Legal Brief – Bike Lighting Illuminated

Questioning the law regarding red reflectors and whether ICBC can offer an unbiased opinion on cyclist equipment in legal confrontations.

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Most jurisdictions in North America require some form of lighting for cyclists who ride when it is dark. One such provision is found in British Columbia’s Motor Vehicle Act. It states:

“A cycle operated on a highway between ½ hour after sunset and ½ before sunrise must have the following equipment:

(a) a lighted lamp mounted on the front and under normal atmosphere conditions capable of displaying a white light visible at least 150 meters in the direction the cycle is pointed;

(b) a red reflector of a make or design approved by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia for the purposes of this section;

(c) a lighted lamp, mounted and visible to the rear, displaying a red light.”

The fact that the omnibus cycling provision appears to have been bolted onto the Motor Vehicle Act (a statute whose name reveals its bias) is enough to cause me some skepticism over the inclusion of the need for a red reflector. The fact that the lighting section requires that a red reflector also be approved by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) is something I find oddly suspect.

ICBC’s approval of a cyclist’s red reflector can only occur after a collision has occurred. The law implies that ICBC possesses the expertise to make this judgment, but any assessment as to the adequacy of a red reflector could only be made in the context of an injury claim brought against ICBC and its insured driver. So, I am left to ask how ICBC, a representative of the driver who is alleged to have injured a cyclist, could possibly render a neutral opinion on this or any subject relating to the bicyclist’s equipment?

Concerns about the red reflector inclusion, however, do not exclude the fact that the absence of adequate lighting will cost a bicyclist dearly in any assessment of fault for a collision that occurs in the dark. The legislation attempts to define what darkness is, but – as is so often the case – there are many factors, other than time of day, that relate to when a rider should use lights.

Not using adequate lighting at night is simply unsafe. While some will argue that the lack of equipment – a helmet, for example – does not cause collisions, the lack of proper lighting can. And while wearing reflective gear may help, it is no substitute for proper lighting that is visible from a distance: as most drivers and cyclists are conditioned to look for lights. Not only does proper lighting increase a bicyclist’s visibility, it also shows that the rider took appropriate action to ensure that they followed the law as well as acted to avoid a collision.


David Hay is a litigation lawyer and partner at Richards Buell Sutton, LLP. He has special interest in bike injury law and can be contacted at 1-604-661-9250 or dhay@rbs.ca.

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