Autumn cycling – cycle lights and the law

Cycling on the road in Autumn

Albert Camus is once noted to have said that “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower”.

Whilst we can perhaps appreciate the picturesque nature of the changing of the seasons, it certainly is a reminder that we are now heading towards colder days and longer nights.

Cycling at night

With the darker mornings and evenings now upon us, many of us will soon be finding that some part, if not all of our commute, can take place in the dark.

Even for those lucky enough to avoid this for a good few weeks longer, those of us who enjoy cycling post work will struggle to avoid the need for cycle lights.

This is a good time to take stock of what is required in terms of lighting when cycling at night.

Cycle lights – the law

The starting point for finding out the legal requirements in terms of cycle lights can be found in the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations 1989 and the subsequent amendments.

Sections 13, 18 and 24 are the notable sections for cyclists and deal with front and rear lights, together with reflectors and flashing lights.

Regulation 13 – Cycling lamps to show steady or flashing light

Regulation 13 specifies that lamps must show a steady or flashing light.

The original recommendation was that a static light was required; however, a subsequent amendment to Regulation 13 in 2005 does make a flashing light optional for cyclists.

It is, however, recommended that the static light be used where there is no other street lighting.

Regulation 18 – Types of cycling lights – be visible

Regulation 18 deals with obligatory lamps, reflectors, rear markings and devices.

Essentially this is moving towards what is required not just for lamps at the front of a bicycle, but also what type of light should be fitted to the rear and also what is necessary in terms of additional reflectors to make your bicycle even more visible during the hours of darkness.

Regulation 20 – Front and rear lights for bike

Finally, Regulation 20 deals with front and rear position lamps being lit whilst vehicles are in motion.

For cyclists, this really means that when you are on the road cycling, that the lights on your bicycle should:

  • Remain lit at all time
  • Lights are kept unobscured.

For a good summary, the requirements are rather neatly brought together under Section 60 of the Highway Code. It sets it out as follows:

Highway Code Rule 60

"At night your cycle MUST have white front and red rear lights lit. It MUST also be fitted with a red rear reflector (and amber pedal reflectors, if manufactured after 1/10/85). White front reflectors and spoke reflectors will also help you to be seen. Flashing lights are permitted but it is recommended that cyclists who are riding in areas without street lighting use a steady front lamp."

Essentially, what is required is that cyclists must have:

  • White front light and a red rear light in place on their bicycle.
  • These lights must be lit during the hours of darkness.
  • Bikes manufactured after 1st October 1985 must have a pedal reflector on each pedal.
  • It is perfectly legal to have a flashing, rather than static light. However, if you do wish to opt for this, then please remember that the flashing must be between 60 and 240 times per minute.

A quick summary of the colour of bike lights required:

  • The front position lamp should be coloured white. This can be yellow in circumstances whereby the headlamp is only capable of emitting a yellow light.
  • For rear position lamp and the rear retro reflectors, these should both be coloured red.
  • Finally, for those with bikes manufactured after 1st October 1985, there should be an amber pedal reflector on each pedal. These both need to have the British standard mark and should be amber in colour.

The requirements are, in essence, relatively straightforward, but nevertheless, they are vital to remember to keep yourself visible and safe whilst out cycling in the autumn and winter months.