Council, cops, lights and rules

Lights on! (And maybe beware of cops bearing gifts?)

Don’t be alarmed if you’re stopped by Council staff or police during the month of May. Hopefully, they only want to talk to you about your visibility.  (So just do up your helmet and keep quiet about that footpath-riding you were doing before they nabbed you.)

Now that the days are growing so darn short, the Council is concerned that cyclists may not be as bright and bold as they need to be when the light fades.  The visibility patrol will hand out vouchers to those of you who haven’t invested in decent sparklers for your bike and they’ll even set you up with some temporary lights to get you home safely.  Aw, that’s nice of them!

The effort is part of the Council’s annual safety campaign.  And, uh, even though I joked about it above, you should also be aware that the generous patrollers are also looking to see if cyclists are complying with the Road Code. I wonder if they also want to know if cyclists are following the terms of the Code for Cyclists?  Or, if, say, cyclists have taken a moment to peruse the Land Transport (Road User) Rule of 2004?  The press release advises that everyone take a moment to brush up.

I sincerely hope their search for compliance is educational.  Not punitive.  Because it sucks to get pressies and citations at the same time. That’s just a mixed message.  Like when my mom bought me a wooden spoon and then chased me around the house wielding it high overhead when I didn’t wash the dishes.  I hated that spoon.

Let us know if you have the pleasure of a meet-and-greet!  I love that kind of dirt.

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15 thoughts on “Council, cops, lights and rules

  1. Nigel

    The press release states “If you’re not visible enough, we’ll stop you” but my experience last year was more like a drink driving checkpoint i.e. everyone is guilty until we can establish otherwise. I am compliant again this year, but expect to be stopped regardless, sigh.

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  2. I used my voucher at Capital Cycles to get a Nitelight Dominator today and I suspect that on full setting it’s so bright it’s illegal. Awesome going up Mt Vic tonight where there are dead streetlights, and 100x better than the pissant little light I had before.

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    1. Nigel

      I doubt it is illegal (there are plenty of car headlights that would p*ss all over this), but don’t aim it directly at aircraft or other road users! I am off the opinion that bike lights should have to pass some sort of basic standard, as I observe there are many pissant front & rear lights that are not really that visible. New buyers probably just stare straight into them in a shop and believe they are visible. Happy lumens.

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  3. Simon Kennett

    Greater Wellington have almost completed their 2011 lights review. You can see the results of the 2010 review here:
    http://www.gw.govt.nz/be-safe-be-seen/
    It’s just a brief test of some of the sub-$100 lights available, but it gives you some good food for thought. I’ll do a write-up for this blog next week.
    One thing we noticed this year was that the standard of the front lights tested was consistently high (unlike last year). On flashing mode they were all very visible from 100m. The difference came when viewed from 45 degrees (something that is important in avoiding intersection crashes). Only a couple of the lights tested performed well.

    I have a 900 Lumen Nitelite – great for off-road riding, but a bit of an overkill for general urban commuting. Good point Nigel about not blinding other road users (including oncoming cyclists and pedestrians).

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    1. atom

      what makes a 900 lumen headlight safe or not on the road is whether or not it has a “sharp cutoff” and whether or not it’s aimed properly. but 900 lumens is for seeing (dark trails, roads with no lighting) – for being seen (most sub/urban wellington roads) it’s just ridiculous.

      also, best to have a second rear light. aside from increasing conspicuity, there’s a backup if one light fails or falls off. you’ll know if a front light fails or falls, but you may not know about a rear light. this is also an opportunity to combine different strengths of different lights; one light that has great throw straight behind with another light that has more light on the sides.

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  4. Megan

    @Simon: We’ll look forward to your light review!

    @Stephen: Wow. Um, a Nitelight Dominator. That’s one intense-sounding light. Does it come with a whip to uh… put darkness in its place? Ha. Anyway. As long as it’s bright! Glad you’ll be seen now!

    I’m glad to hear the voucher has been put to use!

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  5. Megan — yeah, I’m afraid the higher powered lights in the range have equally ridiculous macho names. Really they should be called Pretty Damned Bright, Extremely Fucking Bright, and Ow I Can’t See.

    The model I have is 450 lumens and on dim setting (300 lumen) was lighting up my half of the road very satisfactorily. At night, on blind corners, cars often assume that no visible headlight beam = no traffic around the corner, so this makes me feel a LOT safer on the wiggly bits.

    The 45 degree visibility thing is a very interesting point which I hadn’t really considered. Question then: what would be a good supplementary or secondary lighting approach? Amber beads on the end of handlebars, maybe?

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  6. atom

    what’s the worst that can happen if motorists can’t see you?

    Cyclist killed near Blenheim named
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10726639

    “An initial investigation into the crash revealed Mr Mayers was wearing dark clothing and had no lights on his bike, police said.”

    based on that information… i feel bad for the driver who hit him.

