Posted by Tom Petrie on 10/10/2013
to Bicycle Lights
Using a bright flashing headlight is a mistake. What it very clearly says is this, “I don’t give a shit if I’m blinding you with this flashing light. I’m going to make sure you see me even if it does annoy you and create a dangerous situation because I’m the most important thing on the road, so go fuck yourself.”
Needless to say, this isn’t the way to establish goodwill between motorists and cyclists. Further, it’s completely unnecessary. A proper headlamp creates sufficient visibility (you don’t see cars crashing head-on into each other because they’re not flashing their brights). For the cyclist, riding by the light of a flashing headlamp is like riding under a strobe light at a disco. Yeah, there’s the self-righteous “Goddamn it, you’re going to see me!” satisfaction (see above), but I would frankly prefer to see the road ahead of me and I think any serious commuter cyclist would agree.
Beyond the visual offence and the danger they create, flashing headlights scream, “I’m a newbie!” Newbies, we welcome you. But do the right thing. Riding at night is intimidating, and it can be dangerous, but you also need to be responsible. Proper lights, reflective clothing, (no effing ear buds!), obeying rules of the road (obeying traffic signals, no riding against traffic, etc.) and (if you’re really concerned) a safety wing are the responsible ways to make yourself visible without being confrontational. A blinding flashing headlight is overkill. It’s offensive, and it creates a hostile environment that is ultimately counter-productive to safety.
Unfortunately, a number of companies are trying to capitalize on the concerns of night-time cyclists. The offerings of flashing headlights are escalating. Some are even irresponsibly offering “Blinders”. How stupidly myopic is that? An arms race then follows with each manufacturer trying to out-do his competitors by offering ever brighter flashing headlights. I've just received an offering from a Chinese manufacturer offering a 3000 lumens lamp with strobe mode!!! Where does it end? Why possibly should we want to blind on-coming traffic?
Please, let’s be reasonable here. The object is to make sure you can see at night and that you are visible. The object isn’t to create an in-your-face hostile environment.
Flashing headlights are illegal in Germany and other European countries. The light we offer is a 70 lux (max) LS 950. It’s really bright, but it doesn’t flash. The LS 950, like all other Trelock lights, is StVZO compliant.
StVZO (Strassenverkehrszulassungsordnung) is the regulating body that controls all street traffic laws, including lights and how they are used. Trelock’s LS 950 has a sharp cut-off at the top of its beam. This too has to do with StVZO compliance – not only are you not allowed to blind on-coming traffic with a flashing light, but your light has to be on the road, not in the eyes of on-coming traffic. These laws are really sensible and they reflect a community where bicycle commuting is part of the traffic mix. As the U.S. bicycle commuting community grows and matures, I hope that similar regulations will be implemented here. If we ride like outlaws, that’s the way we’ll be treated. If we respect traffic laws and other users of the road, we can rightly expect the same in return.
Flashing headlights are a dangerous, offensive, and unnecessary mistake. We should ride at night safely and we should do everything to make ourselves visible. But we should also be responsible road citizens. A flashing headlight is overkill. It’s more than necessary. It’s confrontational. It’s a mistake.