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Are daytime bike lights a safety essential? Should you get daytime lights?

Trek thinks it's time cyclists started using bike lights even in bright conditions. Do you agree?
This article was originally published in August 2015

Should we ride with a rear light on during the daytime? Or perhaps we should go further and ride with both front and rear lights on even when the sun is shining?

We had a forum topic about this issue on road.cc a couple of years ago and what you might call a heated debate when Bontrager announced its Flare R rear light, designed specifically for daytime visibility, earlier in the year.

The reason we’re thinking about it again is that we went to visit Trek last week and the brand is really keen to promote the use of rear lights during the day. It even had the members of Trek Factory Racing ride the prologue of this year’s Tour de France on time trial bikes fitted with the Flare R “to promote awareness of the most important cycling accessory available today”.

Daytime light.jpg

Of course, your cynical side thinks that Trek wants to encourage the use of lights in the daytime because Bontrager, it’s sub-brand, produces that Flare R rear light. It’s simply a way of boosting sales.

Trek acknowledges that, of course, it has an interest in selling lights, but says that the key motivation for launching the Flare R was to keep cyclists safe.

“About two years ago, I was in San Diego, and I’m driving along during the day, and I see a biker, a road cyclist, and he’s got a blinking light on the back of his bike, and I thought, ‘That is a great idea,’” says Trek President John Burke. “The only problem is you could barely see his light.

“When I got back to Trek, I put together a team of engineers, and I said, ‘Listen, what I’d really like to see is a light on the back of a bike that can be seen during the day.’ If we could do that, I think it would significantly enhance the safety of cyclists everywhere.”

The result is the Flare R. Here’s John Burke’s short video presentation on the light.

Trek argues that using a light during the day makes sense because that’s when about 80% of cycling accidents occur.

Well, yeah, says your cynical side, but what percentage of cycling takes place during the day? Maybe that figure simply reflects the number of people on bikes during the daytime compared to the number who ride at night.

Trek also argues that, “Studies on accidents resulting in the fatality of a cyclist show that in 40% of all bicycle vs. car accidents, the victim was struck from behind.”

That statistic is from the US. Put a light on the back of your bike, the argument goes, and you’re less likely to be one of them.

Bontrager Flare R City Tail Light.jpg

“We think products like the Flare R allow a rider to have more control over their safety, putting us in both offensive and defensive positions on the road,” said Trek’s Chris Garrison. “We want to get people talking about increasing their visibility not just at night, but also during the day.”

Chris cites a recent AA-Populous poll as evidence that more cyclist visibility is required. In that poll 91% of drivers said that it’s sometimes hard to see cyclists while driving

John Sullivan, an RAF pilot and keen cyclist, advised in his paper A Fighter Pilot’s Guide to Surviving on the Roads, “Aviation research shows that contrast is the single most important factor in determining the likelihood of acquiring an object visually – this is why military aircraft camouflage is designed to tone down their contrast.

"On the ground, dark coloured vehicles or clothing will result in reduced contrast against most usual backgrounds, and this is why high visibility clothing (for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists) and/or bright lights are so important, in the daytime as well as at night.”

Back at Trek, John Burke says, “People should be able to see you all the time. And when they do, you’re going to have a better riding experience. Get a new Flare R, or buy something else. What I care about is making sure you have a really safe cycling season.”

Exposure Trace TraceR set

Of course, Trek didn’t invent riding with a rear light on during daylight. Some people have always done it and USE, for example, has been advocating it for years. The British lights brand says that its Exposure Flash front light and Flare rear light (yes, the same name as the Bontrager light) are designed specifically for both daytime and nighttime use (you could argue that USE, like Trek, has a vested interest in promoting more bike light use).

Our man Dave says, “I’ve used the Flare R rear light a lot and I’d say it makes a noticeable difference to the passes you get. Drivers tend to give you more space.”

Of course, that’s anecdotal evidence. If anyone knows of any scientific research that has been carried out, we’d be interested in hearing about it.

So, why do so few of us use lights during the daytime? We guess that most people don’t think it’s necessary, although some oppose the idea in principle.

“When a vehicle has lights on it makes any in front or behind without harder to see,” said Simon E in that road.cc thread mentioned earlier. “Every vehicle that runs with sidelights/LEDs/DRLs [daytime running lights] in the daytime is furthering the idea that you have to have lights on to be seen, so all the sheeple do the same. Baaaa! This means drivers to look only for lights, not other vehicles or people.

“Lights are NOT needed in daylight, whether on bikes, motorbikes or cars.”

