As cyclists look for greater visibility on the road, they’ve tended to go for bigger, brighter, flashier lights. But, truth be told, it’s not always helped. Despite a long-term fall in bike accidents in U.S. cities, cyclists are still being injured and killed with alarming regularity.
Could it be that we’re thinking about lights the wrong way? Inventor Crawford Hollingworth thinks so. His theory is that standard lights get lost in a blizzard of other beams on the road, and therefore lose their effect. Drivers don’t respond as they might, because from 50 feet away bike lights look like car lights or street lamps.
Instead of a flat beam, Hollingworth’s new Brainy Bike Lights harness the power of symbols. They’re bike lights shaped like a person-on-a-bike, so other road-users really know what they’re dealing with.
“The symbol of the bike primes drivers to ‘think bike’ and to make associations with the person on the bike and their presence and progress along the road,” Hollingworth says at his website.
See a video demonstration here:
In fact, Hollingworth does have a background in behavioral science, so he understands about priming and symbols. And the Brainy Bike Lights have been tested in a lab at no less an institution than Oxford University, in the U.K. On average, the study showed, drivers reacted 100 milliseconds quicker to the symbol than to a standard light, which is about four feet for a car traveling at 30 MPH.
Drivers were also less likely to confuse cyclists for something else. “The performance advantage of the Brainy Bike Lights over traditional bike lights was also observed in terms of fewer misses and fewer misidentification errors, (i.e. misidentifying the bike lights as non-bike lights) in the speeded discrimination task,” the study says.
The drawback is the lights are designed more for visibility than for illumination. Hollingworth recommends adding conventional lights on routes without overhead help, though he insists that shouldn’t be necessary in cities. “In my view, the biggest issue in cities full of light clutter is being seen, not illuminating the road,” he says in an email.