A Proposed Missouri Bill Would Require Cyclists to Fly a Fluorescent Flag

The proposed “safety measure” is a thinly-veiled attempt to get people on bikes off of the roads.

Written by:
Photo by Montgomery County Planning Commission.

Photo by Montgomery County Planning Commission.

A bill recently introduced in the state of Missouri would require anyone riding a bike on lettered county roads – all of Missouri’s rural highways – to fly a fluorescent orange flag. The flag would have to be “not less than fifteen feet above the motorway when the bicycle is standing upright.”

The bill was introduced by Jay Houghton, a Republican member of the Missouri House of Representatives who represents the state’s 43rd District. The very succinct bill – its total text is 52 words long – makes no mention of who would be expected to pay for the flags.

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What we can assume in the absence of this information is that the cost of the flags would likely fall on the people on bikes. What we know for certain is that flying a 15 foot flag from the rear of your bicycle would interfere with many bridge clearances, present a hazard when riding near power lines, and present considerable balancing difficulties to many riders.

Let’s say we decide to believe that the bill is intended to improve safety conditions for cyclists by improving their visibility. That line of thinking still falls squarely into the victim-blaming approach that says people on bikes should be responsible for not getting themselves hit by cars, instead of the drivers being responsible for not hitting people with their cars.

More importantly, every time a law is passed requiring people on bikes to wear, purchase, or register something before cycling, its most noticeable effect is a marked decrease in ridership. We’ve seen this time and time again with mandatory helmet laws. We can only imagine that effect will be even more pronounced when the thing required is as a ludicrous and specific as a 15 foot fluorescent orange flag that can attach to a bicycle – it is cumbersome, ridiculous, likely expensive, and something basically nobody has just lying around.

While the intention of this bill is being trumpeted as “improved safety” for cyclists, that noble goal is a bit difficult to believe when you remember that its author, Houghton, previously co-sponsored a bill to ban cyclists from state highways altogether. The fluorescent flag is a pretty clear attempt to make cycling so inconvenient that most people will simply stop doing it altogether. Sorry Houghton, we’re not buying it.

Hilary Angus is the Online Editor at Momentum Mag. @HilaryAngus.


  • Mark

    Houghton is an f €*#ing bunghole, what a moron, even an old cb radio was supposedly not allowed an antenna longer than 6 foot long off a car. if ithey pass this law id so get one, a 15 foot penis shape and ride through Houghtons district. ..

  • The fool is a member of the “Tourism and Natural Resources” committee. Does he not realize how significant of a tax benefit it’d be to have a bike friendly state?

    In a state that has dealt with the most significant racial challenges of the new millennial, lost it’s NFL team, all the while major corporations are leaving the state I’d think his time would be best served thinking about other pressing matters.

  • Evan

    I’ve joked before that I could light myself on fire while riding and many drivers still would say they didn’t see me.
    As noted in the article, this bill is NOT an attempt to increase safety, not in the least. Its intent is to make riding a bicycle so difficult, unattractive and undesirable that people won’t do it.
    If you are really upset about this bill, don’t write to the guy who wrote it – write to all the other people who will vote on it and tell them it’s a bad idea that will quite frankly make their state look backward and stupid. As if they needed help.

  • Steve

    I’d be into a 15 ft flag on my bike with the lettering “fuck you Jay Houghton”

  • Old and not FAT

    Sorry to hear this person is getting paid with tax dollars for this kind of stupidly. He must not understand power wires are 14 foot above. If he has a drivers license and don’t under this he should be retested and made to ride a bike. If this is something he understands it then he is trying to get someone hurt and should get the boot out of office for being an ass. By rights he should represent ALL of th people and get on a bicycle so he could have a better understanding of his nonsense. Any good American would be more interested in stoping the oil imports and reduce road wear and congestion. He should be more interested in making off road bike lanes separate from the road.

  • Derek

    Houghton is just as stupid as that other idiot wanting to become president

  • Walker

    Since this is presumably intended to make cyclists completely visible to drivers the law should be amended to include shifting responsibility for any subsequent collisions completely to drivers–assumed blind, would permanently loose driving rights.

  • Amoeba

    Has Jay Houghton, member of the Missouri House of Representatives provided any peer-reviewed evidence about the efficacy of such a flag, such as how it would work at night? Because fluorescent colours need UV light to fluoresce and UV isn’t present at night or in the light emitted from headlights (I haven’t checked new technology headlights but I suspect they don’t emit significant sufficient quantities of UV). Sounds like a typically half-baked attempt to legislate against cycling, dreamed-up by someone with an axe to grind, but no knowledge of the subject.

    Cyclist visibility at night: Perceptions of visibility do
    not necessarily match reality
    by JM Wood et al.
    Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety – August 2010

    Visibility limitations make cycling at night particularly dangerous. We previously reported cyclists’ perceptions of their
    own visibility at night and identified clothing configurations that made them feel visible. In this study we sought to
    determine whether these self-perceptions reflect actual visibility when wearing these clothing configurations. In a closed-road driving environment, cyclists wore black clothing, a fluorescent vest, a reflective vest, or a reflective vest plus ankle and knee reflectors. Drivers recognised more cyclists wearing the reflective vest plus reflectors (90%) than the reflective vest alone (50%), fluorescent vest (15%) or black clothing (2%). Older drivers recognised the cyclists less often than younger drivers (51% vs 27%). The findings suggest that reflective ankle and knee markings are particularly valuable at night, while
    fluorescent clothing is not. Cyclists wearing fluorescent clothing may be at particular risk if they incorrectly believe themselves to be conspicuous to drivers at night.