In a comment under our story announcing the launch of the Flare R, McVittees said, “Whilst it is perfectly reasonable to want to run as bright a rear light as possible either during the day to warn cars or at night when riding on unlit country roads, I hate being stuck behind someone who is running a high output rear light at night during my urban commute. I find it distracting and obscures my vision of the road (and thus traffic) ahead.”

andyp said, “[Bontrager are] pouring money into something which will make them more money, not into solving a problem.”

What do you reckon? Do Trek’s arguments convince you that you should use a rear light during the day? Let us know what you think.

Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.

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212 comments

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OldnSlo | 8 years ago
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Perhaps a publicity stunt but its all about visibility. If I were riding a large motorcycle I'd have my lights on. Always. And wear pink camo gear if it caused a driver to look again. Driver inattentiveness (which I've been on the receiving end of !) Could become more of problem. More driver aids should make things easier but more toys equals more potential for driver overload and potential to fail to prioritise which driver aid to use or whether or not to use them at all.

Front and rear always on lights a good idea but we need better traffic segregation, cyclist specific signage and traffic officers who take cycling accidents seriously. Not just the deaths.
But most of all driver education that reflects the distractions and added complications that a modern car can bring. Oh and new test for chelsea tractors.

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psyrog | 8 years ago
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I have a good tail light that is bright and easy to spot. I always say 'If you're going to run over me and kill me then you are going to see me first'. I think it foolish to ride without one as I consider it even more important than a helmet. I see cyclists riding with lights that should not even be allowed to be sold they are so useless. I say a good light is a good investment. Because whether you think someone should see you are not won't matter if you are roadkill.

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Toshi San | 8 years ago
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I have used a rear flashing light for about 6 years now. If I'm on a Club Run in good weather I don't switch it on, motorists should be able to spot a group of riders, but if the weather turns wet or foggy and the visibility drops I switch it on. If I get dropped or whenever I ride on my own (I am not very tall and ride a low position) I switch it on. My TT position is very low so I always have the light on to help make me more visible. It may or may not work but it definitely makes me FEEL safer, and I'm happy with that.

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caaad10 | 8 years ago
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The councils turn off street lights at night in order to reduce energy consumption, and now cyclist are being asked to use more energy by lighting up in the daytime? Modern day logic at its best!!

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don simon fbpe | 8 years ago
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Quote:

We are with you all that the real keys to providing safer cycling environments are found in cultural changes, such as better infrastructure and hazard perception training for motorists

While I admire you for coming here and speaking directly with the public, there have been many times where this strategy has gone pear shaped, I can't help thinking that these dialogues are counter productive and just give ammunition to drivers in their victim blaming (cyclists should wear helmets, cyclists should wear hi viz and now cyclists should have lights during the day, SMIDSY!). And another conversation about what cyclists should be doing to protect themselves is wrong, in my opinion.
I would have far more respect for you guys if you put your money behind a campaign to assist drivers in their hazard perception training. As I said earlier, this is already inplace in the Highway Code and ultimately in the driving test. Media & attitudes in general have made victim blaming acceptable. Media can reverse this trend.

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Walbrook | 8 years ago
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I was on an audax ride on Saturday. For a few kms we shared the route with a time trial. Many of the TTers were using these but none of the audaxers. This, of course, is due to the quoted 4.75 hour battery life making them only suitable for nipping to the shops or a short TT  4

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Bigfella195 | 8 years ago
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I love riding my bike but what I love even more is coming home to my wife and kids in one piece. I always ride with a flashing front and rear light, anything that might save me being cleaned up by a car is worthwhile. I'm still don't feel 100% safe with so many drivers on their mobile phones, but when I drive I certainly spot a bike with a flashing light before I see one that does not have one.

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marmiter | 8 years ago
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I don't think it should be legislated, but I always use a Smart Superflash during the day one at home in Germany, which irritates drivers so you know you're been seen. Still didn't stop me getting hit from behind last year by a car doing 100kmh as I was riding into the setting sun.
Even so, I'd never dream of riding a dual-carriageway in Germany. I was driving from the south coast to Dover in July up the A23 in 14 degrees, it was raining, and really dingy at 9am and was astonished to see a road race being run along parts of the A23 in both directions - looked like a death wish to me. Only one of the riders out of 20 that I saw there had a flashing led on the back, the others were more or less invisible

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mathelo | 8 years ago
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I NEVER ride without my lights, both front and rear. Anything to improve my odds.

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rix | 8 years ago
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It is just a common sense... As a driver in the city you will come across a situation where sun is shining into your eyes and you can't see anyone in the shadow of the building... unless it has a blinking light.

