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Cycle Law

You’re Lit But Are You Legal?

The cycling boom experienced in recent years has seen more and more people cycling on Britain’s roads.

Consequently, the cycle lights and accessories industry has grown with it. From established bike brands to independent, crowd-funded start-ups, companies worldwide are competing to bring cyclists the latest technology and the most stylish safety features to their bikes.

A large proportion of this innovation, quite rightly, has gone towards making cycling on the roads safer and resulted in hundreds of products that increase the visibility of a cyclist. This article will consider whether these new products are actually road legal.

First, let’s briefly consider the law on cycling on the road and bike lights. Under The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 and its subsequent amendments, cyclists must have a white front light [1] and red rear lights lit at night, [2] have their cycle fitted with a red light reflector on the rear [3] and each pedal needs two amber light reflectors, one on the leading edge and the other on the trailing edge [4].

Following the 2005 amendment to The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations [5], it is also now also legal to have a flashing light on a pedal bike as long as it flashes between 60 and 240 times per minute. All the lights must be on from sunset to sunrise. What  is important for cyclists, therefore, is the position of the sun, not how dark it is.

As soon as the sun drops behind the horizon, bicycle lights should be switched on even if there may be plenty of light left to see by on a clear evening. Failure to have the correct lights or reflectors can result in being issued a Fixed Penalty Notice, a maximum of £30 [6], or you may be subject to a maximum fine of £1,000 in the courts.

The first thing that must be noted is that these legal requirements should be regarded as a minimum expectation, rather than an ideal. Generally speaking, there are no requirements for any “extra” lights on a pedal bike – they are not subject to the finer details of The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, such as the size, positioning and manufacturing standard.

For that reason, any additional equipment such as lights or high-visibility clothing is always a good thing and recommended in order to improve the visibility and safety of cyclists. In this article we will cover two things in particular, lights attached to the cyclist rather than the cycle itself, and lights known as “monkey lights”.

It’s becoming more common for the latest products in high-visibility clothing for cyclists to include lights built into them. A number of these products can be seen on Britain’s roads and have been reviewed by the Guardian and Channel  5’s The Gadget Show, among others. Firstly, the wording of The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations states the cycle must “be fitted with” the lights and reflectors [7].

Consequently, it is suggested that these lights are not sufficient legal replacements for the “traditional” lights on a cycle. However, even if these lights were to be regarded as being “fitted” to the bicycle, they would have to satisfy the size, positioning and manufacturing standards required of traditional lights and this will vary according to the product, the cycle and the cyclist.

Secondly, a number of these light-equipped accessories, especially rucksacks, have a white light on the back of them. The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations require that any light fitted to a cycle which is capable of showing light to the rear must be red [8]. Again, this is down to the interpretation of the legislation and whether lights on a cyclist’s jacket constitute the light being “fitted” to the bike.

Therefore, although it is suggested that such a light is not, per se, illegal, it’s highly inadvisable, as the differing colours for front and back lights are designed to let fellow road users know which direction your vehicle is going in.

The second topic we will consider is monkey lights. These are lights that attach to the wheels or spokes of a cycle and are described by one manufacturer as not “just a fun, practical bike light” but “also a cutting edge digital art platform”. Although multiple reviews and tests have shown that these products do a noticeable job in improving cyclist visibility, with many stating that motorists made an obvious attempt to give them more room, their legality is questionable.

In theory, if any of these products emitted light forwards or backwards, that light must be white or red respectively, as they are unarguably fixed to the bike.

Although any increase in visibility is encouraged, cyclists must ensure that their cycles are road legal. It is recommended that cyclists do not use lights on their clothing as replacements to traditional bike lights. Instead, their use is encouraged to supplement traditional lights.

Nor is it recommended that cyclists have lights attached to themselves or their bike which emit light forwards or backwards that’s not white or red respectively. It may be possible that these scenarios are legal. However, unless further legislation which clarifies the position is enacted or a cyclist appeals a Fixed Penalty Notice and a judge rules otherwise, it’s best to be  on the safe side.


[1] The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, rs.11, 18, 24 and Schedule 2, Part I

[2] The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, rs.11, 18, 24 and Schedule 10, Part I

[3] The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, rs.11, 18, 24 and Schedule 18, Part I

[4] The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, rs.11, 18, 24 and Schedule 20, Part I

[5] The Road Vehicles Lighting (Amendment) Regulations 2005, s.6

[6] The Road Traffic Act 1991, s.42; The Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, s. 51, 54 Sch 3; The Fixed Penalty Offences Order 2009, Sch 1

[7] The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, rs.11 and 18

[8] The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, r.11(2)

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