The blinking bike lights debate has taken a new turn in Portland.
Two readers have contacted us this week about a message painted in large red letters across roads in northwest Portland that reads: “Fuck you and your epileptic bike lights.”
We don’t know who painted them, but we do know that this issue is real and that there are strong opinions on both sides. It boils down to this: Many people believe that when bike lights blink they are more visible to other road users and are therefore safer. However, there’s another school of thought that maintains blinking lights are actually less safe for the same reason: Because, like a moth attracted to light, other road users (especially people operating cars while drunk or otherwise impaired) notice them too much and can actually be drawn to them.
Then there’s the sentiment expressed in this graffiti where people with epilepsy are particularly at risk of having a reaction to lights that blink. And that’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. A small percentage of people with epilepsy can have a seizure triggered by flashing lights.
Our friend Halley Weaver (you might remember her as the biking harpist, the devoted advocate, the tall-bike rider, or the Naked Bike Ride volunteer) has a form of epilepsy and she has written at length about this topic on her “Bikeleptic” blog.
I agree with much of what Halley wrote. Even for people without epilepsy, having bright bike lights flash in your face as someone passes is annoying and doesn’t seem necessary. In fact, the mentality that one person’s perceived increase in personal safety trumps the needs of those around them seems downright selfish. It reminds me of when people bought (and still buy, although thankfully in lesser numbers) massively large SUVs because it made them feel safe, regardless of the increased risks they posed to others.
Keep it steady Portland. And save your flashing for the Naked Bike Ride.
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Like so many things, we lack good data, so we’re left with preferences. My own experience: Flashing bike lights outside of the bright daylight hours is very distracting. During the daytime, less of a problem.
Well, I don’t really think that photosensitive epilepsy is debatable – it is a real condition:
“About one in 100 people in the U.S. have epilepsy. About 3% to 5% of those people have photosensitive epilepsy.”
I’ve been told the United States is the only country where flashing lights on a bike is legal. A little blinky light is fine with me but why does there have to be a light so bright I have to hold up my hand to shade my eyes at night while riding past someone with one of those lights on their bike. There’s a chance it’s making that rider safer but the temporary blindness I get is making my ride a lot more dangerous.
Blinkies are legal in the UK, front and rear: http://www.ctc.org.uk/cyclists-library/regulations/lighting-regulations (“must emit at least 4 candela”).
Wikipedia says, “in many countries, LED flashers are the norm for rear lights” and mentions Germany and Netherlands as prohibiting them (no citation for either claim), but an article cited here by was carless says Germany allows one optional rear light in addition to the dynamo-powered mandatory rear, and it doesn’t say that it can’t be a blinky, and this page says the rear can be a flasher in Germany: http://bicyclegermany.com/german_bicycle_laws.html
I think flashing rear lights/ steady front lights is a good compromise. Flashing rear helps when being overtaken by speeding cars (e.g. SW Barbur) but a steady front light is really appropriate on bike boulevards and neighborhood streets. Yes, you want to be seen but how does blinding other riders/drivers/walkers make the street safer? Especially when they are ahead of you and about to make a decision that could put them in your path…but I don’t buy the moth to a flame theory as something that significantly affects behavior in the real world.
Well, for one thing, blinky lights are actually illegal in many states. I know they are in mine, Washington: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=46.37.280
Though this isn’t enforced.. it well should be. If one does proper research into this subject (which will require you to look outside the US where bike riding is more prevalent) it will be shown that many countries have banned the blinky lights with good reason and have studies to back them up. This was borne out in a Dutch safety study which concluded, “bicycle lights should not flicker.” Europe, in particular the Netherlands and Germany, are at the forefront of bicycling as a general rule. In Germany, traffic regulations prohibit blinking bicycle lights altogether. http://www.fietsberaad.nl/library/repository/bestanden/Eindrapport_Fietsverlichting.pdf
“A blinking headlight not only means motorists can’t ascertain your precise location, direction of movement, or distance, they also get disoriented and may suffer from the dreaded moth effect in which drivers are actually attracted to your blinking light.”
Also, here is an in-depth European study on bike lighting and safety, in which they note the following about flashing lights on Page 31:
“It can be concluded that flashing bicycle lights are not necessary for a good conspicuousness.
Flashing also has the following general disadvantages:
• It may confuse others, for example confusion with the lights from an emergency vehicle
• It may irritate others
• It makes other traffic participants less visible
• It makes it hard to judge the distance and path followed by the cyclist
So, there seems little use for flashing and certainly should not be promoted.”
Here’s a good article from a bicyclist in Seattle on the issue: http://crosscut.com/2013/11/bicycle-bullies-turn-your-blinking-lights/
As a pedestrian who doesn’t suffer from epilepsy and who’s had only a handful of migraines in my life-time (all due to strobe lights).. I instantly get dizzy, disoriented and nauseous when I have them approaching me on my walk into work. This has led to migraines on several occasions now. I’m clearly not the only one. Several people have mentioned that they too experience this and have had to change their lives around (times of day to go to work, etc.) specifically because of the blinking lights.
People, there’s no proof that you’re any safer with your blinking lights and more proof that you’ll “dazzle” other road users and make it difficult for them to judge distance, your speed or direction of travel.
Just use a good, steady light of ample strength and keep to the rules of the road. You and everyone else will be far safer for it. Please let’s make it a comfortable journey for EVERYONE transporting in our cities.
Just to clarify: I think the WA law you cite makes an exception for bicycle lights:
Flashing lights are prohibited EXCEPT … light-emitting diode flashing taillights on bicycles.
Yeah, it could have been other folks who bike writing these messages.
I hate blinky lights in the dark winter with a passion, especially when they are the super bright, blinder blinky. It’s not just that they draw in your eyes; in my car, when I’m driving, I also note that it’s quite difficult to tell where the bike actually is because my eyes can’t track the blinking.
My solution: less bright blinky catches people’s attention; brighter, steady light shows them where I am.
Do people ACTUALLY think this graffiti is about lights? Would “Fuck you and your tight shorts” written on a bike lane be about spandex? If this person actually hated blinky lights, they’d probably write “fuck blinky lights” or, using their bizarre terminology, “fuck epileptic lights.” I read this as “fuck bikes” with a funny little added jab about lights.
I think you and I read different things.
