How does hi vis clothing work? Biomotion indicators explained
Health and Safety, Products

How does hi vis clothing work? Biomotion indicators explained

clock-circular-outline Posted 11 May 2023

Have you ever wondered at the science behind hi vis design? What sets a conforming hi vis jacket apart from a non-conforming one, when they might look very similar to the untrained eye? In this blog, we look at the concept of biomotion indicators, and explain how they are used in hi vis design to maximise safety…

What are biomotion indicators?

Biomotion indicators is the name given to the parts of the human body that – when moving – automatically and subconsciously identify to the brain that the object being viewed is a human being.

They are used by hi vis workwear and PPE manufacturers to design hi vis jackets, hi vis trousers and hi vis vests that increase the wearer’s visibility – consciously and subconsciously – to those around them.

How do biomotion indicators work?

The human brain is designed to instinctively recognise motion, especially that of other human beings.

There are certain key parts of the body that, when viewed in motion, automatically register with the subconscious mind. These are biomotion points. The pattern created by these biomotion points enables us to quickly identify whether something is:

  • Animate or inanimate
  • Human or animal
  • Male or female

It also helps us to determine the mood and intentions of that moving person or animal.

Designing hi vis clothing with retro-reflective material placed to highlight these biomotion points enhances these natural instincts and leverages the powerful associated reactions they provoke within us to keep us safe.

Hi vis clothing designed with biomotion indicators in mind makes the wearer most likely to be seen in daylight and at night, which is especially important for logistics and transport professionals required to share a work environment with moving vehicles.

Biomotion indicators and hi vis clothing: What does the science say?

Research has found pedestrians wearing hi vis clothing with reflective material placed to follow the human form and highlight those areas of the body that move most, such as the forearms and lower legs – are much more likely to be seen by drivers than those without anything highlighting those biomotion points – even if they are wearing reflective material elsewhere on their person.

A study conducted by Clemson University in South Carolina, USA, found drivers’ response times were maximised when biomotion points were highlighted, even if the reflective material strip used in those locations was relatively thin, and at a height out of the immediate glare of headlights, such as at shoulder height.

Reactions were quickest when pedestrians were both moving and wearing retroreflective treatments highlighting the form of their body, but stationary pedestrians were also easier to spot when their biomotion points were highlighted.

Hi vis clothing: Standards

Conforming hi vis clothing is tested according to the standard EN 20471, which sets out minimum amounts of fluorescent and retro-reflective materials that may be used, and the size and location of reflective strips on different garments.

These are not arbitrary rules – the science shows these factors make a big difference to how visible someone is to a fellow human being.

The best hi vis manufacturers go beyond these minimum standards, seeking to maximise safety by experimenting with and innovating new designs based on scientific research into biomotion indicators. Drawing on humans’ natural visual sensitivity to patterns of motion, they are doing whatever they can improve how quickly and easily the wearer is seen by others in crucial situations.

This innovation and experimentation is vital, because even the smallest gain in speed of reaction time increases the likelihood of lives being saved on the ground. 

View our range of hi vis workwear and PPE in our online shop.

By Nick Grinnell

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