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Are your cycle lights legal?

What's the difference between legal and BS approved?

We're often asked the question as to whether or not flashing LED's (Light Emitting Diodes) are legal in the UK? The answer is that if they are the sole form of lighting, even if they are BS Approved, they are still not legal.

So that's the bad news and here's a little bit more. Many LED lights and high-performance filament front lights, are not BS-approved. This is due to an obscure 'loophole' in the legal documentation, but it's a technicality as there is no denying that the intent of the law, certainly since April 1995, is to legalise LED lights that are BS-approved.

So, a small word of caution, if you see an LED light that states it is 'legal' - it's not! If it says it is BS Approved, this means it has been approved against a strict set of standards - BS6102 Part 3 and is fit for purpose but, it is still not legal!

Knightlite were the first to produce an LED rear light that conformed to BS 6102/3. Many others have followed and there is now an excellent selection of BS-approved LED rear lights available, as well as others with equivalent accreditation. Click here for a wide selection

For those who wish to read more, the main documentation relating to these issues are the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations 1989, plus any subsequent amendments and the British Standard 6102 part 3. This BS relates to 'visibility lighting' and was further amended in 1995.

Flashing red LED lights have now reached the stage where they are seen as symbolic of 'cyclist'. This could be said to be a good thing, but it still does not make it legal in the eyes of the Law. Some cyclists get around the issue by wearing the flashing light on their clothing.

The use of LEDs in the form of a steady light seems well accepted, yet the position in law is confused. To quote from a letter from the Department of Transport dated 23 October 1995,

"The Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations 1989 require cycles to be fitted with certain obligatory lights if used at night. Obligatory lights fitted to new cycles must be 'e/E' approved or comply with British Standard BS 6102 Part 3 or with a standard providing an equivalent level of performance." BS 6102 part 3 was amended in 1995, and now recognises the LED as a legitimate light source - prior to then only filament bulbs were acceptable. However another letter from the DoT dated 11 March 1996 refers to "the latest version of BS6102 part 3 (which the lighting regulations do not currently recognise)".

Note however that the letter also states that "the Regulations do permit cyclists to fit non-approved lights to their cycles if they are in addition to the obligatory approved lights." On this basis LED lights can be used as 'secondary' lighting; unfortunate when you consider their superior performance.

Some are concerned about the colour of LEDs that can be used on the front of a cycle. The 1995 letter states - "Regulation 11 of the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 strictly controls the colour of light that may be shown to the front and rear of vehicles. In general, only red light may be shown to the rear and any other colour than red to the front." However blue lights are prohibited on any vehicle other than emergency vehicles. But green or yellow lights do appear to be acceptable at the front.

Therefore to abide by the law as it stands, strictly speaking you must use cycle lights that are not very effective compared to some of the high performance lighting systems available. Some people get around this by carrying two sets of lights, one 'legal' and one 'high performance'. In practise however there are very few recorded instances in the UK of a cyclist with technically illegal lighting, falling foul of the police or the legal processes. Generally the police seem appreciative of any cyclist using effective lighting, as opposed to using non at all.

For some however the most serious issue is their status in law in the event of an accident. It is felt by some that an astute lawyer could point to the use of a non-legal lighting setup to undermine a cyclist's position in any ensuing compensation or insurance case.

The practicalities

If you are now utterly confused here is some practical experience, but please do not interpret this as anything other than such.

There is no doubt about it that the most effective form of lighting system currently available uses LED's. Infact one advert I have seen claims a cyclist can be seen from 2000 feet in the air when using a particular red flashing LED. Personally I'd rather be seen from 50 yards up the road, but then that's another issue and a very old joke.

Personal experience has shown that most members of the constabulary seem to 'turn a blind eye' to a cyclist who has one blinking LED, combined with a second LED set on solid. I have personally used this form of lighting now for many years and have never fallen foul of the law. However at the end of the day, this is my choice because, as the Law stands, I am breaking it, sorry Guv.

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