Cyclists without lights

This article was published in 2008, in Newsletter 81.

Make sure that the Campaign’s cycle poster is pinned up in your school or workplace.
Image as described adjacent

I’m sure the recent police campaign, reported by the press as being about ‘antisocial cycling’, but clearly about lack of cycle lights, hasn’t escaped everyone’s notice. Some have argued that surely the police have better things to do. However, if it was what many of us suspect it was, a high-visibility campaign picking low-hanging fruit in a very busy part of town, notifying the press in advance for maximum coverage, it may well have worked. Certainly, I think the proportion of unlit bikes may have gone down in the last week or so.

Legal matters aside, why should I be bothered about cyclists without lights? Firstly, there’s the ‘giving cyclists a bad name’ argument. However, I would say, far more important is the fact that cyclists without lights are putting themselves in danger much more than anyone else: if they get hit by a car because they haven’t been seen, they are likely to get hurt. There is a vanishingly small chance of those in the car being hurt. The only other road users they are putting at real risk are other cyclists, as a cycle-cycle collision probably ends up with both parties getting hurt. As either a cyclist or driver, if I am pulling out of a side road, it’s virtually impossible to see a fast-moving unlit bike.

If I’m on a bike or in my car, my lights won’t pick up what’s not directly in front of me. Hi-viz won’t be illuminated if it’s off to the side however good my lights, which point ahead of me. The people who frighten me most are the increasingly common group who think that wearing a helmet is more important than being lit. Well, it may help if you’re hit, but surely avoiding the accident in the first place is more useful? I’d say good lights are an essential tool in ‘defensive cycling’.

I’m probably preaching to the converted here. If you’ve paid your sub and read this newsletter cover to cover, I’m sure the only time you ever cycle without lights is when seriously caught out by equipment failure, and then very carefully slinking down some quiet back streets home, well aware of all the risks. But, going back to police priorities: if we could all persuade all our fellow cyclists to be ‘lighter than light’, perhaps the police wouldn’t have to spend time targeting unlit bikes, but could be concentrating on other things, such as speeding drivers, overtaking where it’s not safe to do so, abusing mandatory cycle lanes, all of which are a danger to cyclists, lit or unlit. Quite how to do this? I can make sure that the useful poster on lights and reflectors that the Campaign produces is pinned up everywhere at work. However, when I’m a lone lit female cyclist heading through Chesterton, observing a gaggle of teenage boys, all totally unlit, I really don’t know. Is there an unlit demographic who are impervious to police efforts, press releases and any other publicity that the Cambridge Cycling Campaign attempts to produce? And are they ‘our’ responsibility anyway, any more than trangressing drivers are for a motoring organisation, or so I’m sure those organisations would argue?

Maybe that goes back to the question as to why all cyclists, law-abiding and otherwise, should be lumped together in one group. They are not, any more than any other group of people who are recognisable by one characteristic can be grouped homogeneously. Do we need ways to at least remind the public that this is so?

Heather Coleman