Oregon Law—The Basics:
- Bicycles must be equipped with lights during limited visibility conditions.1
Oregon Law—Going Deeper:
One of the greatest challenges cyclists face is making sure that drivers see them. Not that we’re invisible, but with the excuses negligent drivers make for not seeing us you’d think we are invisible. Or at least, magic.
What negligent drivers are really revealing with their “I didn’t see the cyclist” excuses is that they weren’t actually paying attention. Or if they were paying attention, they were only looking for big, dangerous vehicles, like trucks, that could harm them. And so, with the 7:1 size differential between the driver of a multi-ton motor vehicle, and a cyclist weighing in somewhere between a buck and maybe a buck 80, maybe, well, we just don’t count for much on the danger scale. And the only way a less-than-attentive driver can explain the situation is with common driver excuses like “I never saw the cyclist,” or “The cyclist came out of nowhere.”
Given these realities, there are some very sound reasons for maximizing your conspicuity (meaning how well others can see you):
- There is a 7:1 size differential between cars and bicycles. You can mitigate this size differential visibility advantage that cars have by helping drivers to see you better.
- Most car-on-bike collisions occur at night.
- Perception distance is the distance at which a driver can first see you. This means that the driver sees something (you) but hasn’t yet recognized what that something is (a cyclist).
- Recognition distance is the distance at which a driver can first recognize that you are a cyclist. Recognition distance is a shorter distance than perception distance, because after first perceiving that there is something (you) on the road, it takes time for the driver to recognize that you are a cyclist.
- The nighttime perception distance for dark clothing is only 75 feet. At speeds of 60 MPH, this gives drivers less than a second to react once they first perceive the cyclist. Even at speeds of 30 MPH, drivers have less than two seconds to react once they perceive the cyclist.
- The nighttime perception distance for reflective material ranges from 1,200 to 2,200 feet.
- The nighttime recognition distance for reflective material ranges from 600 to 700 feet in darkness but decreases to 260 to 325 feet with brighter background lighting.
- The daytime perception distance for hi-viz clothing can increase from 400 feet to 2,200 feet. The nighttime perception distance for hi-viz clothing can increase from 150 feet to 560 feet.
Nevertheless, there are stories of cyclists who did everything right, lighting themselves up like a Christmas tree, wearing reflective and hi-viz clothing, and still getting hit by a driver who said “I never saw the cyclist.” The take-away seems to be that there’s no guarantee that anything you do to increase your visibility will make a careless driver see you. But at the same time, it can’t hurt to maximize your visibility, and you’re likely increasing the odds that most drivers will see you. So let’s talk about what is specifically required by Oregon law, and what is left to you to decide.
“Limited visibility condition” means:
(1) Any time from sunset to sunrise; and
(2) Any other time when, due to insufficient light or unfavorable atmospheric conditions, persons and vehicles are not clearly discernible on a straight, level, unlighted highway at a distance of 1,000 feet ahead.
In plain language, this means that if you’re riding between sunset and sunrise—in other words, at night—or if you’re riding at any other time when lighting or atmospheric conditions make it difficult to see 1,000 feet ahead of you, then you are required to be equipped with lighting equipment. What sorts of conditions might qualify as “limited visibility conditions”? Fog, heavy rain, a blizzard, smoke, a dust storm, an eclipse, a volcanic eruption.
Basically, you’re required to use lighting equipment during any lighting or atmospheric condition that limits visibility such that you can’t see clearly 1,000 feet ahead of you. And there’s nothing in the law that requires you to have any lighting equipment at all on your bike, as long as you don’t ride during periods of limited visibility.
Ok, so that’s when you need lighting equipment, but what equipment is required? There are two types of lighting equipment required by the law—passive lighting (reflectors) and active lighting (lights).
Reflectors are passive lighting, because you don’t have to do anything to activate them. They’re in the background, always there, doing nothing until a light shines on the reflector. One of the CPSC equipment requirements that every new bike must meet is a very specific set of reflectors, for the front, the rear, the sides, and the pedals.4
But these reflector requirements are not, uh, reflected in Oregon law, which doesn’t even require reflectors. Instead, you’re given some options: A red reflector or a red light or material visible from the rear from a distance of 600 feet.5 Given that this is a “lighting” requirement, if you opt to use “material” instead of a light or reflector to comply with the law, the material should probably be reflective material, and of sufficient size that it can be seen from a distance of 600 feet.