I personally loathe two things about bicyclists: blinking lights and ridiculously bright lights. You don’t need to put a stage lamp on the front of your bike, nor do you need a strobe light to get attention. For all we know, the person who left this graffiti was a cyclist his/herself. The way you jump to conclusions that this person must hate bicyclists in general seems a stretch, though it’ll certainly find support amongst the average reader/commenter of this site since it stokes the us vs them mentality that (I thought?) we wanted to get rid of.
Please, no more blinking lights, and no more blinding head lamps. Endangering others for your own safety is the epitome of selfishness and should be called out as such.
Unlike Carl, I am inclined to believe the tagger certainly does dislike blinking and/or bright bicycle lights. However, given that the tag includes a phrase indicating intolerance for any cyclist who uses them, I can’t overlook the possibility the tagger has a deep and complicated bias against bicyclists in general. Were the tagger only concerned with safety implications created by blinking/bright lights, the tagger would have no need to include the “fuck you” part.
Further, if we take Terra’s story for granted, then we have a story also suggesting the tagger is motivated by more than concern for blinking/bright lights.
He *definitely* seemed far less concerned about safety than he did about scorning cyclists. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s had some kind of horrible interaction with a cyclist and is now taking it out on the entire community. That seems to be a pretty common reaction, unfortunately.
If automobiles have blinding lights, then cyclists on the road get them too.
“…but why does there have to be a light so bright”
Because they sell better! Overkill is the American way!
Yes. There is every chance that a blinding white light flashing you in the face, keeping you from seeing anything and putting every nearby road user at risk as a result could possibly be irritating even to people who don’t ride bikes.
If only there was a way to be visible without screwing over everyone riding/driving/walking in the opposite direction. The world may never know . . .
You have NOT ridden enough at night in your life yet.
I’m surprised at how sensitive everyone is being toward one person’s anonymous, expletive-ridden road graffiti.
Come on, admit that you perpetrated this heinous transgression… 😉
Are you new to Portland and specifically bikeportland?
“is annoying and doesn’t seem necessary.”
some people think bike infrastructure is annoying and unnecessary.
“safety trumps the needs”
the desire to not be annoyed by a bright light is a *want*, not a need.
“massively large SUVs because it made them feel safe”
equating someone who chooses to contribute to environmental destruction with a cyclist who uses a blinking light is pure hyperbole. large SUVs harm us all while a blinking light could pose some harm to a very small portion of the population.
Bright blinking lights on a dark night (particularly headlights) are dangerous for people that aren’t epileptic too. I’ve seen some so bright that I had trouble seeing the road ahead of me.
Blinking during twilight or with mini-lights is fine, but if you’ve got serious lumens, keep it steady.
i don’t use blinkies in the front and use a very slow repeat in the back. then again, i think the safety value of lights in an urban environment are dramatically overstated.
I tend to agree that they are over rated. My vintage 6 volt dyno with incandescent bulbs (likely nearly 40 years old too) system is more than enough to keep me legal. And really more than that really seems to be a bit of overkill.
Of course I rode daily as tween/teen in the predawn hours delivering newspapers and never used lights for years. Only got backed into once, was no big deal…but boy did they tip me out well when I went collecting after that.
As for the topic on a whole, I despise the way to bright blinky headlights. Bad enough on the roads, but even worse when people use them on the MUPs like the East prom or Springwater. I really hate it as they are going down the grades as I’m going up.
I run white blinking lights during the day time but have them steady on at night. The rear read light is flashing when ever I am rolling.
There are some basic visual timing and neurological visual processing issues fundamental to the human brain that make blinking lights in the dark only slightly better than no light at all.
To oversimplify: if you only see a single blinking light you visual cortex can’t identify where it is exactly, how fast it’s moving nor the size or shape. Making the on cycle of the strobe brighter just robs the viewer of their night vision.
I try to ensure that my blinking light is not pointed up and directly into the eyes of oncoming vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians, but more toward the ground just in front of me.
BTW, given the FU in the message, I wonder if this graffiti has anything at all to do with genuine concern for people with epilepsy.
Unfortunately anyone with strobing lights regardless of their direction doesn’t have anyone’s best interest at heart. The best direction they can be is set to steady. If they can still be seen, they’re still a problem. Bike lights are just a small percentage, but a commonly seen percentage – emergency signals, marquees (disco lights at clubs) sometimes even benign tv shows like the news can be hazardous because of the clips they choose to show. If blinky lights were proven to be safer than cars would have them. Could you imagine what the freeway would loom like at rush hour?!
One thing mentioned briefly by Spiffy below, but I think important to consider when we’re comparing a bike light system with a car system is battery life. A car has a magic tank of ancient sunlight to keep recharging the battery and the lights. We who bike don’t. Those tiny batteries powering our blinky or non-blinky lights will give more hours of illumination on the blinky setting. I agree with nearly all the criticisms of the over-bright forward blinkies, but think we should keep this other parameter in mind.
There are both old-school bottle dyno/generator lights, hub dynos and the newer magnetic dynos – none of which require batteries – and there are also USB rechargeable battery lights, so it seems to me that arguing that running lights in blinking mode saves batteries is a pretty disingenuous argument.
Not everyone uses those lights.
The lights that cause annoyance/hazard in their flashing mode are almost universally of the USB rechargeable variety. Front lights running on AA or the watch-style batteries aren’t bright enough to create the blinding effect when run on flashing mode.
I wholeheartedly support the idea of getting dynamo lights. I hear people complain all the time about the cost of the systems. I am actually in the process of building a new bike right now which will run completely with generator front & rear lights. What I have to say about them and the 10+ months of research I have done on bike parts for this bike is: WORTH IT – I have spent probably 3x the amount on my old system in lights over the last 6 years, spare lights, new lights, AA batteries, AAA batteries, upgrade to USB rechargable, don’t trust them so keeping/buying more back-up lights and buying more batteries, etc. It’s ridiculous considering everywhere else in my life, my philosophy is to save & buy good quality products instead of waste on the cheap. I am going to love to be able to just get on my bike and go – not worry about charging or changing batteries.
tell us more, please.
I am the worst person for light advice because I went swanky (you DON’T need a SON hub to power your bike) – you can however get both front & rear lights for about $50 each on the bottom end. Next step there’s a B&M for about $80 on the cheap and then it starts getting into the $100+, for lights, but when you were already looking at $40+ for battery powered that you have to then buy disposable batteries these are able to last for years. You can buy a dynamo hub by itself for less than $100 or a built up wheel for less than $200. Like I said, low-end, but you can get set-up for around $300 and never have to charge or buy batteries again.* (*relatively speaking. For a long, long time.)
