Several years ago, while riding a 600K on a highway in Arizona (near the Grand Canyon), some experienced randonneurs expressed the opinion that riding at night on a highway is actually safer than during the day. Since that event, I have often wondered about this.
A few weeks ago, I did a 200K (125-mile) training ride. Because of predicted gusty winds of 40 MPH I decided to do a pre-dawn start so those winds would be to my back when they finally hit, later in the day. (This turned out to be a perfect plan as I had them to my back for the last half of these ride and was able to fly along at 27 MPH on the flats, solo…but that is another story!) Early in the ride, my route took me on a short section (~ 8 miles) of I-15, where the speed limit is 80 MPH. I had on my usual reflective clothing, which was a reflective vest and ankle bands. I also had on two red 1/2-watt blinkies, both of which were in blink mode. One on my left seat stay and the other on my ankle that goes up and down while pedaling, providing even more attention. During that section, while on the broad shoulder of the freeway, virtually every vehicle (including many semi-trucks) changed lanes to avoid me. I have ridden this same section during the day, and vehicles rarely changed lanes when they came upon me.
Later that morning, while it was still dark, and on a different two-lane undivided rural highway, which had a very small shoulder…every vehicle either swung wide as they saw my lights in the distance. Then, an hour or two later, shortly after dawn, when my lights were not bright enough to penetrate the darkness (I still had my blinkies turned on…just to be sure), vehicles were cutting me much closer. Occasionally I would ride on the outside or right side of the rumble strip when there was room, but that was not always possible. This simple test proved that on rural roads or highways, night riding was indeed safer than riding during the day.
Please note that I had my rear blinky lights blinking and not on solid mode…that tells motorists that there is either a slow-moving vehicle, person receiving a citation or an accident ahead and to slow down and/or change lanes. I completely disagree with some that state that cyclists should ride with a solid red rear light, as a blinking light causes impaired drivers to steer toward you.
Now, for riding in urban areas, night riding may be less safe as there are so many other distractions and lights, including street and store signs and the glare of other motorists headlights blinding both cyclists and motorists alike. This can be especially hazardous during the hours of dawn or dusk as bicycle lights may not be bright enough to cut through the semi-dark conditions.
Also, be aware that riding at dawn or sunset (especially while going climbing or descending in a canyon), conditions where the sun may be blinding motorists easily, it behooves you to keep your tail light on…just to be safe.
Related posts: Bicycle Tail Light Review