Brainy Bike Lights invention represents a 'breakthrough in road safety' for cyclists

Behavioural psychologist Crawford Hollingworth's lightbulb moment helps drivers spot cyclists more easily

It is a phrase familiar to many cyclists who have come a cropper on our roads and retained the ability to hear the words: "Sorry mate, I just didn't see you." But how could you not see a big lump of human right in front of your eyes? The answer: a fault in our brains that means, sometimes, even when there is eye contact, the image of a cyclist does not materialise before it's too late.

Crawford Hollingworth, an expert in behavioural psychology, is more used to devising smart ways for companies to sell us stuff. But as a cyclist, who – touch wood – has escaped serious injury on his daily commute across London, he had a lightbulb moment that set him down a different path.

"I was about to cross Hyde Park Corner, one of the junctions in the city that scares me most, and noticed the little bike on the special set of traffic lights," he says. "I suddenly thought, there it is, a symbol that everybody knows that could have the power to unlock the brain."

Two years later, Hollingworth has launched a set of bike lights he believes represent a breakthrough in road safety. They are startlingly simple and, in all ways but one, like any other bike lights – white at the front, red at the rear. The difference: a black stencil turns the super-bright LED light each device emits into an image of a person on a bike.

"It means a driver does not have to decide what a light or shape belongs to, because their brain gets that information milliseconds faster, hopefully giving them time to adjust their behaviour," Hollingworth explains. For a fast-moving – or swerving – lorry, fractions of seconds can equate to several metres between it and a cyclist.

Brainy Bike Lights are designed to trigger the same associations during the day as well as the night, although they will be most effective in the dark. To develop them, Hollingworth drew on his own work, as well as that of academics, to reveal the importance of understanding our cognitive flaws and the power of familiar, human symbols to overcome them.

Safety concerns: Cyclists ride in front of traffic in central London Safety concerns: Cyclists ride in front of traffic in central London
"There's a thing called priming," says Hollingworth, the co-founder of Behavioural Architects, a consultancy obsessed with the way consumers think. "For example, if you read literature embedded with words associated with ageing, such as 'tired' or 'achy', it subconsciously influences your behaviour – you might walk a bit slower. In the same way, a symbol of a bike with a human on it very quickly triggers associations with vulnerability."

Others have realised the same link. Brainy Bike Lights have a rival in Blaze, a light that throws a fluorescent laser image of a bicycle on to the road ahead. The AA, meanwhile, has issued free, transparent stickers featuring the cycle symbol for drivers to place on their wing mirrors. In a survey of more than 17,000 drivers as part of the motoring organisation's latest Think Bikes! campaign, 91 per cent admitted it was hard to see cyclists, while 55 per cent were "often surprised when a cyclist appears from nowhere".

"Our brains work on a subconscious level," Hollingworth adds. "We travel on autopilot, which is why we often have no memory of large parts of our journeys."

Inventors have applied similar psychology to other products. Children are more likely to brush their teeth properly when the toothbrush features a smiley face. Shoppers, meanwhile, have been shown to buy more cereal when a character on the box makes eye contact. "We've learned more about our brains in the past five years [than in] I don't know how long," Hollingworth says. "And any innovation has to be good if it also helps to save lives."

brainybikelights.com

Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

    £17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst / Helpdesk Support Analyst

    £16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is the UK's leading ...

    SThree: TRAINEE RECRUITMENT CONSULTANT - IT - LONDON

    £20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £50k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 bus...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there