Written By Chris Dolan
This week’s question comes from Luca from Mill Valley: I have simple question for you. Some riders have them some don’t. Are bike lights legally required in California?
Thank you, Luca, for the question.
The simple answer is yes, a bike light is required at nighttime. The law requires the light to meet certain requirements and requires the use of reflectors as well. Let’s start by discussing the lights and reflectors and then we will discuss what is required by California law.
What is a Bicycle Light?
A bicycle light is typically a battery powered LED device that attaches to, or is built onto, a bicycle that helps the rider be noticed by traffic and others on the roads, paths, or trails. Bike lights also allow for greater visibility to the rider resulting in safer riding.
The front bicycle light is a white lamp, and the rear light is a red reflector or red light with a built-in reflector.
What is a Bike Reflector?
Bike reflectors are another important part of a bike that increases the visibility of bicyclists. A bike reflector is a safety device that is designed to redirect light that strikes it. When light strikes a reflector, it illuminates and emits the reflected light outward.
While bike reflectors can be highly visible under the right circumstances, they are generally insufficient visibility aids for night riding. This is why California law requires the use of a bicycle light as well as reflectors.
How Bright Does my Light Need to Be?
The front white light of a bicycle should be bright enough to be visible from at least 300 feet from the side and front of your bicycle.
Light brightness is measured in lumens. Lights will be brighter and more visible to humans when its lumen rating is higher. Typical home light bulbs range from 300 to 1000 lumens.
As a bicycle rider you want to use a light that lights up the area you are riding through and makes you visible to others hundreds of feet away. Most riders will be comfortable with a minimum lumen rating of 200. The optimal lumen rating for a front white bike light is 250-400 lumens to be sufficiently visible to others while also lighting your path forward.
What is the Law in California for Bicycle Lights and Reflectors?
California Vehicle Code § 21201(d) sets forth the requirements for using lights and reflectors on bicycles. The law requires the use of lights and reflectors when a bicycle is operated during darkness. During the daytime, when the conditions are visible, a bicycle rider is not required to illuminate themselves with lights, although it is a safe practice to use a white front lamp and red reflector at all times when riding.
During the darkness a bicycle must be equipped with the following:
- A front white light that is visible from a distance of 300 feet in front and from the sides of the bicycle.
- A rear red reflector or a solid or flashing red light with a built-in reflector that is visible from a distance of 500 feet to the rear.
- A white or yellow reflector on each pedal, shoe, or ankle visible from the front and rear of the bicycle from a distance of 200 feet.
- A white or yellow reflector on the front half of the bicycle (typically the front wheel); and a red or white reflector on each side of the back half of the bicycle (typically on the back wheel); or reflectorized front and back tires.
The biggest benefit of bicycle lights and reflectors is visibility. you want to be seen, so you don’t get hit by cars. Remember to practice safe biking habits and stay safe out there!