Portland bike light enforcement starts soon

Portland Police have been giving out warnings and bike lights for the past week to those cyclists they catch without a front white light – but they’re about to run out, and when that happens, they’ll start giving out tickets instead.

So if you know someone who doesn’t have a front white light (and a rear red reflector, at a minimum), let them know they’re risking a ticket! This ad by RiverCity Bicycles sure makes the point.

Or much worse – not using bike lights at night is a great way to get hit by a car or another bicyclist. (We think this RiverCity Bicycles ad makes the point quite nicely.) Many people think that the rear light is the most important, but they are wrong – most crashes involve a bicyclist hit from the side or the front, NOT from the back. Front lights are the most important.

Some people also seem to think that a helmet is essential, but that lights are optional. In fact, lights are even more important because they prevent crashes – once a helmet comes into play and saves your life, you’re already in a crash because something else has gone terribly wrong. Don’t let that something else be your invisibility! Use lights AND wear a helmet.

Good bike lights can be purchased at any of these local bike shops (and BTA members get 10% off); since replacing batteries can be a drag, consider a bigger investment in rechargeable batteries and a charger (this is a good holiday or birthday gift too) to save money in the long run.

Comment

Comments (22)

  1. Dave Permalink  | Oct 17, 2008 12:35pm

    I’m just curious regarding the legality of generator powered front lights – since they turn off when you aren’t riding. Are these considered to fulfill the legal requirements (as long as you have them engaged)? Will a cop give me a ticket at a stop sign/light because my light isn’t on?

  2. Peter Permalink  | Oct 17, 2008 02:30pm

    i generally don’t worry about getting hit from the side or front – especially at night. do the ‘side and front’ stats hold for nighttime riding, alone?

  3. PoPo Permalink  | Oct 17, 2008 06:23pm

    I’m not a lawyer, but I am a cop, so maybe I can give some perspective. But I definitely can’t speak for all cops and my thoughts do not represent city or police bureau policy. Ok, disclaimer done!

    Here’s the link to the online Oregon Revised Statutes. If you click on it and scroll down to ORS 815.280 you will see the complete statute:

    http://www.leg.state.or.us/ors/815.html

    I believe the key bits are these:

    (c) At the times described in the following, a bicycle or its rider must be equipped with lighting equipment that meets the described requirements:

    (A) The lighting equipment must be used during limited visibility conditions.

    (B) The lighting equipment must show a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front of the bicycle.

    (C) The lighting equipment must have a red reflector or lighting device or material of such size or characteristic and so mounted as to be visible from all distances up to 600 feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful lower beams of headlights on a motor vehicle.

    As you see, it doesn’t say anything that seems to perfectly fit the case of generator lights that go dark when the wheels aren’t turning.

    My personal thought is that while an officer could technically stop a rider on a bicycle sitting in traffic at night with a front light that is out because it is a generator light, I think few officers would issue a citation once they understood the situation. And if they did issue one, I think it would also be an interesting, and probably tough case in court to sway a judge to convict.

    However, it definitely feels like gray area to me. I can’t say it wouldn’t happen. Has anyone else seen this in court?

    Maybe we’ll have to lobby our representatives to patch this hole in the law!

  4. Michelle Permalink  | Oct 20, 2008 12:52pm

    The most local published data on crash types is in this report – see Page 5 for the listing of the top crash types, all of which involve front- or side-visibility of the bicyclist (not rear-visibility).

    I have also heard people refer to national statistics on the high proportion of bike/car crashes that happen to the front or the side of the bicyclist and not the rear (whereas in rural areas crashes from the rear are more common), but I have not yet found any publication to back that up. Anyone?

  5. Keith Permalink  | Oct 20, 2008 02:06pm

    Just a little reminder.

    I’ve found (very recently) that even if you have a flashing helmet mounted 200 lumen light pointed right in someone’s face from about 10 feet away, they will not see you if they are looking for cars. Be aware that when a car is approaching an intersection, the driver will often be looking far to the left for cars that are coming from far away at higher speed. If they see no motor vehicles, they assume it is safe to go. Frequently, they may not be looking right in front of them as they blow through the stop sign. This is what happened to me in broad daylight and I could have very easily been killed. Fortunately, I saw what was about to happen and I was able to get out of the way before I became intimately familiar with the car’s undercarriage. Reflectors, lights, bright clothing…all good stuff and I had it all. Do what you can but don’t ever expect it to be enough. Car drivers are NOT LOOKING FOR YOU!

