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Bicycle Light Law at Dark

As the fall leaves change colors, the days get shorter. This means it gets dark earlier. Because many bicyclists commute to work or play, its good to refresh ourselves on the laws that apply to bicyclists at dark.

In California, you must ride with a bicycle light when on a highway during darkness per California Vehicle Code §21201(d). A highway is defined as a publicly maintained road open to public use. California Vehicle Code §360. Common sense expands the reach of this law to private roads too.

So, what is considered "darkness?"

Darkness is defined as any time a half hour after sunset, to one half hour before sunrise. California Vehicle Code §280.

You can precisely define sunset by consulting the United States Naval Meteorology and Oceanography command (NMOC) to determine various systems and standards of time. For example, the NMOC website reported that June 14, 2014 had the shortest night of the year. There were 14 hours and 54 minutes of daylight. Sunset was at 8:37 p.m.

So, if you were riding and crashed at 7:45 p.m. without a bike light, you would be considered law abiding. Thus, you would avoid an insurance defense company argument of comparative fault, because a light was not required until after 9:00 p.m.

Any insurance company argument to the contrary lacks serious merit. It really amounts to a frivolous defense.

In order to prove comparative negligence, the insurance company must prove negligence that amounted to a substantial factor in the cause of injuries (see CACI Jury instruction #407). So, if it was dusk, but not dark outside, that condition was merely a trivial factor without any legal consequence (see CACI Jury instruction #430).

Reasonable bicyclists ride at sunset and dusk without lights, but not in darkness. If other motor vehicles aren't even using their headlights, how can we expect a bicyclist to use one?

Even if it is the custom and practice of most bicyclists to ride with lights, using a light often doesn't make a difference because the angle of the light beam does not alert an adjacent motorist.

In a court of law, legally riding at "dusk" without a light is irrelevant evidence, as it proves no disputed point. In fact, it's misleading to argue a light is required in daylight or "dusk" when it's not. See California Evidence Code Sections 210 and 352.

Similarly, Federally, low speed electric one horsepower bicycles that travel under 20 MPH (with operative peddles), don't need lights during daylight or dusk because they are not motor vehicles governed by NHTSA standards. See 15 USC §2085.

It is true that the Consumer Product Safety Commission requires all bicycles to have front, back, and pedal reflectors, in order to be detected by automotive headlamps during darkness. See 16 CFR 1512. The intent here is to illuminate bicycle reflectors in darkness with automobile headlamps. But this isn't an issue when riding a bicycle during daylight or dusk. Furthermore, if you review the entire section, there is no requirement that bicycles be equipped with lights, despite numerous other safety requirements. Again, it would be misleading to suggest otherwise.

If you've been injured in a bicycle on car collision, don't let the insurance company run over you a second time. Contact experienced bicycle attorney Richard Duquette. He will fight to make you whole again with fair and just compensation.

© The Law Firm of Richard Duquette, 2016, All Rights Reserved.

December 7, 2016

Authored by Richard L. Duquette

Richard L. Duquette is an Oceanside, California Personal Injury Attorney and Bicycle Safety Advocate who, since 1983, has mixed law with his love of bicycling and surfing from Baja to Bali. He is a Triathlon Club of San Diego sponsor, lifetime member and two-time Ironman finisher (Hawaii and New Zealand). He can be reached via e-mail at rlduquette@911law.com. His website with additional articles and information is www.911law.com.