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BFinkers | 8 years ago
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All-though I think these type of lamps can be a great tribute to road safety, I have some doubt if the will be a success in the Netherlands (Where I live).
There are a lot of cycle paths here which are separated from the roads where cars ride. A light like the one in the article would only irritate other (commuting) cyclist when you overtake them.
But the biggest reason why I thin they won't be a success is because Dutch cyclist on racing bikes won't even put a bell or a saddle on their bike( because of the 'weight' or looks is mostly the excuse). So it is still a big step to convince them to use a light during the day.
Personally I use a bell, but I'm not sure if I will buy this kind of lamp jet. It will depend on the price, and blinding effect on other cyclist.

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jimbo2112 | 8 years ago
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I started having lights front and rear set to strobe any time I am riding now.

* Twilight is very dodgy for visibility as the sun is low and contrast is at it's lowest
* Cars going from strong daylight into a wooded lane with canopy cover are temporarily blinded
* Anything that helps, helps!

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jazzdude | 8 years ago
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Trek don't want to keep cyclists safe, they want to increase profits for their share-holders. Companies are only interested in peoples safety if it's good for business.

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WolfieSmith | 8 years ago
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Bike lights in daylight? No.

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WolfieSmith | 8 years ago
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The subject of having to make an independent safety film is an interesting one. I think the Dept of Information was cut about 5 years ago? No more 'Charlie says' or Rolf Harris in the swimming pool with kids...

Gawd but we need the D of I back. I would welcome Clarkson: lecturing folk on what indicators are for - especially on motorways, Tailgating, Using the phone when driving, Leaving your trolley in a parking space at Tescos because you're too f**king idle to put it back.

Since the 1989's there has been a steady drop in both road manners and safety because people, like children, need to know the rules and need to be reminded of them. Just like the banks, if you do not constantly remind some people what is right from wrong and not to take the p*ss they will just take the p*ss.

Sorry. Didn't get my ride in this morning. I'm going away to lie down now..

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WolfieSmith | 8 years ago
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No.

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Kadinkski | 8 years ago
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This happens all the time though, its nothing to do with lights.

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brooksby | 8 years ago
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I have front and rear lights on (a blinky set and a steady set) if it's dark or otherwise poor visibility. But no way am I going to start having lights on even in good visibility. Sod off! That's a b****y arms race that we cannot match, let alone win.

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fenix | 8 years ago
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What is interesting is that their study says 45% of deaths are from crashes from behind ?

So shouldn't they be looking at the other 60% to address that first ?

I run at least rear LED's in winter when its gloomy. I've missed my riding partner before now - he went through a goth phase and wore all black. He was riding towards me on a dual carriageway and I was looking for him. I missed him completely so he had to chase after me. The three mile chase helped convince him he needed to be brighter.

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velotech_cycling | 8 years ago
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Bah, humbug ...

What is needed is for motorists to use the mark 1 eyeball properly in the 1st place .... to slow down, concentrate and think. We are driving cars as road users, we are there with a job to do and the doing of that job requires us to take care of fellow road users. If that means we can't text our mates - well, so be it. If that means we have to look for other road users and treat them with the respect that we would hope, say, an HGV driver would treat us, in our far smaller and more vulnerable car - well, that's part of the cost of driving, too.

Lights during the day only make a rider conspicuous because they are not in normal use - once other road users get used to looking for lights, as others have said, those without lights automatically become "less visible" ... so we'll all start using brighter lights, then the less bright lights will be less visible, and so the crazy escalation goes on.

All we have to do is think how the increasing intensities on car headlights, centrally placed auxilliary brake lights etc - all measures introduced in the name of safety - have in fact all made the need to look more carefully greater than it has ever been, and the chances of *not* seeing an unlit cyclist even in daylight greater as we are dazzled by the plethora of other things that catch the eye's attention, then we can see where this escalation might lead.

I drive an awful lot of miles in the course of a year and ride a lot, too - and historically have ridden more miles in a year than the average driver drives ... and am deeply *not* in favour of daylight running lights for cars / vans / trucks, over-bright headlamps, or, for that matter, daylight lighting for cyclists - these are all unnecessary measures which promote inattention & poor road use.

If we continue down this kind of avenue and fast forward 10 years when we are all using high-intensity lights during the day as well as during the night - and a cyclist without one is killed - will insurance companies, or inattentive drivers (probably too busy relying on their self-braking cars whilst sending a text on their head-up display messaging system) for instance, be able to use "diminished responsibility" to evade prosecution in the way that they are currently trying to do with helmets and cycle lanes?

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Comrade | 8 years ago
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My lights are a bit like mudguards, they stay on all year round! Riding through tree lined roads in the sun ... Light , dark, light , dark...etc then it pisses down!

