Conspicuity is the word used by motorcycle experts to describe a level or degree of visual prominence, the likelihood of being seen by other drivers, the act of being conspicuous.

Based on concerns about conspicuity, virtually all states have laws that require motorcycle headlights to be illuminated anytime the bike is ridden on public roadways. For the same reason, most cars now have daytime running lights also. With motorcycle lights and chrome, it would be hard to argue in good faith that an approaching motorcycle of any kind would not be immediately noticed. Nevertheless, that argument is repeatedly made in motorcycle injury trials by insurance employed lawyers attempting to convince jurors to give careless drivers a pass after the driver has pulled out and caused a crash and serious injury to an unsuspecting motorcyclist.

As a motorcycle attorney, I have seen "Conspicuity" to be intentionally mis-used by insurance company experts and lawyers. They argue to the jury that the lack of reflective clothing on the motorcyclist is an excuse for the jury to shift blame to the innocent motorcyclist who was injured in a crash when the insured at-fault driver pulled out in front of the cyclist. Ignoring basic common sense, if motorcyclists dressed themselves in blaze orange and taped up their bikes in a manner countenanced by unscrupulous insurance industry courtroom advocates, we would all look like idiots-- dressed as moving street signs and probably diverting enough attention to actually cause accidents instead of avoiding them.

In almost every motorcycle collision case (if the offending car or truck driver is honest), the at-fault driver will admit that he looked right at the approaching motorcycle and pulled out anyway. The collision happens because drivers are conditioned to look for approaching cars and trucks, not motorcycles, bikes, or pedestrians. At an intersection, the driver's visual filtering process, occuring at a subconscious level in the brain, excludes motorcycles the same as it does approaching pedestrians and bikes.

The filtering process is a learned response acquired by experienced drivers. Generally pedestrians and bikes that are 50 or 100 feet away do not present a hazard to the driver who pulls out, and since a motorcycle is closer in appearance to a bicycle, the driver's brain instinctively puts a motorcycle in the "non-threat" category.

If the motorcycle is approaching at 40 miles per hour, it is travelling almost 60 feet each second. Experts agree that the time it takes for anyone to perceive and react to an unexpected emergency is a second and a half, or more. When the offending driver suddenly pulls into the motorcyclist's path and the cyclist is within a hundred feet of the point of impact, it is not unusual that the motorcylist never has a chance to even brake or swerve.

The learning point of conspicuity discussion is therefore to remember that no matter how obvious your motorcycle approach may be, the driver on any sidestreet may look right at you and pull out anyway. Making eye contact is useless for crash avoidance, because the other driver's brain may not be registering the significance of what his eyes are seeing. The rule is therefore to assume that all drivers may pull out. Cover your brake and watch for any sign that his wheels are moving or turning in your direction. And for approaching vehicles, also watch for the telltale hood dropping as the vehicle slows immediately prior to turning to cross your path.

If another vehicle unexpectedly crosses your path, the collision will certainly be his fault, but it will be the you, the motorcyclist, who pays the price in the form of serious injury or death. Regardless of what a dishonest courtroom "expert" may say after the fact, the cause of the accident will not be the fact that you didn't have reflective tape strapped across your chest. However, bright colors won't hurt your chances of survival either, so do not hesitate to dress conspicuously and enjoy the ride.