Wintertime is upon us: check your lights are working
By James Dawton
How should a cyclist be lit? The law says that you need front and rear lights and reflectors to a British Standard (BS), and at the right height and position. There are rules about the speed of flashing lights as well. I also see a lot of motor vehicles with defective lights, so now is the time to check motor vehicle lights too.
Dynamos are legal. The small print says if you have dynamo lights that go out when you stop, you should stop at junctions etc by the kerb, not out in a right-hand lane for example. These days, any half-decent dynamo will have capacitor powered “standby” lights, which keep your lights on for up to 4-5 minutes when you stop.
You can also legally use “approved” lights that don’t meet BS regulations, so long as they don’t contravene any regulations and you have BS compliant lights on your bicycle. Most police officers would struggle to recognise a non-BS compliant light. Like the rest of us, they are more interested in you being visible. Most lights sold are not BS standard, but are still perfectly good for the job.
The best place for a rear light is on the back of a rack. If your rear light is under the seat, ensure it is higher than the top of the rear wheel, mud guard, carrier, or luggage, otherwise it will be hidden from view when seen from behind. If you are unsure, go a short distance behind your bike, crouch down to driver’s level and see if you can spot your rear light. If you have a long coat, or jacket, sit on it to prevent it hanging down and obscuring your rear light. Don’t fit rear lights to the seat stay as they are hard to see when viewed from many angles.
Ensure that front lights point straight forward and are level, or point slightly downward, and are not obscured by luggage in baskets. Always point extra bright lights down towards the road to avoid dazzling and annoying oncoming fellow cyclists and other road users, especially lights with a strobe flash.
To be legal, the light must be attached to the bicycle, not to bags or clothes. Lights attached to bags or clothes are often not visible because they point in the wrong direction, or are completely hidden by straps or folds in fabric. The same often happens with helmet lights. Be wary of those stretch-fit lights, which slip easily. The very compact ones with a tiny light are worse. Get something properly bright with a broad beam for side visibility. Having some reflective patches on the bike may also help drivers to see you.
The regulations state you need to be lit from sunset to sunrise. Sometimes it is quite dark long before sunset. My test is to look at other cyclists and pedestrians, if they are hard for me to see, I put my lights on.