Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on December 1st, 2010 at 9:54 am
Today’s question comes from reader Chris M. Chris wonders if there’s such a thing as a front bike light that’s just too bright..
“I’ve been blinded on my morning commute a few times too many. This afternoon while riding north from Sellwood on the Springwater, I was blinded by a dual strobe light on a bike coming towards me.
It seems that some folks have lights that can literally be seen from a mile away and become blinding within a block when I’m riding against them. It’s difficult for me to see the road in front of me and it can’t be that different for our friends in cars. How bright is too bright for a front light?
I doubt there’s a standard, but does anyone else think that there is such a thing as too bright?”
Thanks for the question Chris. I’ve heard similar gripes from many other people in the past.
As with many issues, there’s what’s allowed in Oregon law, and then there’s common courtesy. In this case, we’ll have to rely on common courtesy because the ORS says nothing about the maximum brightness of bike lights.
Bike lights are mentioned in ORS 815.280, “Violation of bicycle equipment requirements”. That law states:
“The lighting equipment must show a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front of the bicycle”.
Interestingly, the laws that govern motor vehicle headlights are much more detailed and do have provisions about the direction of the beam. ORS 816.050, “Headlights”, states (emphasis mine):
“If headlights provide only a single distribution of light and are not supplemented by auxiliary lights, the single beam headlights shall be so aimed that when the vehicle is not loaded, none of the high intensity portion of the light shall, at a distance of 25 feet ahead of the vehicle, project higher than five inches below the level of the center of the lamp from which it comes, or higher than 42 inches above the level on which the vehicle stands at a distance of 75 feet ahead of the vehicle.”
Helmet-mounted lights can be especially problematic because they are right at eye level with oncoming traffic. Another issue at play with bright bike lights is that the industry is in something of an arms race. Bike lights are becoming brighter and brighter as companies try to compete with the growing urban/commuter market. It’s also worth noting that most (if not all) of light companies began by selling lights for riding mountain bikes at night — where there’s no such thing as too bright.
Now I turned to you, intelligent readers: Have you been blinded by oncoming bike traffic? Do you think people need to turn down their helmet-mounted high-beams as others approach?
— Read more questions and extremely informative answers (thanks to all of you) over at the Ask BikePortland archives.