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Can you see me in the dark?

Victoria Hazael's picture
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All cyclists can sometimes feel invisible on the road and in winter. So how can they be more visible to drivers? CTC's Victoria Hazael shares her thoughts on lights and hi-viz clothing.
Cycling in winter
How can you improve your visibility when it gets darker?

I’m faced with a bit of a conundrum: day-glo yellow just isn’t my colour, yet I feel the pressure to make myself as visible as possible when I ride on the dark and gloomy roads.

In an ideal world, motorists would just take extra care to look out for cyclists in the darker evenings, see my bright lights and not leave me feeling that I’m somehow to blame for not being painted head-to-toe in glow-in-the-dark paint.

As someone who uses their bike as a form of transport to get to work, the shops and visit friends, I like to arrive at my destination and blend in – this is obviously difficult when you are wearing a colour palette only found in ranges of highlighter pens. So what are the choices? How can I be seen on the winter roads?

I like to arrive at my destination and blend in – this is obviously difficult when you are wearing a colour palette only found in ranges of highlighter pens."

Lights

Just as it is harder to see a car with no headlights, it is difficult to notice a bike without lights. Lights are the best way to be seen in the dark on a bike and the law agrees. If you ride a bicycle on a UK public road between dusk and dawn there is a legal requirement for you use a white front light and a red rear light. Your cycle must also have a red rear reflector and amber pedal reflectors.

The lights must be marked as conforming to BS6102/3 or an equivalent EU standard. That’s assuming they emit (or can emit) a steady light, which most lights do. After years of campaigning by CTC, in 2005 it finally became legal to have flashing lights on your bike. However, whatever lights you choose you, do make sure your lights are bright enough (at least four candela).

The regulations on lighting for cycles are a bit of a mess as it stands. A rechargeable set-up that lights up the night with 80 Watts of brilliance? Illegal. A dynamo lighting set that goes out completely when you stop? Legal. That little blinky LED? Might be legal, might not.

The good news is that the police sensibly turn a blind eye: if you’ve got reasonable lights and they’re the right colour, then they’re content. The bad news is that a lawyer might take a different view. If you were in an crash at night and were using ‘unapproved’ lights, the lawyer could try to make a case for contributory negligence. You can legally use unapproved lights in addition to approved ones. You just need one front and one rear light that is legal.

The main thing to remember is don’t get caught out without your lights: always carry spare small lights in case your main lights are not working and if your lights need batteries, chuck a few spares in your bag or pannier.  

Hi-viz

Thankfully, there is no law in the UK to insist we all wear hi-viz, so you can still wear what you like on a bike. This is not the case if you are cycling in France, Spain and Italy too, where it is compulsory to wear a fluorescent ‘gilet’ if you’re on your bike outside built-up areas in the dark or in poor visibility.

CTC believes there is simply not enough research into the effectiveness of wearing of fluorescent or reflective clothing to warrant a law demanding that all cyclists to wear it all the time. I think it is ludicrous to imply that if a cyclist is involved in a crash and is not wearing hi-viz, they are somehow to blame. It implies that all pedestrians should have to wear hi-viz too!

Personally, I don't cycle in dark colours and normally have bright - yet normal colours on. For longer rides, I do wear my bright blue cycling jacket. But for short journeys, my bag/panniers have some reflective star stickers and I have a woolly hat that is reflective too.

Cycle training

Don't forget that cycle training can also help you see and be seen by other road users by helping you to understand how to position yourself on the road for maximum visibility.

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