You’re gunna love the dyno lights – hub mounted or the magnetic ones are the way to go. The modern bottles ain’t too bad either (though I haven’t tried one, I know people that like theirs).
I still kick myself for not getting the magnet ones when they hit kickstarter not too long ago. They were fairly expensive, but they’re best of all worlds – easy to swap between bikes, but are in essence a dyno. Basically they treat your wheel as the rotor and the light itself is the stator. Pretty brilliant idea really one of them “why didn’t I think of that” kind.
I’m super excited. My only experience was with an old wheel mounted one which was always too tight. I was constantly reminded of that old Simpsons episode where Bart had 4am detention to stargaze and had to kaguff kaguff his way there and a cheap hub dyno that had no capacitor so stopped working when the wheel went too slow – making it not so safe or useful for city riding. I’ve been saving my ducats for a top o’ the line (and pretty) hub to match a new touring bike build.
That positioning does not give you enough light far ahead to see objects with enough time to avoid them. So it’s pointless, really.
I think there is a huge difference between a couple LED little blinky and a blinding 600 lumen flasher. For tiny bike lights they’re usually much easier to see in a blinking setting than the tiny light they give off in a steady setting.
I agree that I get annoyed with people with incredibly bright lights, blinking or steady) when they’re not pointed at reasonable downward angle.
None of them meet a decent DOT standard anyway. There is no practical way to point them down enough to not blind others while not ruining your own night vision with a giant hot spot 3 feet from your wheel.
At least some lights come packaged “for off road use only.”
German lights are all TUV (German DOT) approved, and it is a very strict standard. The German lights are correspondingly expensive…
They have a point. You should never have a flashing front light (it may even be illegal), but if you’re going to do it, you _certainly_ shouldn’t use one of those 1000-lumen nightriders and point the thing up 30 degrees like so many people do.
Daytime conspicuity, good. Nighttime disorientation, bad.
ironically the first picture taken at NW Raleigh and 20th is where I’ve reported cars parked on the sidewalk daily… a Parking Enforcement supervisor told me they won’t ticket those people unless they’re blocking at least half of the sidewalk…
no reply back when I asked what the criteria was that allowed people to legally block 49% of sidewalks… thanks for nothing, Donald Hunter…
That criteria probably springs from the same car-centric mindset that allows motor vehicle drivers to speed with impunity up to “11-14 mph over the limit.” That is a quote from someone at PBOT and was conspicuously not denied by Ileane at the 823-SAFE line when I asked her about its veracity.
My question-Are they really necessary on bike/ped paths too? At the very least, put it on steady when you aren’t on the road!
I normally run into them while on the Springwater Trail during the daytime. They are clearly battery-operated, not generator lights (which AFAIK don’t allow blinky operation modes)… what gives? Why would someone run daytime running lights while “time-trailing” on a busy MUP with goose families and little kids? Its kind of an irritant… I think it is extremely rude!
We do need data, and I will say that there are some front lights out there that have a particular flash pattern/frequency that really mess with my head and I have no known seizure issues.
Agree with the above comments that a small number of Portland cyclists are running really high-powered lights in blink mode – which no one should EVER do, except possibly on a highway in dense fog. I do think blinkies are approaching the limit of how bright they ought to be. Much more than the SuperFlash or RadBot is probably too much.
Personally, while I do use blinkies, in darkness I also augment them with bright steady lights so people can actually see where I am.
As for the concerns of those with epilepsy, I understand, but don’t emergency vehicles cause the same problems? Perhaps we can work on blink patterns that don’t cause seizures among those with sensitivity to flashing lights. Would zZz mode, instead of strobe, be less seizure-inducing?
i’ve noticed that brightest new headlights have a daylight blink mode that is brighter than the brightest steady mode. i expect this is going to cause problems…
Unfortunately what’s good for the goose may not work for the gander… wait, what?! There are over 30 different types of epilepsy – then there are also people that have generalized seizure disorders, people with photosensitive disorders, migraine disorders, even going into the autism spectrum which can have light sensitivities… the list goes on. Trying to have a strobe or flicker pattern that appeases everyone is gonna be impossible. There are some lights on the market that do a gentle pulse. I personally think those are OK. But since we’re talking about batteries and all that, just go for a steady generator – it will pay off in the end.
Thanks for pointing out that migraineurs can have problems with flashing lights, too. I hate those dang things and always use my lights (dynamo and battery-powered) in steady mode. I wish others would do the same.
we generally only have lights because it’s the law… we don’t need them around the city… we put them on blinking because batteries cost money…
I try not to use the flashing feature… but I also understand that if they’re going to require us to use something that doesn’t come with our bikes and also requires regular monetary expenditure (batteries) that we’re going to go the cheapest route possible: Planet Bike blinking light…
plus one. also, the planet bike blinking light or its equivalent does not actually light the road, so its only real function is to alert other road users to your presence. low lumens and pointed down, i would be surprised to learn i am triggering anyone’s epilepsy. but i am willing to be corrected.
I do not have epilepsy so I can’t speak to that, but I agree that the Planet Bike lights (which I used to use before upgrading to more powerful lights) do little to light the road so I understand their usefulness in blinking away and alerting others to the presence of someone biking. Plus, the blinky pattern is so slow as compared to the strobe patterns of more expensive lights, I’m now curious if that pattern is harmless to those with epilepsy.
However, anything more powerful than the Planet Bike lights should NOT be operated in blinky mode. It is just so blinding to oncoming users (bicyclists/pedestrians/motorists), and dangerous to be disoriented for a few seconds after the person passes without knowing what is immediately coming up on the road. Please stop with the strobe lights!
Speak for yourself. Many of us commute year around in early morning and evening hours with no daylight. And believe it or not, many areas of the city have poor to no street lighting. I am not a ninja cyclist, so I need to see where I am going in the dark. That being said, I find the flashing lights to be only for the “I want to be seen” crowd. I don’t find those particularly useful so I run a solid bright beam.
