Reason 1 – The no-brainer one
While I preach that it’s best to assume you’re invisible to drivers, you’re sill better off, if possible, being seen. Obviously, you are more likely to be seen at night if you’ve got lights attached fore and aft…good lights…with batteries that aren’t flat…or a dynamo.
People often just go with the rear light and don’t bother with the front. Experience has told me that this isn’t a very good idea. Sure, cars mostly pass you from behind but cars also come from side streets. When they do they may well not see you. This will lead to you T-boning them. Granted, this is better than being T-boned but it’s still not great.
Reason 2 – The fine-ancial one
Police. They’ll fine you if you don’t have lights. It happened to me a few years back. Then, it was around $50. Now it’s $146. That’s the case here in Victoria, anyway. Seems a tad much to me, but that’s the way it is. By comparison, lights off in your motorcar will cost you $155. At least it’s more in a car, but it hardly seems proportional to the potential consequences (by consequences I mean the harm you can cause to others, rather than to yourself. I could waffle on about personal responsibility and individual rights here, but I’ll spare you that).
How to get out of it? Well, unfortunately I thought of this after the fact and I hope I never get a chance to try it out. That said, if I somehow get myself in the situation of not having lights and being chatted to by a man in blue, I plan to go with this line; “Good evening officer, how are you? Blah blah blah. I just had my bike locked-up and some bastard stole my lights.”
Sure, this might generate the rejoinder, “Well, you shouldn’t be riding then”, but it’s worth a shot. Contrary to popular belief, cops can be convinced to exercise their discretion, and there’s no better way to encourage this than by being polite and having a plausible excuse that lays the blame elsewhere.
Reason 3 – The light-igation* one
*That’s “litigation”…I know it’s drawing a long bow but it’s awfully clever, isn’t it?
I’ll set the scene with a short poem. It’s my own work and it’s called Riding at Night, Oh No! No Light!
You’re riding at night,
A car wipes you out,
It gives you a fright,
You give a great shout.
You think, “what the heck!?”
“That driver is blind”,
“My bike is a wreck”,
“This guy will be fined!”
But then he alights,
And shouts, “I am right”,
“You’ve got no damn lights!”
“And you’re riding at night!”
“And look at my car!”
“There’s a dint in my grill,”
“Your naughty handlebar,”
“Has earned you a bill!”
Unfortunately, in this case the driver is right. If you’ve got no lights, you won’t be protected by the law. It doesn’t matter if you have one hundred reflectors, fluoro pants and vest and reflective ankle-bands. You can make yourself look as garishly ridiculous as you like, it won’t help you in a court of law. And to add insult to injury, you will have to pay to get that dint in the grill repaired.
The rigidity of the law (or at least some judges representing the law) on this topic was hit home a couple of years ago when Magistrate Terry Wilson ruled that a cyclist was at fault when he was hit by a car from behind. This was despite the fact that the cyclist in question had a functioning rear light and was wearing a reflective vest. His crime? He didn’t have a front light. The judge went so far as to say that the cyclist “was an accident waiting to happen.” He justified his decision by asserting that had the cyclist been using a front light, the road in front of him would have been illuminated and he therefore would have been visible.
I think treadly.net sums up the situation pretty well; “I don’t know about you, but I don’t expect the headlight on any vehicle on the road to contribute to rear visibility. That’s precisely why tail lights point backwards and are red. To argue, as the Magistrate appears to have done, that the absence of a headlight significantly diminished the cyclist’s rear visibility simply beggars belief and ignores logic.”
So there you have it. Three sound reasons to have lights on your bike.
Oh, one last thing; make sure you take your lights off when you lock your bike. Otherwise, some bastard will actually steal them. Then you won’t even have to lie to the police.