Last week this article (http://cars.aol.co.uk/2013/04/03/government-promises-action-on-dazzling-bicycle-lights/?a_dgi=aolshare_twitter) appeared about bike lights dazzling motorists and the potential for the UK Government to give time and effort to investigate this hazard with a view towards possible future legislation which could see lights which are brighter than dipped headlights banned.
The suggestion of legislation is a ridiculous and immoral proposal, second only in nonsense to the fact that any kind of control might be considered in the first place.
It would be interesting to see what data there is that bright lights on bikes cause any kind of credible hazard to drivers. It’s hard to credit the hazard to drivers as being any greater than say another driver with a mis-adjusted headlamp or driving with full beam or fog lights on by accident. The original Sunday Times article makes the point that a large proportion of bike lights on sale have the potential to dazzle, yet we don’t seem to have a spate of drivers swerving uncontrollably across the streets shouting “I’m blind, I’m blind”.
If a driver is slightly dazzled by a cyclist’s light, pretty much the worse that might happen is that they would slow down. Of course, there is plenty of evidence that drivers have a strange aversion to slowing down when their vision is obstructed be it by dirty windscreens, low winter sun fog or other inclement weather conditions. So the problem seems to be that the drivers do not want to slow down when they are flashed by a cyclist, rather than there being an actual hazard.
However, if a cyclist is not seen by a driver, they can die. The risks here are asymmetric. Risk is a measure of both frequency and consequence. In terms of consequence, in this debate, on one side, someone has to slow down, on the other someone dies.
The article also suggests that lighting levels are outdated thanks to improvements in street lighting. That may be the case on many streets, but plenty of people ride bikes in the UK along roads that have no street lights, and even within cities there are plenty of areas where street lighting is not sufficiently bright enough to ensure cyclists do not hit obstacles such as badly aligned drain covers, pot holes, litter and the such like.
It is interesting to note that the image which accompanies the article shows someone riding off-road, at night. Mountain biking in the dark has recently seen a huge increase in popularity. It’s a great way for busy people to fit biking into their daily routine and it’s great fun, turning the meekest of forest trails into a gnarly beast. To ride off-road at night you need good lights. To be fair, some of the recent mega-bright lights are excessive in all but the most extreme of riding, but as this variation of mountain biking has become more popular so the technical grade of the trails being ridden has gone up, necessitating brighter lights.
So there is a perfectly legitimate reason to buy bright lights for a bike, and why should cyclists have to buy separate lights for commuting compared to cycling off the road? All the very bright lights come with multiple settings (to preserve power) and so can all readily be dropped well below the level of a car headlamp. If however, a commuting cyclist feels the need for a brighter setting due to weather conditions, road conditions or simply fear of being struck by an on-coming vehicle (or perhaps one turning across their lane) then so be it, they can crank up the light level.
It’s also worth noting that many cyclists don’t restrict their illumination accessories to bike specific units. A lot of cyclists use a head torch for example, an item that makes a huge difference in terms of confidence when riding at night as you can see what is ahead as you turn around a corner. How would any ministerial interference address this matter? Would shops be forbidden from selling a light used for hiking, camping and pot-holing in case a cyclist used it?
So the risk level isn’t relevant, there is a legitimate need for selling bright lights and even if a cyclist was stopped for having a “too bright” light, then how is the average policeman going to administer the law? Will the police be issued with light meters? Or will it be down to the policeman’s perception of the situation? That’s a bit of a farcical idea given the technical challenges measuring light levels due to focus zones, influence of dirt on lenses, light wavelength and distance between source and measuring point.
Besides, if the police did stop a cyclist, all they have to do is push the button on the lights and change the light level down to a lower setting. All evidence of the ‘crime’ disappears.
Despite the ridiculous notion of legislation for this sort of thing, the most odious feature of the article is that it exists at all. The notion that a little bit of light dazzle to motorists should be given credence by a Government minister and that any ministerial time should be wasted on such a matter only goes to demonstrate the asymmetric nature of the driving lobby vs. cyclists in the UK.
Instead of wasting time addressing unpoliceable, pseudo concerns relating to a legitimate cycling accessories, perhaps our transport ministers might like to consider spending time on some of the following (in no particular order):
- Removing the defence of “death by dangerous driving” and “causing death by careless, or inconsiderate driving”. It’s manslaughter, or murder and should be treated as such. Someone wandering through a crowd with a chainsaw running would not get off on a “by dangerous operation of machinery” defence. It’s a cop out and a disgrace that motorists can mow down cyclists (or pedestrians) and get a small fine and a short driving ban.
- Enforce parking fines for people who park in cycle lanes. That causes cyclists to have to swerve into traffic, making everyone’s life a misery.
- Require councils to fix pot holes and require councils to include a “make good” clause in any road works contracts that they let. This would be a ridiculously simple thing to do and make cyclist’s lives so much safer and remove a key bar to people who want to cycle but don’t because of the state of the roads.
- Require train operating companies to provide proper bike spaces on their trains and require them to make bicycle booking an integrated part of the ticketing process. Again, incredibly simple to do, all you have to do is put it in the tender requirements for the train company contracts. They will do all the hard work for the government.
- Enforce the ban on using a mobile phone whilst driving, and also ban smoking, eating, drinking and any other distracting activity whilst driving. By definition someone smoking and driving is not in full control of their vehicle and is distracted.
- Introduce a hierarchy of presumptive blame in all incidents where a cycle hits a pedestrian and where a vehicle hits a cyclist.
- More cycle lanes. Remove car lanes if you have to, but more priority for cyclists.
- Require schools to provide cycling parking and set targets for local authorities to get kids on the streets. That might sound like we are putting kids at risk, but the evidence is that the more we swamp the streets with bikes, the safer it gets.
Once any or all of the above receive the same sort of attention that the minor whinges of car drivers achieve from our transport ministers, then and only then should they expel time or energy bothering cyclists about their lights.