There was a great post on the Team Estrogen board that I frequent. Someone asked about lights while commuting and which were the best, etc. A board member from Seattle posted some great information that I thought was worthwhile to share.
“A group of us got together here in Seattle and did a little night time testing with a variety of lights and reflective equipment. My impressions from that session
Very bright lights are not necessarily any safer – if you are blinding drivers it actually makes YOU harder to see – as all the drivers can see is a small bright point of light and the rider behind gets entirely lost (as does any signal you might be making)… They are great to see by, but if you choose to use one, be very careful where you point it… (and for petes sake if you ride on a bike trail don’t blind other riders with it! turn it down or away from the faces of other people)
Helmet mounting your reasonably bright lights makes them very easy to control – you can put the light where you need it and you can briefly “flash” drivers to get their attention.
Flashing lights say bike all over (this can be good or bad…) and they are more eye catching than steady lights. Just be sure your flashing taillight is not obstructed by any bags or baggage you might be carrying and make sure the batteries are fresh enough that your light is still bright. If you have an old red LED, it may be time to invest in a new one – the new ones are much brighter and more noticeable. Those little blinky valve stem lights were a big surprise. They actually worked very well.
Over everything else reflective items make you noticeable. This was surprising to me. I figured good bright lights and lots of them would trump any reflective materials – Nope! The most eye catching thing anyone had that night was one of those standard dorky orange and yellow strap on traffic triangles… Reflective piping and patches on clothing – especially parts that move a lot, like your feet and legs are very good. Colored reflective materials were more effective than plain silver. One guy had his bike covered in orange reflective tape – he was very visible. Tires with reflective sidewalls looked very good from the side, which is often a hard angle to be properly lit from.
Lastly have someone ride your bike – then you can see just how visible you are and see if anything needs to change. I added a whole bunch of reflective tape and sew on strips to my messenger bag after the session.”
I will probably invest in another roll of reflective tape as I’m paranoid about not being seen on the road.