Wait, there’s a “I DON’T want to be seen” crowd?
yeah, actually for a very long time i ran with only the tail light. it remains my philosophy that i can control what is in front of me, not so much what is behind. a motorist will usually behave differently if s/he knows you are there, and often the difference is not to my advantage. for the same reason i generally do not signal a left if the likely result is an oncoming car will surrender the right of way. or a right if the likely result is an overtaking car will cut me closer than if s/he thought i was continuing straight.
I, too have recently discovered the benefit of not signaling left turns. I quit signaling right turns long ago, and now only signal lefts for the benefit of drivers behind me to prevent them from attempting to pass on the left (which they will do even when I’m riding the center line).
“Bike ninjas.” They were the predominant cyclist species in the Buckman neighborhood circa 2010.
were? natural selection?
i love ninjas.
they freak motorists out of their stupors and make us all safer.
really? I would say about 10% of riders in the winter have no lights whatsoever.
I’m amazed by how terrible the bike light offerings by bike shops in the US are. Truly awful… I recently went shopping for new lights, and was continuously steered towards the overpriced, disposable junk blinky light section. Ugh. I think Western Europe has it figured out!
Yes this is true…if the NTSA, US DOT, (and the State DOTs) really thought about this then they would adopt [for urban areas] the German bike lighting standards that avoid flashing LEDs and have headlamps with an upper cut off point to reduce blinding on coming traffic.
I have done several informal equipment surveys at places like the Hawthorn Bridge, etc in the winter and have found most of the newer LED bike head light beams (Bike Planet, off road style lamps, etc. ) to be very blinding and ineffective. They are as bad as those blue aftermarket car headlamps on one’s eyes. Many other bike head lights are also poorly adjusted on handlebars…either rotated up or down to be pointless (or too polite).
Do you have a link to the German standard? All I know about it is that my dynamo lights meet the standard and there is some sort of wattage requirement at low speeds.
Well, I found this summary:
(there is a bicycle diagram – translated from German)
Lighting A white headlight and a red rear light are required and must be ready for use at any time. The headlight and rear light must be turned on with a single switch. They must be able to be powered by a dynamo backup, though they can use batteries in addition (as a standlight for example). One additional battery powered rear light may be added at the most; further battery powered lamps are not permitted, including blinking ones or ones on the helmet or body. Racing bikes (in Switzerland 700c x 23 or thinner) up to 11 kg weight (24.25 lbs or 12 kg/26.45 lbs in Austria and Switzerland) are not required to have the dynamo lighting, but may use removable battery powered lights. These lights must be carried at all times. All lighting needs an approval stamp from the German department of transportation in Flensburg – see the image at top or your own B&M LED lamps. Incidentally, the lights that are permitted don’t have a setting for blinking. All lights stay on when switched on so that other traffic participants can judge distances well, something that is harder with a blinking light.
Reflectors…(it goes on, many other sections)
According to wikipedia, in July 2013 they legalized battery-powered lights.
According to another site, the German regulations are titled:
The most important parts of StVZO and TA for bicycles:
StVZO §22a (Bauartgenehmigung für Fahrzeugteile)
StVZO §66a (Lichttechnische Einrichtungen)
StVZO §67 (Lichttechnische Einrichtungen an Fahrrädern)
TA 4 part (8) lists 14 bicycle lightsystem/headlamp requirements.
TA 14 lists requirements for rear lamps and bicycle rear lamps. Note that TA 14 a,b,c (from 2004) are still included in the regulations I have which are the latest (Sept. 2010) but these 3 for the most part duplicate what’s in the newer (2007) regulations of TA 14.
TA 18 lists requirements for retro-reflectors.
TA 23 lists requirements for bicycle headlamps (measurements of the beam).
TA 24 lists requirements for a bicycle ‘light machine’ (i.e. generator/dynamo/dynamo hub).
I have a Planet Bike light on my work bike right now. I turn it on for the parts of my commute with lots of cross traffic and lane merging. They’re relatively cheap and pretty useful, and they make you legal if you happen to take the long way home. However the switches are so fragile, leave it out in one day of rain or even a hard shower and it’s toast. Probably fixable if you can find a switch but labor cost = price of a new light.
I tend to agree with the graffiti artist…I hate flashing front lights, no matter how bright or at what angle. Never understood the point…
I believe there is more than one reason that people choose blink mode, so which point is it that you don’t understand?
Hi Caleb! As someone who agrees with the graffiti artist as well fervently (so much so I’m surprised I haven’t gotten a visit by our friends in blue) – I can’t speak for this commentor above, but I understand that people believe they are more safe with blinky lights for one. Which is why it’s important to get more data on that subject, because it could very well be a dirty, dirty myth. There is a lot of contentious data regarding the “moth effect” which says they’re actually less safe with rear blinkies for instance (prefaced it with contentious!!) As well as killing your vision at night therefore slowing your reflexes if used in the front. More data then education. Until then I’m more into accessibility for everyone.
I’ll stop using blinkers under two unlikely conditions: I qualify for and ride Paris-Brest-Paris, or American drivers once again become human. They were in the era before cell phones and SUV’s.
I use the 600 lumen blinky pointed down during dusk hours. I’ve had numerous instances where my light alerted the ‘rolling stop’ person in car to actually “see” me and yield to me as required by law. No blinking = near accident every time. That said, I do use steady when its darker than dusk.
I am glad you said this. I have had exactly the same experience. I ride down Killingsworth every day to and from work. Since I put the big blinky lights on my bike I have actually seen people notice me before they even get out the drive way they are pulling out of. I have no had a close call since. There are almost never any other bikes on the road with me and the difference it has made for my biking experience is amazing.
I will stop running blinkies during the day when drivers stop being more concerned with their LOLs and OMGs than they are with my safety. If only I had a nickel for every time I’ve been nearly killed by someone texting. My hope is that my lights just might be seen in their peripheral vision right before they hit me. Maybe I am fooling myself–I’d love to see hard data concerning this? Out of consideration for everyone on the road, however, I only use steady mode on both front and rear lights at dusk and later.
By the way, I doubt that the graffiti artist actually has epilepsy as well–sounds like he is in need of a behavioral health intervention.
I have to agree that some of the crazy lights out there aren’t doing anyone any good. And I agree with Daisy about blinking and steady. So many light manfacturers go for the wildest flashing they can, but it’s counterproductive.
I’d like to see a real study of 1.) what it actually takes to get a driver’s attention, 2.) what actually helps drivers figure out where a cyclist is and where they are going, 3.) what things to avoid so as to not trigger seizures, and 4.) what people find really annoying. I’ll bet there is a solution out there that will work better all around, but no one has bothered to look for it.