  6. David Permalink  | Oct 21, 2008 08:53am

    On the subject of legalities, it is interesting to note that flashing red or white lights are not legal on Oregon roads. Some of us who have been in the bicycle community for long enough will remember using orange strobes (which are legal) for this very reason. But I have not had any success locating orange strobes in recent years. My last one died about two years ago, and I have not been able to find a replacement. Red and white (and blue) strobes and flashers are reserved for emergency vehicles and for turn signals and hazard flashers.

    This point was recently confirmed by an OSP trooper for a group of bicycle commuters in Salem. I also had a Mount Angel officer tell me that he would sight a motor vehicle for displaying a red or white strobe like those common on bicycles, and the same law technically applies to bicycles. But he personally would not site for such an offence by a bicyclist.

    Like the generator question, it is not likely to result in a ticket, but a violation of the law nonetheless. And interestingly enough, some studies have suggested that a steady light of the same intensity is actually visible at a greater distance that a flashing light, so if you are trying to be seen, a steady light might be better. But the flashing light does tend to draw a bit more attention, so in an environment with lot of other lights, the flasher might be noticed sooner.

  7. el timito Permalink  | Oct 21, 2008 01:09pm

    Break out the holiday lights, yo!
    Seriously, if you want to be both visible and cheerful, get some of those battery-powered holiday lights and wrap them around your down tube or top tube. You’ll have a side-profile that is much more visible (I’ve noticed cars rushing up on a side street come to an abrupt stop when they saw me coming).
    You’re also likely to get lots of people saying things like, “Cool lights!” Seriously, I’ve had at least 10 people – on sidewalks, porches, wherever – comment out loud.
    Not a commercial plug, but the LED / AA-battery powered ones at IKEA are the brightest and longest lasting that I’ve found.

  8. mark Permalink  | Oct 21, 2008 02:10pm

    it all boils down to this. protect your self and get lights. who cares if it is the law or not, it’s smart thing to do. if you get hit at night without lights, it’s your own fault.

  9. Jessica Roberts Permalink  | Oct 21, 2008 02:14pm

    Timo, just tried to find them on the Ikea web page, but I failed. Can you point me to what you’re talking about?

  10. el timito Permalink  | Oct 21, 2008 03:44pm

    Hmmm- I see what you mean (looking at catalog). I haven’t biked out to IKEA in a while, I better schedule a field trip. I found them at the store last fall, in the impulse-buy area right before the checkout. They were gone when I went back in March, but I’m betting they’ll come back soon.

    Till then, check the website linked here – 5 times the cost of the IKEA specials (though still not much). I only did a cursory Google search, I’m hoping better deals are out there.

  11. Jeff Permalink  | Oct 22, 2008 08:43am

    Try phosphorescent wire. I wrap the wire all over my bike and it is way, way cool. You need a battery and a driver. Right now I have a radio shack project box with a 7 amp-hour battery and two medium sized drivers installed. And a float charger from an old car jump starter kit, and a switch.

    http://www.coolneon.com is one of several places to buy the wire and drivers online.

  12. Christopher Dale Permalink  | Oct 22, 2008 09:14am

    Before my last bike purchase, I researched generator or dynamo lighting. I found many sources online that mention that most new dynamo systems have what is called a “stand light”. This “stand light” is powered by a capacitor that is charged while you’re riding, and remains lit for a few minutes after you’ve come to a stop. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_lighting

  13. el timito Permalink  | Oct 27, 2008 07:59pm

    Just in case you want to go with the cheap Swedish-sponsored product : http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/60142426 … but as I said, they get you noticed (in a good way)

  14. Robert McIntosh Permalink  | Oct 29, 2008 01:42pm

    As someone who’s been hit by cars twice in the last two years, both times we from the side, both times by young women (sorry ladies, just providing facts), both times rolled over the hood, both times at intersections, and both times at speeds were the car was going under 15 mph. I’d very much agree with the statistics; if you’re going to get hit, it’s probably on the front or sides.

  15. Robert McIntosh Permalink  | Oct 29, 2008 01:42pm

    As someone who’s been hit by cars twice in the last two years, both times we from the side, both times by young women (sorry ladies, just providing facts), both times rolled over the hood, both times at intersections, and both times at speeds where the car was going under 15 mph. I’d very much agree with the statistics; if you’re going to get hit, it’s probably on the front or sides.

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  21. robb Permalink  | Nov 13, 2013 04:39pm

    is there a limit to the brightness/intensity of a white headlight…?

  22. robb Permalink  | Nov 13, 2013 05:13pm

    from the portland bureau of transportation: bicycle lights…

    https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/58172

    they say, “blinking…flashing…solid lights… THE MORE THE BETTER”

    i do not see a restriction on the brightness… sounds like 5000 lumen lights legal.. ie: PBT, “THE MORE THE BETTER”

    if anyone is aware of better information from the PBT.. please let me know…


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