Philip Pullman is right: Cyclists without lights are hard for motorists to see at night – Alastair Dalton

How easy was it to spot that person cycling in the dark without lights?

Thursday, 18th November 2021, 4:45 pm

In my experience as a driver, it was alarmingly difficult – which has underlined for me the importance of being highly visible as a cyclist.

Now the clocks have gone back and I find myself again riding in darkness, it’s extraordinary the number of people who think lights are optional.

The most galling incident I’ve encountered so far was when a rider with no lights collided with me after pulling out onto a cycle path straight in front of my bike, arguing he didn’t need lights as he wasn’t on a road.

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A cyclist with no lights or hi-vis jacket can be hard to spot in the dark. Picture: The Scotsman

A fair few food delivery riders appear to think you don’t need lights on roads either, like the one who also ran a red light two weeks ago while I waited for it to go green.

Deliveroo, the company involved, assured me that all its riders had completed a “road safety training” course, were given “extra guidance to help make sure they're focused on road safety whenever they work with us” and were expected to “obey the rules of the road”.

Days later, I came across a rider from another delivery firm who had no idea he needed lights.

Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials, was criticised for tweeting to its 200,000 followers last month: “The number of cyclists speeding through Oxford at night, with no lights, wearing dark clothes, is astonishing. Damn fools.”

Hi-vis jackets can improve cyclists' visibility. Picture: The Scotsman

But he’s got a point – cyclists have been killed or injured cycling with no lights, like a 26-year-old in Sunderland in May.

This is not to transfer the blame from the motorists who hit them, but riders must at least not flout the law.

To illustrate the problem, I arranged for a series of photos to be taken of me cycling at night, first with dark clothing and no front light, then with a hi-vis jacket, and finally with a hi-vis jacket with integrated LED lights.

I think the images – which accompany the scotsman.com version of this column – vividly illustrate the problem.

LED lights add to cyclists' visibility, such as with this Vizirider jacket. Picture: The Scotsman

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Having previously worn a normal high-vis jacket while cycling, the difference that the 12 LED lights made was more significant than I had realised.

While similar products are available, the jacket supplied for my test ride by new start-up firm Vizirider provided a reassuringly visible glow from its white lights on the front and the reds on the back.

It made me realise that bike lights alone leave the rider only as visible as the brightness and reflectivity of their clothing.

Vizirider co-founder Simon Sibia came up with the idea after being knocked off his bike twice and discovering the drivers who had caused the collisions had simply not seen him.

Like Pullman, he said could not believe the amount of cyclists riding at night without any lights, describing the experience, on a recent trip to London, as “absolute madness”.

Sibia has approached courier companies, so far to no avail.

But perhaps they’re missing a trick – illuminate riders’ branded, insulated backpacks and you’ve got an advertising opportunity and novel road safety feature rolled into one.

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