Lights, on the other hand, are active lighting, because they need a power source and you have to turn them on them for them to work. Notably, the CPSC does not require new bicycles to be equipped with lights, leaving those requirements to the state laws. In Oregon, the law requires you to have a white light visible for 500 feet facing to the front of your bike.6
Finally, Oregon allows you to add additional lighting equipment as long as it is consistent with the equipment laws.7 This means, for example, that you can have lights and reflectors that are more powerful than the minimum requirement, but you can’t have lights and reflectors less powerful than required. It also means that you can have both a red reflector and a red light facing to the rear, or more than one white light facing to the front. But it would be against the law to face your white light to the rear and/or your red light and reflector to the front.
Some companies manufacture a combined red reflector and light. The advantage of this type of combination is that you get the power of active lighting, but if your batteries are drained or your light fails, it still functions as a reflector. Think of the reflector as a failsafe device in case your lights aren’t working; you are still in compliance with the law, even if your light fails.
Another very interesting development has been the introduction of a combined rear light with video camera. This setup allows you to record video of vehicles approaching you. In the event of a collision, or even an assault, video recorded on your ride can be used as evidence at trial.
Both the combined light and reflector and the combined light and video camera are further examples of additional equipment that Oregon law allows you to install on your bike.
OK, so you’re required to be equipped with lights during the night. Makes sense. But what about during the day? Are you allowed to operate lights during the day? There’s nothing in the law prohibiting it, so yes, it’s perfectly legal. And in fact, many cyclists choose to run their lights during the day as an added safety measure to increase their visibility.
Well, what about flashing lights? They are perfectly legal in Oregon, and are more likely to be noticed than a steady white light. However, there is some controversy around their use, because some cyclists ride with them aimed straight ahead, which means they are shining directly into the eyes of oncoming traffic. While the drivers blinded by a light flashing directly into their eyes will be sure to have noticed you, they may not be able to see you because the light can be temporarily blinding. Additionally, flashing lights can trigger a seizure in people with photosensitive epilepsy. So while flashing lights are not illegal, for reasons of courtesy and safety they should be aimed down to the road surface ahead of you, rather than straight ahead, directly into the eyes of oncoming traffic.
Finally, what about reflective and hi-viz clothing? It’s not required in Oregon, and you are free to choose whether to wear it or not. Many cyclists do choose to wear it, because it does significantly increase your conspicuity. However, it’s not required. In fact, you can wear any clothing you want—even black, if you choose, and even at night—and not be in violation of the law. You will only cross into breaking the law if you play bike ninja by riding without lights at night. Still, wearing dark colors, while perfectly legal, is not the best choice for helping drivers to see you, and particularly so at night. So while reflective and hi-viz clothing is not required by law, it’s one of the best ways to help drivers see you.
- Related Article: Stay Seen, Stay Safe: What Every Cyclist Needs To Know About How To Help Drivers See You
Of course, you can choose to eschew clothing altogether on the World Naked Bike Ride…
If You’ve Been Injured in a Crash
Do not communicate with the driver’s insurance company before consulting with an attorney. Most cyclists want to be fair and reasonable with the insurance company. Unfortunately, when you communicate with the insurance company, they are gathering information to be used against you later. What you see as an effort on your part to communicate a fair and honest account of the accident will be seen by the insurance company as an opportunity to gather evidence in support of their argument that your negligence caused the accident.
Contact bicyclelaw.com or another personal injury attorney who understands bicycling. While many attorneys are competent to handle general injury cases, make sure your attorney has experience and is familiar with:
- Bicycle traffic laws
- Negotiating bicycle accident cases with insurance companies
- Trying bicycle accident cases in court
- The prevailing prejudice against cyclists by motorists and juries
- The names and functions of all bicycle components
- The speed bikes travel as well as braking and cornering
- Bicycle handling skills, techniques, and customs
- How to get the full replacement value property damage estimates for your bicycle
- Establishing the value of lost riding time
- Leading bicycle accident reconstruction experts
- Licensed forensic bicycle engineers
- Establishing the value of permanent diminished riding ability