I also agree the graffiti probably wasn’t done by anyone actually concerned about seizures. I’ll bet it was done by a pissed off driver upset that cyclists are fighting back. Fighting back in a way that may not be helping them, in my opinion, but fighting back in a way that has to be noticed- *that* just can’t be allowed.
I don’t have a real study but learned through experience that there was one pinch-point on my commute where turning to blink mode made a significant difference: where drivers had to queue up for a right turn for nearly a mile so they often strayed onto the shoulder far beyond the 100′ allowed. I use the 650-lumen MiNewt primarily to see the road I’m riding, but for this stretch I learned that the flashing in their side-view mirror caught their attention quite well. Nobody oncoming was affected due to the width of the highway (and crowded traffic).
On the rear I use two Radbots – one blinking and one steady (batteries be damned!). Having done my own informal studies to answer this question myself, I definitely notice other cyclists’ blinking rear lights easier than I do steady ones. Your own mileage may vary!
Now on a bike path, that’s a different story…
Already been done years ago.
Deal with it.
I see their point, but for my sample size of one, I had three people pull out in front of me on my first week of bike commuting with a steady light. Added a flashing front light and have had zero incidents in the 5 months since then. Your mileage may vary.
I agree with the sentiment but have kept such statements to myself, with one (verbal) exception.
It’s great that LEDs have made bike lights cheaper, brighter, and longer lasting. Things could be better, and I could pontificate about their lousy optics, the stupidity of the lumen wars, and improperly aimed light, but I’m trying to have a life here. Just remember that with great candlepower comes great responsibility.
Apparently I’m in the minority, but as a rider or driver encountering them on other’s bikes, they’ve never bothered me. Compared to all the other annoyances on the road, especially at night or in foul weather, it just doesn’t even rate. It seems a little silly when I see somebody in broad daylight, with multiple blinkies, dayglo vest, etc, but whatever makes you feel safe.
As a user, I can’t help but think, “If they’re annoying you, at least that means you noticed me.” I’ll take your annoyance over my potential crushed-ness any day.
And if flashing lights are an epileptic risk for you, sorry – you don’t belong on the road. You cannot get a drivers license with a disorder like that, and cycling is probably never going to be safe for you either. Even if you banned blinkies, there will always be ambulances and police cars and other emergency vehicles that will put the most well-lit and strobe-tastic cyclist to shame.
In fact you CAN get a driver’s license with epilepsy. Depending on the intensity of your seizure disorder (and other factors), if you are seizure free for a certain period of time you are able to have a license, or if it had been revoked due to seizures, have it reinstated after doctor approval.
It’s also really a shame that you feel that people with a medical condition have less right to the road. Do people with diabetes also not belong on the road because they may suffer a low blood sugar crash and their cognitive judgment may be slower at that time? Your statement is very similar to GOP candidate Scott Esk who believes that it’s ok to give homosexuals the death penalty. You know, because they’re less of a people.
As someone with epilespy, cycling gives me the ability to have the freedom of getting myself to/from where I need to go, not rely on car rides from other people or Trimet’s stellar schedule. Sometimes I don’t feel so great and I take the bus. I walk quite a bit. But when I ride my bike, I love it – and NO ONE – especially someone that thinks that because of someone’s medical condition they have less right to the road will tell me otherwise. Only my doctors and I will decide that.
dave’s comment included nothing about people with any disorder being less of a people, so saying his comment is very similar to Scott Esk’s is inaccurate.
Dave’s 3rd paragraph: “And if flashing lights are an epileptic risk for you, sorry – you don’t belong on the road.”
If this were a discussion about curb cuts for wheelchair users and I said; “If you can’t get up and down from the curb, sucks to be you.” I would hope there would be a lot of backlash against me – my point being that it is about equal usage to the road – I did use a very exaggerated example, but saying that someone doesn’t belong on the road because of their disability is unacceptable. (I also made a separate example in my original comment similar)
I had assumed you were talking about that specific statement he made, but I never believed he was implying folks with epileptic risks are less of a people by saying they don’t belong on the road, thus I pointed out what I believed was the inaccuracy in your comparison. To believe he was implying epileptic people are less of a people is to assume more than logic allows.
I also don’t believe the “sucks to be you”/wheelchair person example is analogous to dave’s comment. He reinforced his statement by saying, “You cannot get a drivers license with a disorder like that, and cycling is probably never going to be safe for you either.” Going by that, I’ve interpreted “you don’t belong on the road” as a comment motivated by concern for legality and safety more than by any inconsideration (like in the wheelchair example) or denial of the most basic “right” we call “life” (like in Scott Esk’s comment).
Also, I saw your diabetic person example, but didn’t comment on it, because I thought the question was directed at dave and you wanted his answer. But because you mentioned it in response to my comment, I’ll share my rather uninformed opinion on the matter.
As I understand diabetes, diabetic people have control over their blood sugar levels through monitoring and dieting that doesn’t compare with a person’s epileptic susceptibility to factors more outside his/her/its control, so I don’t think this comparison is analogous, either. Nevertheless, if diabetic people’s low blood sugar does pose a risk for collisions and is largely outside their control, and we do indeed put safety above all else on our roads, then it follows that they “don’t belong on the road”, but to be more specific, that they should not operate motor vehicles. What are your thoughts on diabetic people and driving?
My thoughts on people with diabetes and driving are the same as people with epilepsy and driving or someone with MS, or any disorder that could impair judgement temporarily. As long as they have their medications or treatment and condition under control and they feel safe and comfortable doing so; to each their own. (My personal opinions about driving in general aside)
if you’re treating it and it’s under control then flashing lights are NOT an epileptic risk for you and the comment does not relate…
I agree that anyone who can completely prevent their temporary judgment loss need not be barred, for safety’s sake, from driving. That said, I’d like to know your thoughts in response to Spiffy’s comment immediately above.
I’m kind of surprised that on a bike blog of all places someone would equate “not being allowed to drive/ride” with being less of a person.
