25 November 2015 ~ 7 Comments

Night Riding — It may be safer than riding during the day

 

Night Cycling on Highways

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

 

7 Responses to “Night Riding — It may be safer than riding during the day”

  1. Rando Richard 26 November 2015 at 10:35 am Permalink

    An e-mail I received yesterday:

    I agree that it is usually safer to ride at night, especially using some of the newer tail lights that are VERY bright.

    I’ve used a DiNotte 400 for years and it’s stunningly bright. The problem is that the battery pack is separate and rather large.

    On my Randonneering bike I use a Serfas light in combination with a Blink / Steady light.

    The Blink / Steady turns on and off based on ambient light movement.

    I’ve recently begun using a Lupine Rotlicht and have found it superb. It even features a built in brake light.

    Over the last few years LED brightness has soared and the cost has plummeted (in most cases). Additionally, single use batteries might be environmentally unfriendly but they last a LOT longer than rechargeable units. The Blink / Steady unit uses two AAA batteries and they last . . . forever!

    Keep up the great Rando updates. They’re ALL appreciated.

    ciao and best

    jim

  2. Nick Bull 4 December 2015 at 1:55 pm Permalink

    Blinking taillights make it hard for cars to determine both your position and velocity. Also, if a car happens to look your direction between blinks, you are invisible to them. So, e.g. if a car is driving on a twisty road and comes around a corner just as your taillights blink off, then you are invisible to them until the lights blink again, which cuts down on the amount of time they have available to perceive and avoid you.

    Having one taillight solid and one blinking solves both these problems.

    FWIW, I also think night riding is safer as long as the drivers are sober, but I think the share of drunk drivers on the road at night is greater than during the daytime. So ultimately I am left to wonder whether it is actually safer at night than in the daytime.

    Nick

  3. Rando Richard 4 December 2015 at 4:27 pm Permalink

    Nick, I live in a rural mountainous area. Many of the highways and interstates with steep grades have signs “Slow Moving Vehicles Move to the Right Lane & Use Flashers.” So when a motorists sees a flashing light, they think it is a stalled vehicle, a police car or slow moving vehicle like a semi that is crawling up a steep grade. Even on flat roads all the smart farm vehicles that are moving slow user their flashers. Why would they choose not to? I think it is perhaps a state law and just plain common sense. Who cares what my perceived distance is? As demonstrated by my simple test, nearly all motorists will move over (assuming they have space).

    Now, on curving roads, I agree with you about a motorist missing you between blinks. I look for a quick-blink mode on my tail lights.

    Drunk drivers? I live in Utah, perhaps the most alcohol-free states in the U.S! But we have a lot of teen drivers (big LDS families) which are more prone to be texted.

  4. Paul Grimm 4 December 2015 at 11:29 pm Permalink

    Hi Rich,

    Paul from Kanab here.

    I like this post and pretty much agree: Night riding on rural highways with wide shoulders is pretty darn safe. And I think riding on busy interstate or major US *rural* highways with wide shoulders by day is far safer than riding on narrow, 2-lane roads with minimal shoulders and less traffic. Just my opinion. I think of an interstate shoulder as the safest bike lane one could use to get from A to B, assuming no construction zones or other weird conditions.

    If you host the Kanab 400km again next May, would you consider just keeping riders on I-15 northbound shoulder from Toquerville all the way to the UT20 turnoff, except for the detour between Cedar City and Parawon? UT130 and Parawon Gap are worth leaving I-15 on that section.

    Just an idea.

    Paul

  5. Rando Richard 5 December 2015 at 7:15 am Permalink

    The Panguitch Loop 400K, going through Cedar City, is not on the docket for next year. Most people would rather go out of their way to avoid it an interstate. Although they may feel safer, the annoyance of having semi’s blowing by hour after hour is a deterrent for cyclists. But the next time we run that route I will review it with your suggestions in mind.

  6. Bryce 8 December 2015 at 2:29 pm Permalink

    FWIW

    In Germany and other European countries it is required (per StVO) to have at least one solid red light rear facing and one solid white light forward facing between dusk and dawn. For the Brevets that I participated in over there, they would not let you ride if your lights did not meet the StVO (traffic regulations). I however, did as Nick Bull suggests due to my opinion about blinking lights and it signaling a slower moving vehicle. I like the dual threat if not a triple threat. But yes, I usually feel much safer riding in the dark when considering oncoming vehicle threat.

    To another topic, is the Willard Bay 200K scheduled for the 23rd of April confirmed as a solid date? Thanks

  7. Rando Richard 8 December 2015 at 5:13 pm Permalink

    So then in Europe they don’t mind having a solid and a blankie used together?
    Yes, the 23rd is on for the Willard bay. That is our flattest 200 K with probably 500 feet of climbing.