Cycle Lighting

Many lawyers, certainly in central London, cycle to their offices, chambers and courtrooms. These include eminent members of the senior judiciary, at least one of whom has been witnessed shooting a red traffic light. But none of us can cast the first stone.

Flashing lights

When I originally researched and wrote on this topic in 2003, use of flashing lights was not in fact legal. This was despite the fact that in an urban environment, bicycle lighting is not about seeing but about being seen. It’s about conspicuity, not about illumination. Being seen at night by other road users is a priority.

The detailed regulations, covering all motor vehicles (Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, as considerably amended, most recently in 2009) are fiendishly complex and little is served in an article of this nature by detailed citation or reference.

The fact is that in 2005 an exception was made to permit flashing lights on pedal cycles. This is the case as long as the lights flash between 60 and 240 times a minute.

Let us just summarise the present requirements. As to technical matters and compliance with British standards, I think we have to assume that modern manufactured products sold by reputable dealers will comply.

What lighting should you have?

  • A front position lamp: coloured white (or yellow if it is incorporated in a headlamp which is capable of emitting only a yellow light)
  • A rear position lamp: coloured red
  • A rear retro reflector: coloured red (there is no requirement for a front reflector although these are often supplied)
  • Pedal retro reflectors: Unless the bike was manufactured before 1 October 1985, there should be two pedal reflectors on each pedal, bearing a British standard mark and coloured amber. They appear to be the least visible or useful of all lighting devices but if one breaks, as they invariably do, given their position, you should replace it in order to remain within the law.

What lighting can you have?

  • An amber lamp attached to or incorporated in a pedal

What lighting can't you have?

  • A light to the rear except red
  • A light to the front which is red
  • Light of any colour except a reflected amber light attached to the wheels or tyres.

Consequences 

A police officer is unlikely to stop you for riding with no lights or wrong lights unless they have nothing else to do. However, defects or non-compliance may impact adversely in the event of attributing responsibility for a road incident.

You only need to be in a car behind an unlit or poorly lit cyclist at night to know that common sense should always prevail.

Bike lights recommendations

There is a vast choice of all sorts of lights with differing price ranges. There is no excuse for not complying with the law. It is worth going a little further without going over the top.

I recommend:

  • All legal reflectors
  • A fixed and large red rear light on the pannier rack
  • A flashing red rear light (two rows in different patterns) on the seat post
  • A fixed white front light
  • A flashing front light
  • It might also be worthwhile having a red light at the back of the helmet and wheel reflectors.

Don't:

  • Rely solely on lights attached to clothing
  • Have illuminated or flashing wheel lights, nice though that would be.

Author information

Richard Harrison is a partner at Laytons Solicitors LLP specialising in commercial litigation

richard.harrison@laytons.com

@richhaz

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