Legal requirements for lights when cycling in the dark

Legal requirements for lights when cycling in the dark

As the days grow shorter lights are an absolute essential purchase if you are going to continue using your bike for daily journeys, commuting to work or even just to make the most of your free time in the evenings.

Riding in the dark can be really good fun, it is certainly not something to be afraid of. Modern bike lights are incredibly bright, easy to charge and quick to fit so there isn’t an excuse to hang your bike up until spring.

Bike lights don’t just help you to see the road, they also help other road users and pedestrians see you. Using lights and reflectors on your bike at night is a legal requirement. According to the UK’s Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations (RVLR), a white light must be showing from the front of your bike and a red light from the rear. The main points of RVLR are as follows:

  • Lights and reflectors are required on a pedal cycle only between sunset and sunrise.
  • Lights and reflectors are not required when the cycle is stationary or being pushed along the roadside.
  • When they are required, the lights and reflectors listed below must be clean and working properly.

Rule 60 of the Highway Code states:

 “At night your cycle MUST have white front and red rear lights lit. It MUST also be fitted with a red rear reflector (and amber pedal reflectors, if manufactured after 1/10/85). White front reflectors and spoke reflectors will also help you to be seen. Flashing lights are permitted but it is recommended that cyclists who are riding in areas without street lighting use a steady front lamp.”

 

Choosing the right lights

Front Lights

At least one lamp is required, showing a white light, positioned centrally or offside (the right-hand side of the bike), up to 1500mm from the ground, aligned towards and visible from the front. If capable of emitting a steady light, it must be marked as conforming to BS6102/3 or an equivalent EC standard. If capable of emitting only a flashing light, it must emit at least 4 candelas.

Do you know what a candelas is? Not many people do! 1 candela approximates to 12 lumens, the more commonly used term by light manufacturers. If you only have small flashing rear lights you most likely will need two – both by law and for your own safety.

Rear light

One is required, to show a red light, positioned centrally or offside (the right-hand side of the bike), between 350mm and 1500mm from the ground, at or near the rear, aligned towards and visible from behind. If capable of emitting a steady light it must be marked as conforming to BS3648, or BS6102/3, or an equivalent EC standard. If capable of emitting only a flashing light, it must emit at least 4 candelas. 

Rear lights have lower lumens than the white front light as our eyes react differently to them. To our eyes a 50-lumen rear light has similar brightness as a 200-lumen front light.

Reflectors

A white front and red rear reflector is required alongside lights. Some lights have reflectors built into them which solves the need for lights and reflectors.

Understanding the rules

Much of the wording around light use is far behind the technology of light manufacturers or the products that cyclists are using in the real world, for example pedal reflectors. If you’re going to ride your bicycle in the dark then four pedal reflectors are required; coloured amber, marked BS6102/2 (or equivalent), and positioned so that one is plainly visible to the front and another to the rear of each pedal. Most after-market pedals cyclists use won’t allow you to fix pedal reflectors to them so, technically, they should not be used in the dark and using them at night is illegal. If you’re involved in a crash this could count as contributory negligence.

However, you can take practical steps to make sure your bike is visible from all angles. Reflective ankle and wrist bands like these can help your side on visibility, it also helps to make indications clear and the movement of your feet aids other road users in their assessment of your speed and distance.

Flashing Lights

For a long time, there was no mention in the regulations regarding flashing lights, mainly because when the original regulations were drawn up they didn’t exist! The 2005 RVLR amendment means that it is now legal to have a flashing light on a pedal cycle, provided it flashes between 60 and 240 times per minute (1 – 4Hz). The amendment also allows a single flashing light so long as it meets the minimum brightness standards.

 

Other things to consider

We think having a back-up front and rear light on your bike is a great idea as you never know when a battery might suddenly go flat or a light become damaged. Also, whilst we will cover clothing for night time visibility in another feature, we think it’s a good idea to attach a red light to the rear of your clothing or your rucksack, just in case you get separated from your bike in an accident or if you are pushing your bike for any reason.

It’s not just about meeting legal requirements, we should do everything we reasonably can to make ourselves as visible as possible, Paul Darlington, Consultant Solicitor, says

“When it comes to being seen on the road, there really is no room for chance.

There’s a general tendency to assume that we are more conspicuous than we really are but as we see in our work, the aftermath of road traffic collisions involving cyclists can be devastating. However visible you are, the driver’s eyesight and brain still has a lot of work to do for you to be perceived, seen and reacted to in a limited amount of time. I’m supportive of doing anything you can do to reduce the time it takes the driver to make that connection and be fully aware of your presence.”

A good set of lights is an investment in your safety and cycling enjoyment so you can feel confident to carry on riding your bike all the way through the winter months!