  • David

    Self driving cars will not run over bicyclists. Humans suck at driving.

  • Jimmy

    Missouri = misery


    Motorists can’t see 15′ in the air, because the roof of their car blocks their view on the approach. So,from far away, yes, but up close, nope…(as in, turning a corner). This will go to court and the law will get thrown out (and some unfortunate souls’ expense).

  • ibc

    Don’t feed the (concern) troll.

  • JimT

    Might I suggest as a compromise, that the state provide a supply of 15-foot flags wherever a trail crosses a road.

  • Christopher

    He is stupid. Just plain stupid.

  • Cecilia

    That is crazy 15 feet, why don’t you just make motorist accountable

  • P Edward Murray

    Bikers and joggers need to wear reflective clothing or something reflective at dusk and into the evening, PERIOD!

    • Rex

      If all cars are painted with reflective paint then that would be appropriate. Black, grey cars etc. are barely visible and a serious risk but nobody requests reflectors on them. They cause a risks to others. The bikers only to themselves. Don’t blame the bikes for others not wanting to pay attention.

      • Jim

        All legally-equipped cars have reflectors already – in the tail lamp lenses. And they are legally required to have their lights on when operating in the dark. The visibility of cars is not really a problem.

  • D neff

    What an idiotic bill.

  • Leah

    Montana just did away with flag recommendations for cyclists last year. We also are increasing bike baths and pedestrian crossings to create safer transportation for everyone. But hey, if Missouri isn’t interested in a tourist demographic that stays places longer and spends more money than traditional tourists, my state will gladly accept them =)

  • David Eckstrom

    If you want to be seen on your bike, forget the orange flag. Get a Bontrager Flare R flasher on your seatpost. It’s super bright, can be seen from a half mile off, has 120 degrees of vision and flashes with a pattern designed to catch the attention of the most distracted driver. Get one. With more and more people doing more and more on their phones while they’re supposed to be driving, you need this to save your life.

  • Tater McGee

    If his concern is public safety, outlawing McDonald’s might be more effective. But then, that’s just silly huh?

  • David

    Since a large part of americas population is overweight, why not ban cars in favour of bicycles instead.

  • David

    Due to the anti-social views of the largest part of the ameican public towards all forms of cycling and lots of other sports I will never even want to set foot on this gun-infested, idiotic island that calls itself USA.

    • Lex Luthor

      Better steer clear of Canada too, while you’re at it.

    • Foxwalker

      Guns are not the issue, nor are cars, or cell phones, or McDonald’s, just as bikes aren’t the solution, people are always the issue, stop demonizing inanimate objects, or claiming another object as a fix. It is always people and what the choose.

  • Steven

    It is true that side pointing flags greatly increase visibility and increase vehicle clearance when passing cyclists. But a 15 foot flag is preposterous. And it should be up to the cyclist to use a flag or not, no matter what the height.

    • Gregg

      OK with it if any driver that hits a cyclist with a flag gets lifetime license revocation.

  • I don’t think we should focus on the preposterous 15-foot height requirement, or it’s going to turn into a debate about the length of the flag, rather than the stupidity of requiring one. It’s politics, so settling on 3 or 5 feet above the bike might seem a “reasonable” compromise. NO FLAGS. If a motorist can’t see a bike (properly lit, of course), they’re just not looking. A flag won’t matter.

  • bclissold

    Okay, let’s say someone wants to abide by the law if it passes. Does anyone even make a 15 foot long bicycle flag?

  • billdsd

    Flags and bright clothing do a lot less to enhance cyclist safety than using the full lane like the driver of a vehicle. The main reason that people have difficulty noticing cyclists is that cyclists are on the edge, pretending to be and effectively becoming invisible. Using the full lane, they are in the spot that drivers are looking for vehicles and that’s why they get seen. The place you’re most likely to be seen is the place that drivers are already looking.

  • George

    “Lying around” , not “laying around”.

  • Tony Shawley

    If this matters to you it is YOUR responsibility to learn who you state Representative and contact them. Use logic and reason to enumerate your objections, not emotion or anger. Contact fellow cyclists and encourage them to contact their state legislator. If we work together this bill can be stopped.

  • joe

    Oh darn… And I was just about to move to Missouri! Luckily he’s reinforcing stereotypes just in time to save me.

  • KillMoto

    Lowering the speed limit will save many many more lives.

  • Doug McDowall

    I wonder whose son-in-law has a company that manufactures fiberglass poles and dayglow flags?

  • Russ

    Why do these dinosaurs hate it when people are athletic?

  • Dave Getchell

    not practical, but the height would give some protection when cars approach a ridge or crest – no amount of reflection or other lighting will matter if you are hidden because of grading differences…the speed differences are too great. Laser technology reflecting off mist or insects in an expanding upward cone might work better – overhead illuminated smart follow drones?

    • farazS

      A ridge or a crest is the same as a blind turn. You are expected to slow down to a speed where you can safely stop in case of an obstruction on the road just beyond your line of sight.

  • Leslie Wilson

    Fifteen feet? That’s ridiculous. Why not five feet above the bike? Why a flag at all? Why not just require brightly colored clothing? Or a lit flashing rear light? It seems to me that this proposed legislation has nothing to do with safety… and it has everything to do with inconvenience.

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