Nobody’s saying they have less of a right to the road. Your right to the road extends to riding a bicycle or walking within the legal bounds of a pedestrian. Operating even an amatuer motor vehicle (which, I should remind you, in Oregon, includes up to and including volunteer fire equipment that goes into a weight class or characteristics that would normally require a Class A or B commercial license, as well as motorhomes and busses that would require an endorsement to drive if they were for hire; Oregon doesn’t require any special endorsements for a 10-ton combination with a towed car, air-brake equipped, diesel powered motorhome that can sleep 12, that’s as wide and long as, and probably heavier than, an 18-wheeler running empty!) requires a license, ie, a privilege that can be revoked. And Oregon is incredibly lax about this. A Class C license in Oregon is equivalent to a class D in most other states (in which, class C would be for those heavy combinations used for residential or recrational purposes, such as above mentioned big-ass motorhome).
I am autistic and the flashing lights make me absolutely have to close my eyes. There is not another option if I see them. I can get a license if I want to as there are no legal restrictions but I won’t because it wouldn’t be pleasant to get in an accident with some asshole with blinking lights on their bike.
I appreciate your choice to refrain from driving out of concern for potential risks.
But I take issue with your diction, specifically how you used the word “asshole”. Are “assholes” the only people who use blinking lights? If not, how do you ever know when a person using a blinking light is an “asshole” or not?
This is anecdotal, but when I use my NiteRyder front light on flash mode I can’t remember a car trying to pull right in front of me. As soon as I put it on solid or turn it off I have multiple times a week where someone will try to pull out right in front of me. I am always conflicted inside when I turn my light to flash mode, but as soon as I turn it off I’m going to have a close call. With so many distracted drivers out there it’s hard to rely on everyone else’s good judgement. I use my NR Solas2 rear light on flash during the day. Is that considered bad manners? I’ve figured if someone notices you and says ‘that light is way too bright’ it’s still better than the person who doesn’t notice you at all. This is making me think I need a less bright tail light?
Bike lights in the US really need to be offensive weapons that use light as their ammunition. Worrying about wether your lights are too bright seems to me very counterproductive.
I think if you are solo, use the blinky. Be conscientious about where it’s pointed. And yeah ok maybe just shield it or go solid if you think you are affecting someone negatively… like passing on the Springwater… could probably do that for solid lights too please. Kinda just cup your hand on the left side there as you pass… it’s really appreciated and I’ve gotten thank you’s. People want to see you coming, and they appreciate a conscientious attempt to protect their eyes (and preserve the night vision that takes us old farts a long time to adjust too) as you pass.
Once you cue up behind someone, kill your blinky. Only the lead rider should be blinking if at all.
my light isn’t mounted where I can easily reach it… if I really stretch I can get one finger to hit the switch…
My bike lights are not, in fact, epileptic, but thanks for your concern.
This should make for some good Bike Snob material in the next day or two.
I was riding to work this morning on Raleigh (at about 5:20 am) and the dude was out there tagging still. I use a blinky light on my bike since it’s usually a teensy bit dark out during that time, and cars are less likely to be looking for cyclists that early. He jumped out from between a few cars and started yelling at me, asking if I could read what he had just tagged. “Do you see that?! CAN YOU READ?! HA HA HA everybody hates you! Fuck your bike lights. FUCK YOU!” He yelled a bunch more as I rode away. I was pretty confused to say the least. I was also genuinely terrified that he might jump in a car and run me down.
Sounds like this guy might need to be reported before he hurts someone.
I’ve been a “serious cyclist” about since Mick Taylor was the newest guy in the Rolling Stones, and have come to believe that in all that time LED lighting is the best new cycling technology to come along. I remember tire-side generators that made it feel you were dragging a brick behind your bike whilst powering a light that barely put a light patch on the road.
I like that idea–who makes ’em?
the new cycgolite metro 360 and 500 reportedly have a 600 lumen daylight blink mode.
~1W blinkies are not too bad. Even 5 years ago, most bike lights were rather dim, blinking helped people notice the dim lights.
Newer lights though are very bright, and many of them still blink. They still lack a top cut off like the German lights. They are getting to be pretty hazardous, especially on dim paths.
And besides–if someone is epileptic, what the hell are they doing driving anyway?
What about people biking, walking or sitting at a bus stop?
Low powered steady bike lights are easily overlooked against a background of car lights, building lights, streetlights, reflections, rain splashing and streaming on windshields, dash and LCD panel lights, headlights glaring in the rearview mirror, etc. Low power blinking lights are harder to overlook.
When we get to higher powered bike lights, they make themselves noticed quite well, even when steady. They don’t need to blink, and are unnecessarily distracting when they do.
“Low” and “high” power are relative to the environment. In a crowded, confusing situation with lots of cars and other lights, I’d say 400 lumen is “high power”. On a dark MUP, 200 lumen is “high power”.
Ideally, cyclists would switch between low and high power, steady and blinking, as appropriate. On the MUP, use low power on steady. Riding through downtown at rush hour on a rainy winter night, use low power on blinking or high power on steady. Lights should always be aimed down, just like your car’s low beams.
I ride with a headlight on the bars and another on the helmet, both about 300-400 lumens, and a couple of little (coin cell, 5 lumens?) marker lights. I never have these lights in blinking mode. I seldom have all of them turned on. My tailights are the 2 AA type, I think about 35 lumens each. Usually one is blinking, the other steady.
Ideally, bicycle headlights would have shaped beams like car headlights, and then none of this would be an issue. Right now you only see that in German dynamo headlights, as far as I know, but there’s no reason it can’t be done with battery powered lights too.
Interesting information exchanged in comments here, about blinking bike lights. One situation I could see blinky lights being possibly a big headache, is during times when many people together are riding bikes. Maybe that situation already exists during rush hour on some of Portland’s more heavily traveled bike routes.
Getting off topic, but bike lights designed with a shaped beam could be very beneficial. From reading in the ‘Electronics, Lighting, & Gadgets’ category of bikeforums, I know in recent past, maybe a few companies have designed and produced such lights. Serfas had such a light, but it may have been discontinued. One criticism was that the light unit was bigger than some of the self contained LED lights that are kind of common today. People thought well of the focused beam though.
Manufacturers likely don’t have a clear idea about whether a good market for those kind of bike lights exist. If there was money in it, they’d probably produce them.
There are some German headlights with batteries now. Not common because of the required dynamo on their bikes, but there are a few out there.
The Trelock LS 950 is a battery-powered light and meets the German standard. You can read a review here:
and here: http://gravelgrindernews.com/trelock-ls-950-control-ion-bike-light-final-review/
You can purchase the light here: http://www.cantitoeroad.com/Trelock-LS-950-Control-Ion-Bike-Light_p_256.html
It’s not cheap at $230 though!
