Do I really need lights on my bicycle?
So one day after work you purchased a commuter bicycle from the local bike shop and decided to take it for a spin around the neighborhood just as the sun is going down. Or you’ve got a top of the line road bike and decided to take off the reflectors to lighten the bike, figuring the rechargeable USB lights on either end of the bike are all you need. In either instance, you’d be breaking the law in Florida.
For starters, all new bicycles sold in the U.S. must have reflectors on the front and back of the bike, as well as the pedals and rims pedals. That’s federal law. What you do with those reflectors after you take the bike home is your business, and the laws of the state you live, and ride in, come into play.
Lights, Reflectors and Florida, oh my!
I recently came across an article on the internet discussing bikes and lights in Oregon, which was representative of most of the country. Florida, however, is a tad bit stricter when it comes to riding after sunset.
If you are riding between sunset and sunrise, a bicyclist must have a lamp on the front of the bike that emits a white light forward up to at least 500 feet. Generally, all commercially sold bike lights accomplish that requirement but must be purchased separately. Buying a bike right off the assembly line, so to speak, typically doesn’t have lights attached. Florida’s laws are much stricter than the US federal requirements. But this requirement is generally common across the states.
Where Florida differs with many states is in the rear of the bike. Florida requires not only a rear lamp/light that emits a red light for at least 600 feet, but it also requires a reflector. Many states don’t require a rear reflector. Many riders, myself included, have quickly ditched the reflectors once the bike gets home from the shop for a bike light and more space on the seat post for the saddle bag (probably to also to streamline and save some weight). Well, that is a big no-no in Florida. Unless that light also reflects, riding at night without a reflector is in violation with the law.
Remember, it's the law
Now if a law enforcement officer were to come across a cyclist at night with a light but not a reflector, he could stop and issue a citation to that rider. Under Florida law, the officer has the option to either issue a warning and safety brochure, or to issue a citation for violating these requirements. In my criminal defense practice, I’ve come across many clients who have been stopped by police enforcing these laws, so they aren’t to be taken lightly.
So what are you to do if you just don’t have the space on your seat post? Why not the seat stay. Or even on your saddle bag, so long as it is attached to the bike. Though Florida law does allow for reflectors and/or lights to be on the rider, that is in addition to those on the bicycle itself. Also, Florida also allows the lights to be blinking or flashing (a recent change).
As I’ve already said, properly equipping your bicycle with the requisite lamps/reflectors for nighttime riding prevents you from being stopped and cited by police (and messing up that good time you’ve got going on Strava). But as a personal injury attorney, I’ve seen instances where insurance companies for automobile drivers attempt to blame the cyclist for causing the injury by not having the legally required lights and reflector. The insurance companies will try to deny any claim made by a cyclist, and it becomes a difficult fight to get you, the rider, the compensation that is owed for your injuries because of a crash with an automobile.
That’s why it’s important to have not only lights but a rear reflector while riding in Florida to make sure you are compliant with the law and protected in the terrible event you might be injured in a crash.