As usual (whenever I write about bicycle laws), this is for information purposes only, not legal advice, blah blah blah.
Pedestrians, it seems, can do no wrong. They can jaywalk, cross against the red, cut off traffic, stagger drunkenly home from the bar, etc, and almost never get a ticket. The closest I’ve ever heard someone getting a ticket for any of the above is in reference to the “staggering drunkenly home from the bar”, and it’s usually a “drunk in public” citation. Nothing to do with the “walking” part of it, just the… “drunkenly existing in a public place” part.
Motorists, on the other hand, always have to be on the lookout for cops with radar guns, red-light cameras (not in WI, but still), speed traps, HOV-lane-enforcement, not yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks, following to closely, not staying in a lane, not signaling your intentions, no-left-turns, no-right-turns, one-way streets, and, well, you get the idea. From the moment that a motorist turns on the car to the minute that they turn it off, just about 100% of their energy is focused on either obeying the law or trying not to get caught breaking it.
Cyclists? Well, it seems like we sometimes try to adopt a middle-ground approach, demanding all of the rights of any other vehicle on the road while refusing to accept the responsibilities. We demand the ability to ride on roadways, but sometimes ride on sidewalks instead. We demand the other motorists yield when they have the stop sign or red light, but often blow them when they’re facing us. We ride on roads at night but don’t even have the base-level lighting that complies with state law.
It has to stop.
This topic came up on a G+ discussion with Bike Hugger, and revolved around a news story in the (famously anti-bike) NY Post. Apparently (also famously anti-bike) Tracy Morgan had doored a delivery cyclist a couple nights ago on the upper East-side of Manhattan. Not surprisingly the prevailing mood among cyclists is very anti-Morgan, but I have to wonder who was really at fault here? The story doesn’t mention whether the deliveryman had any lights on his bike as required by NY State law, but Tracy’s comment implies that he didn’t:
“I mean this guy was wearing all black,” Morgan told The Post’s Kevin Sheehan. “If you want to write a story about something, write a story about how these guys should wear lights or reflectors or something,” Morgan said
Now, wearing all black might not be the smartest thing to do while riding at night, but it’s certainly not illegal. Reflectors, while advisable, are *also* not required when riding at night, only:
“(e) Every bicycle when in use during the period from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise shall be equipped with reflective devices or material meeting the standards established by rules and regulations promulgated by the commissioner; provided, however, that such standards shall not be inconsistent with or otherwise conflict with the requirements of subdivisions (a) and (d) of this Section.”
(a) Every bicycle when in use during the period from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise shall be equipped with a lamp on the front which shall emit a white light visible during hours of darkness from a distance of at least five hundred feet to the front and with a red light visible to the rear for three hundred feet. Effective July first, nineteen hundred seventy-six, at least one of these lights shall be visible for two hundred feet from each side.
So while the deliveryman might not have made the best life-choice to ride at night in dark clothing (with no reflectors as insinuated by Mr. Morgan), he was legally able to do so. What is illegal, though, is to ride a bike at night without any lights on it. If the deliveryman were in a car, there’d be no question that he’d be at fault. Driving without your lights on at night is negligent, and if you have an accident, either partial or total blame is yours (based on the state). So why should riding be any different?
Lights are cheap. We’re running one (or more) of these 9 LED (NOTE!! Deal Extreme had some malware dropped on it on 5/29, so I’m cancelling the links. The item referenced is a 9LED rear blinky) ($3.40 free shipping), and an OMFGIT’SBURNINGMYRETINAS (NOTE!! Deal Extreme had some malware dropped on it on 5/29, so I’m cancelling the links. The item referenced is the P7 headlight) ($47 free shipping, “claimed 1200 lumen”, rechargeable Li-Ion battery). That’s in addition to our LED wheel lights that adds another 40 LEDs to the bike ($5/wheel). I fairly certain that Mr. Morgan would have seen us coming even if he didn’t specifically check his blind-spot, since the OMFGIT’SBURNINGMYRETINAS handlebar light is approaching that of a car’s low-beam headlight.
But that’s besides the point since even the dinkiest 1-LED handlebar light meets the NYS requirement (it must be visible from 500′ away). It might not have mattered as Mr. Morgan might not have even given a cursory glance into the side mirror to see if anyone was coming, but that doesn’t excuse the cyclist for not at the very minimum having the legally-required lights and/or reflectors.
If we, as cyclists, want to be taken seriously as legitimate vehicles using the road, we at least have to be held to the same responsibilities that cars are held to. That includes proper lighting at night, stopping for red lights, and so on. I’m not saying that we have to go overboard (full 3sec trackstand at stop signs in the middle of nowhere), but if you wouldn’t do it in a car, don’t do it on a bike. And if you wouldn’t drive a car at night without any headlights/tail-lights, don’t do it on a bike either.
Remember, we’re vehicles, not pedestrians.