I honestly wouldn’t have cared at all if the guy hadn’t jumped out and screamed at me. I was so scared that I almost fell. If this guy is actually concerned about safety, he should be considering *everyone’s* safety. Jumping out and yelling at cyclists is just as bad as someone using a light that could cause seizures.
Honestly, the blinking light debate is completely new to me today. I appreciate the information that everyone is presenting, and I’m sure this guy has some very legit reasoning behind wanting to get his opinion out there, but there are far more constructive ways to go about it. Going around tagging the city is destructive and disrespectful.
Location, time, description of perp?
On NW Raleigh, just before the intersection of 17th, at about 5:20 am. The dude was probably about 5’7″/5’8″, buzz cut, wearing shorts and a tshirt. He still had his spray can in hand.
More important is not shining the light in everyone’s eyes. It is very annoying to rider and driver both. BTW, I have a niece who periodically crashes into a tree and loses her license due to seizures. If you are blinking your light at someone like this, they may crash into YOU!
Hope those trees are wearing helmets
You have a niece who willfully disregards the lives of people on the road, her own included?
I kind of agree with the idea that blinky lights are somewhat annoying, but never thought of the effect it could have on epileptics.
I have already decided to upgrade the lighting on all of our household bikes to bottle-dynamo based generator lighting, none of which blinks. Blinking lights are, from what I have read, banned in Germany, which has the most stringent lighting requirements for bicycles anywhere in the world.
That, and I’m tired of spending upwards of $160/year in batteries.
Rechargeable batteries are a good investment…
Not really. Just more stuff to get lost or have stolen, and I have to charge it daily or weekly. I can’t even count the number of times I have had to stay late at work and then… oops, left my bike lights at home! Hope the moon is out so I can see the springwater trail enough to get home!
Guess you need to work on improving your habits. Leave reminders, etc.
Or get a dynohub and headlamp if you cannot handle the responsibility of riding within legal requirements. Is it really THAT hard?
I would suggest avoiding the bottle type generator and just go for the hub generator. You will be much happier. and well lit..assuming you have the extra $60. If not then the Reelights, AXA bottle generator or the Sanyo bottom bracket generators would be the fall back options.
I have 8 bikes, including 6 vintage. You going to pay for new/rebuilt hubs for them all?
I have 10 bikes and swap a couple dynamo wheels between them. Works great.
I put hub dynamos on 9 bikes — 4 of mine, all 3 of my kids, and then one kid had his bike stolen, twice. The lights are cheap and DIY.
Cheapest source of dyno wheels appears to be the Netherlands, but I built one around a Sturmey-Archer X-FDD for my own vintage (about WW2) bike.
Walking up Moody to work, I’m always amazed by how many lights aren’t aimed at anything at all. In the gray months, I often end up putting up my hand to shield my eyes. This is a solvable problem (car headlights are aimed so they don’t do this) but many of the bike lights, including my own, are removable and it’s hard to tell where they’re pointing. Or they get bumped and move.
Car headlights are also focused almost exclusively on illuminating the road for the driver. Bike lights are only sometimes used for this purpose. They also have important job of alerting cars or a bike’s presence. So I don’t know if the directions automatically should be the same.
First World problems
Imagine being sold a car and having the option to walk down the accessory aisle to choose lights for it…
The technology for reliable bright steady always-on lights is here! But it costs a couple hundred bucks or more and takes time to install. Unless they are mandatory for all bikes sold which are intended for street use, clamping on unreliable and annoying lights will continue.
I think all the TDF riders should sport dynamo hubs and LED lights.
Actually, you can get a really nice set for about $100:
dynamo ($40) – http://www.bikemania.biz/axa-dynamo-hr-traction-power-control-generator.html
front light ($25) – http://www.cantitoeroad.com/Axa-Sprint-10-Steady-for-Side-Runner-Dynamo_p_40.html
rear light ($40) – http://clevercycles.com/b-m-toplight-xs-plus-taillight
So a total of $105. I just bought a set recently, much brighter than the Planetbike Beamer 3 I was using. The costs were similar when you take the batteries into consideration.
DIY is also not out of the question — a simple circuit to rectify+double the current from the magneto (what a “dynamo” hub really is), and 2-3 power LEDs, plus lenses for the ones in front, and you’re good to go.
Here’s my most recent effort: http://dr2chase.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/lights-for-a-beater-bike/
Here’s a completely acceptable taillight: http://dr2chase.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/img_0352.jpg?w=700&h=706
If you go the DIY route, for not too much more money you can add an SPDT and a second send of headlights, aimed lower and a friendlier color (like “amber”) for low beams.
And think seriously about how your lights are aimed and how bright they are, because it’s gotten to the point where it doesn’t take a lot of money to have some really obnoxious lights.
someone hit me with white lights on super dark fanno creek one night totally screwed with my vision from the front.. scary I lost my line after getting beamed like that.. ugh
Can you elaborate on this? Your niece crashed into trees on more than one occasion due to a medical condition and hasn’t had her license (presumably motor) permanently revoked?
And while we’re on the subject of epileptic drivers (didn’t know they could drive without a medical waiver anyway) how about the effects of emergency vehicle lights/strobes on these individuals? Those things must be several times brighter than even the brightest bike equipment.
I can’t answer for this person directly, but I can talk generically about it. If a person goes a period of time without a seizure, if they had their license suspended or revoked they can get it reinstated with a doctor’s note. Sometimes they don’t get their license suspended at all, but just have doctor’s advise to not driver for a period of time – it all depends on how severe their seizure disorder is and other factors.
If they were riding their bike when this happened that period could be much shorter. Whereas driving could be 6 months – 2 years, riding bikes could be 1 week – 1 month or longer depending on their safety and seizure frequency.
For some people with photosensitivity issues, emergency vehicles can be quite an issue. They are for me due not only to the strobe but also to the red lights – I often wear my Zeiss ZI blue lenses when out which filters out some of that. Here’s a study on them: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1528-1167.2006.00463.x/abstract;jsessionid=A03A2762F4566CB900A32CBDAA8C8BB4.f01t01
I had multiple compliments when I had lots of bright lights… the most memorable from a trucker who said he saw me for at least a mile…
the only complaints I’ve had were from people camping on the Springwater…
The funniest/coolest is when PPD pulls up alongside and ask what brand your bike light is, how much it costs and where to buy it.
