Legality of Cycle Lighting Accessories
The cycling boom we have experienced in the last few years has seen more and more people cycling on the roads of Britain and consequently the cycle lights and accessories industry has grown with it. From established bike brands to independent, crowd-funded start-ups; companies worldwide are competing to bring cyclists the latest technology and the most stylish safety features to their bikes. A large proportion of this innovation, quite rightly, has gone towards making cycling on the roads safer and resulted in hundreds of products which increase the visibility of a cyclist. This article will consider whether these new products are actually road legal.
First, let’s briefly consider the law on cycling on the road and bike lights. Under The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 and its subsequent amendments, cyclists must have a white front light and red rear lights lit at night, have their cycle fitted with a red light reflector on the rear and each pedal needs two amber light reflectors, one on the leading edge and the other on the trailing edge. Following the 2005 amendment to The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations it is also now also legal to have a flashing light on a pedal bike as long as it flashes between 60 and 240 times per minute. All the lights must be on from sunset to sunrise therefore, what is important for cyclists is the position of the sun, not how dark it is. As soon as the sun drops behind the horizon bicycle lights should be switched on even if there may be plenty of light left to see by on a clear evening. Failure to have the correct lights or reflectors can result in being issued a Fixed Penalty Notice where the maximum is £30 or you can be subject to a maximum fine of £1000 in the courts.
The first thing that must be noted is that these legal requirements should be regarded as a minimum expectation rather than an ideal. Generally speaking, there are no requirements for any ‘extra’ lights that are on a pedal bike – they are not subject to the finer details of The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 such as the size, positioning and manufacturing standard and therefore generally encouraged. For that reason, any additional equipment such as lights or high-visibility clothing is always a good thing and recommended in order to improve the visibility and safety of cyclists. There are two things in particular we will cover in this article; lights attached to the cyclist rather than the cycle itself and lights known as ‘monkey lights’.
It is becoming more common for the latest products in high-visibility clothing for cyclists to include lights built into them. A number of these products can be seen on the roads of Britain and have been reviewed by the Guardian and Channel 5’s ‘The Gadget Show’ to name but a few. Firstly, the wording of The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations states the cycle must “be fitted with” the lights and reflectors. Consequently, it is suggested that these lights are not sufficient legal replacements for the ‘traditional’ lights on a cycle. However, even if these lights were to be regarded as being ‘fitted’ to the bicycle they would have to satisfy the size, positioning and manufacturing standards required of ‘traditional’ lights and this will vary according to the product, the cycle and the cyclist.
Secondly, a number of these light-equipped accessories, especially rucksacks, have a white light on the back of them. The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations require that any light fitted to a cycle which is capable of showing light to the rear must be red. Again, this is down to the interpretation of the legislation and whether lights on a cyclist’s jacket constitute the light being “fitted” to the bike. Therefore, although it is suggested that such a light is not, per se, illegal it is highly inadvisable as the differing colours for front and back lights are designed to let fellow road users know which direction your vehicle is going in.
The second topic we will consider are ‘monkey lights’. Monkey lights are lights which attach to the wheels or spokes of a cycle and are described by one manufacturer as not “just a fun, practical bike light” but “also a cutting edge digital art platform”. Although multiple reviews and tests have shown that these products do a noticeable job in improving cyclist visibility, with many stating that motorists made an obvious attempt to give them more room, their legality is questionable. In theory, if any of these products emitted light forwards or backwards then that light must be white or red respectively as they are unarguably fixed to the bike.
Although any increase in visibility is encouraged, cyclists must ensure that their cycles are road legal. It is recommended that cyclists do not use lights on their clothing as a replacements to ‘traditional’ bike lights; instead their use is encouraged to supplement ‘traditional’ lights. Nor is it recommended that cyclists have lights attached to themselves or their bike which emit light forwards or backwards which is not white or red respectively. It may be possible that these scenarios are legal however, unless further legislation which clarifies the position is enacted or a cyclist appeals a Fixed Penalty Notice and a judge rules otherwise, it is best to be on the safe side.
 The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, rs.11, 18, 24 and Schedule 2, Part I
 The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, rs.11, 18, 24 and Schedule 10, Part I
 The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, rs.11, 18, 24 and Schedule 18, Part I
 The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, rs.11, 18, 24 and Schedule 20, Part I
 The Road Vehicles Lighting (Amendment) Regulations 2005, s.6
 The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, rs.11 and 18
 The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, r.11(2)