New motorcycle lighting design could improve visibility, save countless lives

HOUSTON — Motorcycles may be sleek and stylish, but they’re also undeniably dangerous. The average motorcycle driver is an astounding 27 times more likely to be killed in an accident than a passenger car driver. Riding on a motorcycle is especially dangerous at night; evening driving accounts for nearly half of all fatal crashes. Now, new research from Rice University reports a reimagined motorcycle lighting configuration could potentially revolutionize motorcycle safety in a surprising way.

This new lighting setup — six lights running from the top to the bottom of the motorcycle rather than a single headlight — may help improve other motorists’ abilities to see approaching motorcycles on the road.

“Because motorcycles are smaller than many other vehicles, it is more difficult for other drivers to accurately judge their motion on the roadway,” says lead study author Bradley Weaver, a human factors engineer and researcher at Emory Healthcare who performed his doctoral dissertation on the topic, in a statement. “It is particularly difficult at night when a motorcycle has only a single headlight because other drivers can’t see the motorcycle’s full height or width.”

According to researchers’ analyses, the improved lighting setup could result in other motorists being able to see motorcycles on the road up to 0.8 seconds faster. That may not seem like a whole lot of time, but fractions of a second matter when it comes to car collisions and road accidents.

“Just under a second might not seem like a lot, but reducing a driver’s response time to a potential collision can make a difference between life and death,” adds DeLucia, a professor of psychological sciences who conducts human factors research, particularly related to transportation and health care.

The research team recruited a total of 35 people between ages 19 and 70 years old to participate in a laboratory driving simulation. Study authors assessed and measured how quickly the participants saw motorcycles with various enhanced lighting configurations illuminating the full height and width of the vehicle.

Each new lighting design improved response times when compared with a single headlight, but participants reacted the fastest to the six light configuration.

The study is published in Transportation Research Part F Traffic Psychology and Behaviour.

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