Why aren't bikes required to use lights at all times?

Bikes are harder to see than motorcycles, which according to the NC DMV website have their headlights on all the time because the headlight comes on automatically when the engine is running.  Bikes are much harder to see than cars, which have lights on at night, unlike most bikes I see.  (Since most bikes I see at night don’t have lights I didn’t even know it was a law for bikers to use lights at night until someone on this site told me recently.)  And the consequences of not seeing a bike are much more severe.  Considering all that, and since bikers are both allowed and encouraged to use the same roads as cars and motorcycles, why aren’t bikes required to use lights at all times?


Here is what motivated me to write this.  The following all refers to the 0.1 mile stretch of South Columbia St between where it intersects with Mason Farm Rd (the next intersection south from where South Columbia St intersects Manning Drive) and where Old Pittsboro Rd veers off of South Columbia St 0.1 miles southward.


Last Wednesday (Jun 18) I was driving north on South Columbia St at 8:00 pm about to make the sharp left onto Old Pittsboro Rd.  I’ve grown accustomed to watching closely for bikers in the right of the lane I am driving in but I hadn’t considered bikers coming from the other direction.  I almost started turning left in front of him but at the last second I saw the biker coming in the opposite lane.  He didn’t have a headlight on.  It was only 8:00 so only a few cars had lights on at the time.


The next day, Thursday, I was walking home southward on South Columbia St heading towards Old Pittsboro Rd at 8:35 pm.  It was much closer to dark and most cars had their lights on.  A bike zipped past me, on the road, and I couldn’t tell whether he had a headlight but he definitely did not have a taillight.


The next day, Friday, I was walking again home southward on South Columbia St towards Old Pittsboro Dr in that same stretch at 8:15 pm.  A biker was coming north.  I didn’t see a headlight but I did look as he passed and saw a taillight.


Two days later, on Sunday, I was waiting to pull out of Old Pittsboro Rd and onto South Columbia St and there was a biker going south.  It was 4:35 pm.  He had no lights on.  Yeah, it was 4:35 pm but it was dark and cloudy and about to rain.  I had my car headlights on and about half the cars I saw during my trip had their headlights on too.


And then tonight, Thur Jun 26, I was walking home southward down that same stretch at 9:10 pm and a bike went past without a headlight or taillight.  It was almost completely dark by then.  I couldn’t even see it was 9:10 until I walked 100 feet further so I could see my watch under a streetlight.

 I started to ask myself the question of why bikers ride without lights when it’s either dusk or night and why they can get away with it but then I came up with what I consider a better question, which I stated at the start.  Why aren’t bikes required to have lights on at all time?  If bikers were required to use lights all the time then not only would they be easier to see in the daytime but they’d already have their lights on when the occasional dark afternoon clouds roll in like on Sunday.  And they wouldn’t have to remember to turn their lights on when dusk comes around.  And they wouldn’t be on the roads without lights when it’s dark or almost all the way dark, like tonight.



You seem to be very passionate about cyclists sharing the road. You seem to spend much time writing about it. Why not lobby our public servents  for change?

Any biker who rides in this town without lights at night is not thinking of their own safety.  As a bike advocate, I think riding with lights at night is vital.

I think if bikes could see themselves at night (and see how invisible they are), they would run right out and get a light.  The problem, however, is that lights (much like helmets) don't come with bikes (unlike headlights, which do come with cars).  So making it mandatory for bikers to use lights would not be successful (unlike laws requiring cars to use lights when their wipers are on, since cars have both wipers and lights)...

You're asking for people to make an additional purchase (albeit for their own safety) which many will resist, even though it's the sensible thing to do.  Then you're asking for them to keep batteries fresh and remember to turn them on, which is something else some people will resist (or forget).  It's not just cars not being able to see bikes -- on many roads you cannot see potholes or hazards without lights.

But a regulation won't help as much as education will... I think the turning point for me came when I realized as a car driver that I could not see a bike at night, and then came the bolt from the blue that they couldn't see me when I *was* the bike either... heady stuff there...

Someone correct me if I'm wrong but I believe it is the law in NC that bikes need to have headlights (and I believe some sort of taillight) at night. But I wish I had a dollar for every rider i've seen riding at night with neither. And while helmets are not mandatory, half of the adult riders I see aren't wearing them. I guess common sense doesn't go along with every bike purchase.
Here’s what in the the N.C. General Statutes,  at §20-129:

(e)    Lamps on Bicycles. – Every bicycle shall be equipped with a lighted lamp on the front thereof, visible under normal atmospheric conditions from a distance of at least 300 feet in front of such bicycle, and shall also be equipped with a reflex mirror or lamp on the rear, exhibiting a red light visible under like conditions from a distance of at least 200 feet to the rear of such bicycle, when used at night.

Most who have rear lighting nowadays use flashing “cue lights.”   I tend to double up on front lights for any significant after-sunset riding, and others may do likewise.