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Vintage Stef | 8 years ago
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I've been trying out the Dulwich Paragon 30 mile circuit (heading out of South London) and after about twenty minutes or so you find yourself out of the sunshine into a wooded bit of road - following a few very close wing mirrors decided to put on some of those Argos £5 LED lights, not too heavy and certainly being given more road room ...unless it's the drivers thinking I'm a wally they don't want to get too close too?
I agree it's frustrating to have to adopt defensive practices because of bad drivers, probably one day helmets will be compulsory for pedestrians crossing roads?

And then again when you get a nutter who just wants to prove he's tough and run you into the ditch the light isn't going to alter that....

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PhilRuss | 8 years ago
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[[[[[[ Daytime lights? In London? Zollocks! When riding in town, with traffic behind you (and in front of you), just ride a slightly wavy line, when safe to do so. The look of alarm on the faces of side-road-emerging drivers and kerb-hovering pedestrians is something I find deeply reassuring. Daytime running-lights are for Volvo's. In Sweden.

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alg | 8 years ago
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Unfortunately daytime car lighting is at the heart of our problem. I remember the time when you couldn't get people to switch lights on even when they were essential - now you can't switch the blessed things off.
I long preached, as a motorcycle instructor, to my trainees that they should run with lights on and I don't see any reason why cycle riders should not do likewise for the same reasons.
A small vehicle needs all the help it can get but the average cycle lamp is useless in the sunlight and with just about every new car on the road showing off its LED running lights full time we have no chance of being picked out even by the precious few motorists who do look for us.
The much maligned and ignored Highway Code still has it right - if you need lights then use them. For my money cars and larger vehicles should have a clause that says 'do not run lights in daytime' because they don't need them and they are a distraction

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700c | 8 years ago
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Not convinced by the arguments against daytime lighting being given here. If it helps motorbikes/ cycles to be seen then that's a good thing if anything - so ditto cars, surely, since they have the most potential to harm?

I don't buy the 'arms race' argument either. If you need to use lights to be seen (e.g. in poor daylight, poor weather etc) then they should be used. If you don't need them but they're on anyway then surely a cyclist/ car driver will see and be seen regardless of whether they're on or not. At worst they're ineffective, but not a distraction.

Now poorly adjusted/ designed lights which dazzle oncoming traffic (like some riders and car drivers insist on using).. that's a different matter entirely.

(PS I say this as a Volvo driver, who's lights are always on! - it's helpful for not having to remember to switch them on I suppose but otherwise I'm ambivalent TBH).

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Paul_C | 8 years ago
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daytime running lights only make sense in Scandinavian countries where they have short, murky days... sadly, car manufacturers being cheapskates will make just the one model WITH them and sell into all of the EU...

There is evidence that having lights on in daytime can actually reduce your contrast with the background and make you effectively invisible. They even went as far as fitting lights on the front edges of torpedo bombers and dive bombers so that with the lights on they were harder to see against the sky when making their attack runs...

Yehudi Lights...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yehudi_lights

and now being rediscovered to make drones harder to see...

http://www.wired.com/2008/05/invisible-drone/

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LondonDynaslow | 8 years ago
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Having seen the difference it makes to the visibility of other riders, the only time I haven't had my rear light on this year has been (1) at the Velodrome (2) on closed circuit TTs at LVV and Hillingdon and (3) in Spain, where people have a bit more respect and patience and where I was riding in a large group.

FWIW I have the Exposure TraceR, which is the USB version of the Flare (I hope Bontrager has to pay them a lot of money for stealing the name).

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tatsky | 8 years ago
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I sometimes don't understand fellow cyclists reluctance to adopt a strategy which might give them a greater chance of surviving a ride. It's all well and good saying "I shouldn't have to have lights on, drivers should pay attention" but the fact is some drivers don't pay full attention, and there isn't anything we can do about that. What we can do though is add a little extra light, or maybe a reflective strip, or high vis jacket, just to make us that little extra visible. That's something we can control. We aren't going to change driver attitudes over night.

And another thing, lately when driving home I have had a few incidents where due to the low sun I can't see a sodding thing in front of me. Now, as a cyclist I am aware of accidents which have occurred where cyclists have been hit from behind and motorists have used the low sun as their explanation/excuse. So I slow down and strain as hard as I can to see if there is anything or anyone there. Most motorists who don't appreciate cycling wouldn't do this. If there was something I could do to make myself that little but more obvious in those situations I would do it. I wouldn't lie in a ditch after a crash holding together my smashed pelvis telling the driver they really ought to pay more attention.

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luuk | 8 years ago
3 likes

I've found some papers suggesting that for bicyclists safety increases by running lights during daytime: Madsen, Ander

 

Madsen, Andersen & Lahrmann (2012), 'Safety effects of permanent running lights for bicycles: A controlled experiment'

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