Motorcycle Safety > Do Daytime Running Lights Make Motorcycles Safer?

Do Daytime Running Lights Make Motorcycles Safer?


We all know how often I have to listen to a careless driver claiming that they didn’t see the motorcycle. This ridiculous claim is made by drivers who are texting, deep in discussion with passengers, practically asleep, or simply not paying attention.

In reality, if you look at a motorcycle, you can’t help but see it. They aren’t invisible.

The most visible part of a motorcycle, at least in the day, is the daytime running light that has been required for the last 30 years. Every time the motorcycle runs, the headlight must be on.

As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for you?”.

Well, I came across an interesting NHTSA study from 2008 that studied the effects of daytime running lights on passenger vehicles. They looked at three types of crashes – two passenger crashes excluding rear enders, vehicle crashes with pedestrians and cyclists, and single passenger vehicle to motorcycle crashes. They considered fatal accidents, less than fatal serious accidents, and all severity accidents.

As background, a study in Europe found that 37% of the accidents involving a motorcycle and another vehicle were caused by the driver of the other vehicle failing to detect the motorcycle.

I won’t bother to critique the quality of the NHTSA study, because the results seem to be the same in the few studies that have been done on this issue. Bottom line? The researchers found that there was little evidence to support the belief that a single daytime running light significantly reduced accidents in any of the injury categories. There was a slight reduction, less than 6%, on accidents involving light trucks and vans.

In their conclusions, the authors of the study suggested that additional yellow lights, like turn signal lights, would be more effective than a single headlight. There was not an adequate analysis of how brightness affected the effectiveness of the running lights.

The study did note that most daytime running lights on motorcycles are low beams. They asserted that these are not sufficiently bright enough to significantly reduce the number of accidents. They felt that this was particularly true on bright days. They also found that the low beams were ineffective at highway speeds and greater. They concluded that the lights are more effective on cloudy days and near dawn and dusk.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, motorists aren’t paying enough attention. Distracted driving and mindless operation of vehicles continues to cause more than a third of accidents between cars and motorcycles. While the study suggest bright yellow auxiliary lights, it fails to provide hard statistical evidence of motorcycles being safer because they use those hypothetical systems.

I found the results of the study astounding, because in fact, it is impossible not to see a motorcycle. A motorcycle with a headlight on, even during the day, is just that much easier to see. I have to believe that with the brighter lights on newer bikes, we will see increased effectiveness from daytime running lights. It will be interesting to see the studies as the newer lights become the norm.

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  • Thomas Smith
    December 27, 2019 at 8:47 am

    GL1800 ? There’s your problem. Too damn big and cumbersome

  • Bobog
    January 20, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    I believe the premise that other drivers see motorcycles is incorrect. They (usually) see other cars, trucks and buses but often do not see, or at least their brains do register seeing, motorcycles or trains effectively rendering them invisible. Maybe you can miss a bike if you are inattentive but how on earth do you not see a train?

    I installed a headlight modulator on my Goldwing and in town, ride with the high beams and fog lights on. The low beams and fogs are on and the high beams modulate. This is intentionally annoying and I have not had a single instance of another driver turning left in front of me or pulling out in front of me. I want to be noticed and this seems to work. The occasional finger or flash back is fine with me.

    I have also seen green coloured ‘fog’ lights which are also very effective at attracting the eye but I imagine non-standard lighting colours would not be welcome in all jurisdictions. Nearly anything seems to go here in Alberta.

    BTW, I also installed Wig-Wag brake light modulators and extra bright LED brake light bulbs and notice vehicles stopping behind me are now 6 – 10 feet farther back than they were before the change.

    While “I didn’t see him” is not a valid defense in a collision, if I am dead it doesn’t really matter. I try to improve my odds of being seen whenever I ride.

    Regards, Bobog

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