Public perception and information about lighting

1. Lighting is assumed to be the cause of an accident

There is an association between lighting and road accidents: for example, there tend to be fewer road accidents at higher light levels, although this depends on the type of accident. However, that does not mean that lighting can prevent each and every accident – if that were the case there would be no road accidents in daytime. Unfortunately, lighting is blamed for accidents which may not have been the fault of poor lighting. That is ‘unfortunate’ because the desire to avoid negative public criticism may cause the responsible authority to focus on lighting when their attention may be more effective if directed elsewhere.

There are two common sources of inappropriate focus on lighting – solicitors and other media.

Many solicitors offer no-win-no-fee support to those considering perusing a claim, for example:

We do not suggest such promotion falsely blames road lighting, but rather that it may divert attention from the real cause.

We also note that solicitors can make a positive contribution, for example by discussing research of lighting and accidents or by reviewing cases which address the cyclist’s contribution to the accident.

There are often stories in the news where lighting is blamed for accidents or crime, often specific events that have happened after a local authority has made a change to the lighting or lighting policy:

2. Advice for cycle lamps

Lamps are fitted to bicycles to enable the cyclist to see and to be seen by others. The effectiveness of lighting to meet these needs depends upon the brightness of the lamps. If a lamp is too dim it may not provide sufficient visibility and give the cyclist false confidence of being seen by others. If a lamp is too bright it may dazzle other road users, reducing their ability to identify the type, speed and direction of the object moving towards them.

A good summary of lamp brightness appeared in Cycling Weekly. They distinguish between lamps to see and lamps to be seen, with some proposals for the lamp lumens (a measure of lamp brightness) for meeting these needs. This is information that is possibly read and acted upon by cycling enthusiasts, but probably not by the much broader population of cyclists.

The Cycling Weekly item states “Be seen lights mark you out on the road and are designed for use on lit roads. In this case, 100 lumens is a good starting point… ” Now consider what lamp you are likely to purchase, and assume that you have not read the Cycle Weekly guidance or any other source. Lamps with brightness as low as 15 or 20 lumens can be purchased widely. A cyclist might choose one of these lamps because they are amongst the cheapest and because the product descriptions do not hint at any visibility limitations: “The [brand-model] Front light is designed as an affordable yet brilliant compact ''be seen'' Commute / Road / MTB safety front light”. If using a lamp which is too dim to be properly visible inflates a cyclist’s confidence of being seen, and hence promotes riskier behaviour, that may be worse than not using a lamp at all.

The Cycling Weekly article continues “… but 300+ [lumens] will let you see more of the road ahead.” It is common to see lamps advertised as ‘brighter is better’. The brightest lamp we have found offers 6000 lumens, with 500 to 2000 lumens easily available. These lamps, which tend to be the more expensive options, frequently target off-road cyclists, but that might not be recognised by the novice cyclists or the off-roader cycling home along a road.

Cycle lamps are essential for cyclist safety. We propose some action is required:

  1. A minimum lamp brightness is set, with lamps not meeting this target being unavailable for purchase.

  2. Lamps of extremely high brightness are sold with a clear warning against their use on roads.