    @Stephen – there are front and rear lights that cast varying amounts of light to the sides. there are also products that are designed specifically to enhance visibility from the sides… reflective sidewall tires, monkeylectrics, glow-spokes, etc. there’s also reflective vests and clothing, reflective tape, ankle straps, etc. there’s even a cycling helmet with a “halo” that lights up.

    there’s no end to the things that lights and reflective tape can be added to – for me the question is partly “does this help me be seen?” but more importantly “does this help me be recognized as a cyclist?” eg, most cycling outerwear has reflective taping, and that taping is visible to a motorist’s headlights from a reasonable distance, but what information does the motorist get form the reflected light? not much. compare that to a standards compliant construction safety vest (which has more reflective surface area than most cycling outerwear) and the PATTERN of light that reflects back to the driver tells their brain that there’s a person ahead, not just a blob of light. add some ankle straps and there’s no mistaking that this is a person on a bike. this helps drivers navigate the road with you differently than, let’s say, an orange cone.

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  7. Pingback: Lights can be fun! : Cycling in Wellington

  8. Lisa

    The thing I’ve noticed when I’m in a car with another person driving is that drivers quite often don’t recognise a white front bike light for what it is. They see the light but don’t make the connection that it’s on a bike.

    I wondered whether a particular kind of light would help, something exclusively bike-lighting, but then I decided it’s just an element of that broader issue of bike recognition and that it’s probably better to tackle the whole thing. People in other countries don’t seem to need special lights.

    My solution is to say things like, “Gosh, quite a few people using bikes around here” and other attention-drawing statements. Seems to be fairly effective.

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    1. atom

      good observation. now, i’m not a fan of conformity for the sake of conformity, but there’s something to be said about the ubiquity of a flashing red light that is almost universally recognized as the back of a bicycle.

      front lights are a strange animal… white? amber? solid? blinking? fast or slow blink? strobe? i think the lack of conformity contributes to a lack of recognition. reflective ankle straps and a safety vest can greatly increase cyclist recognition from a motor vehicle with headlights (from front, rear or sides) but of course this is a compliment to, not a substitute for, active lighting. anyway, i suspect that solid (not blinking) white or amber lights are the least likely to be recognised as being the front of a bicycle. this sounds like an idea for a research project…

      something i’ve been observing lately: a lot of cyclists have nice bright red blinkies on their backpacks, then they get on their bike and either point the blinky up towards the sky or the bumps and bulges of the backpack hide the blinky from any traffic behind them. a blinky on a backpack can NEVER be aimed optimally. clipping a light to a backpack is something i’d only suggest for secondary or tertiary rear lighting… not primary or singular rear lighting. this is why blinkies come with seat-post mounts! even then, i’ve seen several blinkies that were hidden, a few not aimed properly, and a *lot* with flat batteries. anyone who rides regularly would benefit greatly from a few ni-mh batteries and a charger. a little more expensive at first, but it’s been a couple of years since i’ve bought any new batteries.

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      1. Lisa

        Now that you mention it, reflective ankle straps are VERY effective. There’s just nothing else on the road that looks like them, and after the initial “Wha..?” I’d always recognise them, even before I started riding bikes again.

        Having said that, I’d dearly love us to be in a place where we didn’t need odd things to make us recognisable.

        Yeah, the batteries thing… My main bike has dynamo lighting, must get that fixed. It’s probably not good enough for a primary lighting system but I’ve been caught out with flat batteries before and I reckon a back up system is a worthwhile investment when it comes to my night safety.

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  9. Hillbilly MTB

    OMG! Im shocked by my own ignorance. I never thought as a cyclist I am considered a road user and therefore must comply with the road code. Personally I feel more like a partaker of alternative transport that just happens to use the road, the footpath, the underground carparks, an occasional stream, etc. wherever and whatever I can ride on.

    Riding at night is a bit scary, and there is NO way of telling if a “fellow road user” is aware of your presence. Defensive driving tells us to look at the wheel of the car and not the driver to see if they have registered you (the driver may look but not see and the wheel is the first thing to move that indicates this – which, of-course is impossible at night)

    Another difficulty at night is if you only have one light on the front as opposed to two lights on the front its very difficult for another driver to judge your distance from them
    i.e. the further apart the lights appear are the closer the object (car) is and visa versa.

    To be as obvious as possible I think the more lights the better, peddle lights?, indicator lights?, red and blue flashing lights?, neon rim lights? what ever it takes.

    Ultimately if you are bright enough to ‘be seen’ at night rather than ‘to see’ at night other road users (that actually take notice) will try to avoid driving into or over you … well thats my theory anyway.

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    1. Megan

      As all this chatter accumulates about lights and safety, I’ve been dreaming of attaching two Light Brights to my front and back racks. Remember those? Mine will say, “BIKE!” or maybe, “Don’t hit me.” Or, “vroom vroom” in an attempt to make drivers really steer clear because they’ll be so intimidated by my speed (or, perhaps, stability).

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