…or when drivers pull over because they think you’re PPD, what with your yellow shirt and flashing light and all—it’s happened to me twice.
WASN’T ME! O_o I’ll be happy to talk about photosensitive neurological conditions such as epilepsy, migraines etc. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or through my website. (I will also comment more as I read this article more thoroughly)
Use a solid front light.. LOL why the hell blink on a bike path or coming at someone head on. just blows my eye sockets.. haha
Despite having thousands of lumens output from my lights, I have stuck to using the bright flash for daytime riding, and the Cygolite (Epsilon 800 lumen light) pulsing/steady light after dark for some time now. My handlebar light (Niterider MiNewt 600 cordless) is set to low steady. That changes if I’m in a sketchy area, or doing something to show off, but those cases are few and far between.
Car headlights are still much brighter than anything I’ve ever fielded.
Been commuting a long time now, and blinking is simply the best setting I have to get noticed. If there was a setting to modulate rather than blink, I think that would be just as effective without the disorienting effect of being off and on repetitively, but I’m not aware of any lights that feature that.
I do think about this quite a bit, as I get very self-conscious if I think I am needlessly annoying or inconveniencing someone else. My strategy is to run in blinky mode during the day (I have one of those 650-or-so lumen LED front lights) to save battery power and to grab just that little bit of extra attention if I’m riding in shadows or whatnot. I’ve always figured that the low contrast between daylight and my light doesn’t create that big of a problem. At night, I can’t run in blink mode or I won’t be able to see where I’m going on my route.
Another problem with the design of many bike lights is that there isn’t a good way to switch between just two modes on some of the higher-end (i.e., “useful”) lights (maybe I mean “middle end”; I’ll bet if went super-high-end, there would be something pretty slick). If I want to switch between any two modes on my light it’s 4 button-pushes on a squishy (for waterproofity) button that doesn’t always respond to every push attempt on a bumpy road when I’m riding with one hand so I can push the button. This leads me to follow a strategy whereby I start out on a dimmer setting as I leave town, then use just a button-push at a time to gradually increase the brightness as needed. I’m loath to try to dim it again, because I have to go from bright to blinky to dimmest, then brighter, and back to brightest for riding along some of the unlit roads I use in the Winter. All that button-pushing creates quite a distraction, and by the time I get it where I’d want it, the occasion for dimming is probably over.
I have been known to use my hand for shielding when stopped behind a driver (so I’m not blasting it in their rear-view), or when encountering other riders on a bike path.
Ah, one other thing: I have wondered when using my light in steady mode whether motorists get confused trying to tell whether I’m a motorcycle a long way off or a bicycle very close…
I have toyed with the idea of getting a second light (or two) that I would aim at me, if I could find a way of doing it without blinding myself.
This is a great idea and I’m wondering how long it be before somebody markets it– a single LED aimed back at the rider with a lens to spread the light. The person who buys this light probably has high visibility clothing so you have a glowing human being coming down the street–the light would be well below the riders line of sight so it wouldn’t be blinding.
“that I would aim at me, ”
I put some lights on my bike trailer, sometimes I aim them up at my torso. I’d be curious to see this from a car sometime to see if its actually bright enough to be noticed.
I run a solid light and a blinky up front and two different strobes on the back. I’ll continue to use my blinky light on roadways to minimize the chance for a motorist to claim “I didn’t see you.” Based on the discussion here, I’ll try to be more attentive about the aiming, but I’m NOT turning it off.
Thats my theory too J_R. Eliminate the “I didn’t see him” and the “He came out of nowhere” excuses from the get go. I’ll go solid in the back as soon as I’m convinced that the average driver is more than marginally attentive and competent behind the wheel (I use a solid light in the front and I’m mindful of not aiming it into eyes).
someone said it upthread, but a lot of it probably has to do with blinking mode lasting a couple months and steady mode lasting one ride.
There’s more to it than just being more or less noticeable.
A very bright strobe has the effect of extremely contracting the pupils of one’s eyes, letting in much less light and severly reducing vision; whereas in relative darkenss pupils are otherwise greatly dilated, allowing in more light and increasing visibility, which makes them especially vulnerable to a bright strobe.
When I’m driving or bicycling and a bike with a very bright strobe is approaching, I lose the ability to judge their distance or even my own position on the roadway, so I quickly pull over and come to a complete stop until they’ve passed, hoping nobody rear-ends me.
Maybe I’m more sensitive than most, but for me it’s a very serious issue.
Yeah, I’ve had similar experience with passing cyclists head-on with them using extremely bright blinky lights on the springwater. I don’t know what they were running, but they illuminated just about everything. Was like staring into the sun; I couldn’t even tell if I was moving or not (was biking around 20 mph in pitch black). Spatial awareness just went to nothing in an instant.
People who insist on running extremely bright lighting setups need to be *extremely cautious* and responsible with how you use them. You can easily blind people and cause them to crash! Passing on a MUP is far far closer and totally different than passing while driving a car on a road – headlight aiming being a major factor.
I use 2 watt blinkers. My night vision is terrible, so if I have to ride where there are no street lights I have to go slow with a solid brighter light and then I am blind outside the light’s view. On city streets a solid white light in front is just enough to mess with MY vision enough so I can not see. Hence, I used a not so bright blinker so My night vision remains.
More dangerous are the auto drivers who seem to think that they need to use their BRIGHTS in the oncoming lane. Then I go blind.
It’s much worse on an MUP. I ride the Sunset Bike Path adjacent to US26 2mi each way daily. Since its a straight route, in wintertime you can see those “epileptic lights” a quarter mile away, even in the rain. The moment just before you pass the other rider it’s almost unbearable, especially if they have both bike- and helmet-mounted lights going. Thankfully, the number of westside commuters is about 90% lower by then so it doesn’t happen too often. I have pulled over a number of times to stop and regain my vision, exactly like one of the previous commenters described.
I feel that these lights are a danger to other MUP users but I doubt anything can be done about it since it’s your right to protect yourself on your bike.
So we’re ignoring the fact that the Portland Police Bureau uses LED light bars that are a zillion times worse for epileptics (and are actually obnoxious for those who aren’t, often appearing as solid purple from a distance)? If your epilepsy is _that_ bad, maybe you shouldn’t be driving…