Could Extra Bright Lights Save Cyclist Lives?

Flashing LED Bicycle Light (source)

The question is posed by Ted Rogers – a popular blogger at BikingInLA, who is well known in the SoCal’s cycling community. Today, BikingInLA posted a plea by Mark Goodley, a bicycle accident victim who wants you to stay safe on the road. Mark wants riders to take immediate action to prevent unnecessary accidents by using extra bright flashing lights on bicycles. The big question is, will using bright lights help, and should you be doing it right now?

According to personal injury attorney Vibhu Talwar, the driver’s failure to yield to a bicycle is frequently a cause of accidents. Even though “I didn’t see you” can never be used as an excuse in a bicycle accident case (since cars and bikes are treated exactly the same, and you wouldn’t say “I didn’t see you” to another vehicle), it is quite possible that some drivers are unaware of a bicycle entering a crosswalk when making a turn. From a non-legal standpoint, we could also argue that people have a much harder time judging the speed and the distance between a smaller object such as a bicycle rider and your typical vehicle.

One Man’s Plea: Ride Ultra Bright, Day and Night

Mark makes the argument that people are often spaced out behind the wheel, taking much more time to react to something much smaller than another vehicle.  “Hit from behind collisions outnumber all other fatalities 2-1” – says Mark.

I tend to agree with Mark that it’s quite feasible a driver may not pay as much attention to a bicycle as he/she would to another vehicle and take longer to react when stopping. We are quite familiar with the view of another vehicle and can make a decision (however slow at times) to stop just close enough to avoid an accident. Substitute that vehicle with a bicycle and it’s not so clear just how close that person is, since we’re no longer looking for a pattern of two rear brake lights.

Pattern Recognition

Pattern recognition is one of the basic functions of the human mind, whether it is looking for a certain type of object in a side view mirror or estimating the speed of a moving person. Since there aren’t nearly as many bikes on the roads as there are vehicles, we can make the argument that our brains are not as quick to pick up on signals coming from a bicyclist versus a vehicle. Neither the distance, the speed or the size of a bike rider match any of the patterns we are constantly hunting for while driving.

My Own Account

Not so long ago, while making a right turn I almost ran over a skateboarder who had the right of way. It’s not that I was daydreaming or didn’t see him coming initially; it’s just that he came up so quickly when I didn’t expect him to reach the light until I made my turn.  Had he wore a bright flashing light I would have been startled at the brightness of the object and thought twice about turning as soon as I planned. I know this for a fact because last week a bicyclist was riding with one of such lights in the front when I noticed him right away and though “wow, that’s really bright.” My typical sleepy morning brain would most likely not take such notice had the rider not worn such an effective attention-grabbing object.

Should You Be Using Bright Flashing Lights on Your Bike Night and Day?

I’ll answer your question with a question: why not? It’s quite obvious that people notice these lights a lot more. Just ask Wes, who comments: “I’ve had many drivers comment on how bright they are (referring to his blinking day light).”

An extra added mechanism for safety is not a solution to end all problems and it would be arrogant to say that. But for the sake of safety in a city, state and country that has yet to make a lot of progress to promote bicycle and pedestrian safety, it’s a step in the right direction.

For specific reference to the type of equipment worth checking out please visit the BikingInLA post and check out the comments section. These guys know their equipment much better than anything I could list here.

Do you use additional lights to help you stay visible?

Could Extra Bright Lights Save Cyclist Lives? by