Chapter 20 is the “motor vehicle” part of the State statutes. When in roadways, bicycles are vehicles in North Carolina.

Ed Harrison

"You seem to be very passionate about cyclists sharing the road. You seem to spend much time writing about it. Why not lobby our public servents  for change?"

I thought this was lobbying the public servants for change!  (This reminds me of something Jim Ignatowski on the old sitcom Taxi said when they took him in to take his drivers test so he could be a cabbie.  The 0.1% who remember that bit will appreciate the reference.)  I'm not one to lobby politicians.  Writing on here is my version of lobbying.

It's not that I'm so passionate about cyclists sharing the road but rather I'm passionate about things that are blatantly ridiculous and that everyone ignores but that have the potential to ruin my life.  If it were blatantly ridiculous but didn't directly affect me then perhaps I'd be able to look the other way.  But I'm afraid I'm going to hit one of these people someday.

After thinking things through further, the problem with requiring lights on bikes is that even if you required them you'd have to get people to turn them on or else stop and ticket everyone that didn't, which isn't feasible.

But I've come up with another idea that may not be feasible now but that might be someday.  Or maybe it is feasible now.  That is, require lights on bikes that are powered by the biker.  The biker is powering movement of himself (English needs more gender neutral words) and also movement of the bike and generating some heat besides.  Could some of that heat be captured?  Or could somehow lights be rigged up to run on the energy of the cyclist's legs, assuming that wouldn't make pedaling a lot harder?

 If that were possible then shifting from what we have now to a situation where bikers had to use bikes with biker-powered lights would a makeable step.  In other words, we'd be taking a safety decision out of the bikers hands and forcing the safety on them, which we already do to a degree of about a million with regard to cars and motorcycles.  With regards to bikes OTOH all you have to do now is get pretty much any kind of bike you want and go out on the road and start riding.

You got to have nerves of steel to ride a bike on that stretch of S. Columbia at ANY time of day or night!

Narrow lanes with no shoulders, just drop-offs in many places and cars and busses moving at a high rate of speed through there. Also the road is kinda tore-up and not the type of roadway you are easily able to avoid a pothole on without throwing yourself into traffic or into a ditch.

I used to live south of there and I always used Purefoy to get from point A to B and although it IS longer that way, it's not a death-trap.

I always ride with a light and blinker at night because I think it's nuts not to. I also wear a helmet, too.

Given the enormous difficulty of enforcing a light/helmet law to vehicle-bound officers, I think they usually just let it slide when people don't do those things.

But for me it's like seat belts. It is the LAW you have to wear one but even if it wasn't a law, I still would wear it, because I think it's crazy not to. It saves lives!

I don't know how these things play out in 'courts' but sometimes I wonder if the light/helmet law is symbolic on behalf of the insurance agenices. If a vehicle strikes and injures a cyclist who is not wearing a helmet or have lights at night, the cyclist was 'in violation of the law' and does the cyclist then lose some legal ground in insurance or lawsuit hearings?

Pedal-powered lights are certainly feasible.  They were all the rage in the sixties, as a feature on little kids' bikes.  We pedaled as fast as we could to keep the lights on.  Not the safest gizmo in the world ...
Of course we wouldn't want lights that only worked when the bikes were pedalled fast.  In fact we'd want it to be able to keep power for a time even when there was no pedalling so that the light would stay on when the biker was coasting or on those unusual occassions when a biker decided to stop at a stoplight.  But if the technology existed 40 years ago to make a primitive version of biker-powered lights maybe by now a feasible version exists.

Years ago I had one of the generator-headlight combinations.  It made the  bicycle noticeably harder to pedal.  Today, the answer does exist -- it's LEDs.  I have an awesome headlight, cost 15 dollars, is extremely bright, three inches  long and 3/4 inch in diameter, and is powered by four AAA batteries that last for a long time.  I use it for everything, since it makes a great flashlight.  My  taillight is four blinking red LEDs powered by two AA batteries that I have to change about every five years.  When I ride home at night, I am quite visible.

Jose, I forgot to mention that I live on Coolidge St, and use the stretch of South Columbia between Old Pittsboro and Manning several times a day as a motorist, bicylist and pedestrian and have been doing so since 1974.  What you're saying about the stupidity of some bicylists is right on, of course, and  finally, after about 30 years (I'm not exaggerating here) of negotiations, the improvements to S. Columbia will occur soon, resulting in good sidewalks, bike lanes, bus turnouts, and NO four lanes to speed up the cars.  Chancellor Hooker and Vice Chancellor Elson Floyd signed off on these improvements in 1997, the town favored them,  while Chancellor Moeser and every CEO of the UNC Hospitals in recent history, as well as the DOT fought it like crazy, in favor of a four-lane divided highway to move cars faster.  It can't happen soon enough for me, especially since once the street is stabilized, safety for all traffic modes will improve, and private investment in the homes along the street will occur.


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