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Judge and Gavel
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  • Richard L. Duquette

Night Riders and Commuters©

This article is intended to discuss your rights when riding a bicycle in the dark. California Vehicle Code §21201 states that “darkness” is defined as half an hour before dark, or half an hour before sunrise, or when visibility is less than 100 feet (i.e. fog). During winter in San Diego, sunrise is at about 6:34 a.m. and sunset is at about 4:42 pm.

In today’s economy people are finding ways to save and improve health. Consequently, we are seeing more and more people commuting by bicycle in the dark. It is important to consider safety during night riding because I have seen many bicycle riders injured by motorists that fail to see them. Know this, if you are a bicyclist and you comply with the above law regarding night time riding, and you are involved in an accident, you will avoid an insurance industry claim that you are partially at fault or are contributory negligent. The insurance company will try to reduce the value of your case by claiming that you are partially at fault. For instance, if you have a case for $100.00 and you are 50% at fault, then the case has a “real” net value of only $50.00.

So what equipment is legal? California Vehicle Code § 21201 essentially lays out several rules that the nighttime bicyclist must follow. They are:

In terms of the front end, the front light of the bicycle must be seen from 300 feet away and from the front side.

Tip: I suggest that you securely mount the light on your bicycle handlebars so that it is pointed out and ahead of you so that oncoming cars can actually see you and you can actually see ahead of you when riding at a normal speed. You can also “back up” your front light with the light on your helmet thereby illuminating what oncoming motorist directly in front of you can see. The issue that I see with a light on the helmet is that if your head is turned, then so is your light – away from oncoming traffic. For that reason, I would suggest a helmet light only as a back up to a front mounted light for night riding.

Rear lighting requires a red reflector that is visible from 500 feet away.

Tip: You might check Pep Boys auto parts store or any bicycle shop to find one. Make sure that your backpack, any other clothes, or your seat does not obscure any rear lighting. The problem that I have seen in this area is that a bicyclist will unintentionally cover their light and an approaching motorist cannot see the bicyclist.

Your pedals must be white. People often change pedals.

Tip: If you are one of them, then I suggest that you wear day glow white ankle reflector straps so that you can be seen at 200 feet. You can also attach a light to your leg. Those ankle band reflectors should be used on both legs, if you are not going to be using pedals with reflectors.

In terms of your wheels, the focus is the front of center and the rear of center. You must have white or red reflectors in those areas. Some people will illuminate their sidewall tires. Alternatively, put reflective tape on your forks or tubing. You might want to consider a spoke reflector system or reflectors in your spokes. If you don’t have a reflector in your spokes, make sure that you have a reasonable alternative.

Your clothes should illuminate as well. You should wear reflective clothes that light up and illuminate at night. That goes without saying.

See the You Tube video “Let’s get visible”. It is a two-minute retro video clip that portrays what it means to be adequately visible for riding at night. It’s also fun, check it out.

In terms of the types of lights, there is a variety. The HID light is bluer in color, whereas an LED light iswhiter and may last longer. You might consider the LED light because it throws off a lot of light and there is some side spill to it. Also consider looking at the Night Rider Trinewt Lithium Light. You should also check out which is a great web source for single track lighting.

Bear in mind the story of the Triathlete mother and the dangers of riding at night, The David and Goliath Story. This is the story of a lady that hit a 4x4 wood beam negligently left in a bicycle lane while riding her bicycle home near a construction site at night. It is a great story and a case that I successfully handled.


There is no substitute for protecting yourself. It is a small investment when you consider the risks involved while riding at night.

©Richard L. Duquette, Esq. All rights reserved 2017 – LEGAL ADVERTISING * 760-730-0500 * Podcast: Bicycling and The Law

The information in this article is for general information purposes only. The focus of this article is on California Law. You should contact an attorney in your state for case specific advice, as details of the law and procedural requirements vary from state to state. Nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship; and the receipt, reading, listening, or viewing of this content shall not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Nothing in this article shall be construed as a warrant, promise, or guarantee about the outcome of your case or any other matter. This information may contain personal impressions or statements of opinion on a subject that do not apply in your case. Further, statements of law reflect the current state of the law at the time of writing and/or recording, and may not reflect subsequent changes in the law.


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