds at which they travel.”
Visibility is key to reducing vehicle-cyclist collisions, Lovegrove said, however, “evidence suggests that current conspicuity aids cannot provide sustainable safety in their current form, and a more optimal design is needed.”
“Until improved infrastructure networks are fully funded and completed, we hypothesize that communication aids are equally, if not more important, than visibility aids for (vulnerable road user) safety.”