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Tail Light Use Flash or Steady?

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Tail Light Use Flash or Steady?

Old 05-16-16, 03:22 PM
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SimplySycles1
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Tail Light Use Flash or Steady?

I have ridden for many years in all type of situations, my question is seemingly more and more riders are using flashing tail lights during the day. Also the lights have improved and have a higher visibility than lights of years ago.

Without fail three or four times a week I see a driver sit through a green light cycle while they are busy with their electronics, or if someone honks a horn maybe hit the gas without even looking up.

Before cell phones and other electronics in cars that increased the number of "distracted drivers" it was common belief that flashing hazard lights on your car increased the chance of being hit by a drunk driver. The idea being a drunk driver is trying to focus on something (flashing lights) to keep him or her going in a straight line.

I recall going to company sponsored driving courses where police officers would tell us to not turn on your hazard lights unless you could be far away from the stationary car.

Should any riders be using a flashing tail light?
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Old 05-16-16, 03:34 PM
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I use multiple lights; some flashing, some steady at night.
Flashing in the daytime. Same rule for my headlights.

Lights on my Brompton by 1nterceptor, on Flickr
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Old 05-16-16, 03:37 PM
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Strobe Front and Rear Day and Night.
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Old 05-16-16, 03:37 PM
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I believe that a flashing red light makes the bike distinctive as a bicycle, and different from a taillight, streetside reflector, brake light, or any number of other red lights that a vehicle may encounter.

I don't know about the idea of tracking to a light, but I surely don't want a drunk driver to think he is following a car going 60 MPH when it is just me on the road.

I don't use daytime lights, but it is worth future consideration.
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Old 05-16-16, 03:58 PM
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I typically don't use daytime lights, but I always dress with a brightly colored shirt, usually neon green, yellow, or safety orange. I also have a bright yellow biking jacket for use during cooler weather which has reflective strips on it. But in anything less than sunny weather, such as dawn, dusk, or gloomy overcast I will put my headlight in strobe with maybe a blinking or twinkling rear light. Then in the dark I have full on headlight and taillight, but my helmet came with a small light on the back which I'll turn on blinking mode.

I suppose it would be safer to have lights on during the day, but I hate to run my batteries down. My sister has one of those really neat and really bright USB-rechargable taillights with numerous blinking patterns and which can be seen for something like 1/4 mile or more.
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Old 05-16-16, 04:10 PM
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I usually ride with a strobing taillight and a steady taillight. It helps identify me as a bicycle from behind, suggesting I'm traveling at a slower speed, while making it easy to judge distance from me. I used to completely skip the strobe until one night, riding two abreast (legally) with a friend, a motorist incorrectly identified us as a car, and didn't realize their mistake until it was almost too late. The squeal of tires and the sight of metallic paint less than six inches from my bar as the vehicle swerved around was adrenaline inducing! I've since begun taking precautions to identify myself as a bicycle to motorists approaching from the rear.

I never (intentionally) use only a strobing taillight at night, though I usually do in daytime conditions in which lights are appropriate (e.g., rain).

I would never use front strobe. It would make it more difficult for me to see, and could prove disorienting to oncoming motorists, which is the last thing I want to do.

Last edited by Jaywalk3r; 05-16-16 at 04:27 PM.
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Old 05-16-16, 04:16 PM
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Originally Posted by 10 Wheels View Post
Strobe Front and Rear Day and Night.
Agreed
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Old 05-16-16, 04:39 PM
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This comes up a lot. I prefer flashers, day and night in traffic. I can see that drivers see me and pause before leaping into traffic from a driveway, or into an intersection when we've arrived at or near the same time.

A few times I've run steady lights only in late afternoon/early evening, just to see what happened. Every time at least one person would leap out of a driveway, through an intersection where I was already established, etc.

So my helmet lights are always set to flash, front and rear. Neither is bright enough to blind anyone, but they're bright enough to make me a little more noticeable.

I've recently added a somewhat better handlebar headlight and rear rack taillight. I'll probably run those on steady most of the time. In heavy traffic in the city I might set both to flash, we'll see.

Here's a link to a test video I did last night. It's just two minutes, with the helmet lights (front white/rear red) set to flash, and the bike headlight and main taillight set to steady. There are also some of those tiny 2-LED blinkies on the rack, including near the hub. Those things cost about a dollar and are so cheap it's probably cheaper to buy new than replace the button cell batteries.

I've done a more complete video with all lights on flash, all on steady, etc., but YouTube compression is so bad the videos don't really show much. I might edit 'em down to 3-5 minutes and upload to Vimeo, which has less compression degradation. And I want to do some test videos around traffic at night, just don't have time this week.
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Old 05-16-16, 04:44 PM
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Flashing lights are obnoxious. I am still waiting to see the evidence that they make cyclists more visible or improve safety in any way at all.
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Old 05-16-16, 05:05 PM
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Why either / or? one of each . Unless in countries that Require steady bike tail lights . then you do that.
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Old 05-16-16, 06:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Jaywalk3r View Post
I usually ride with a strobing taillight and a steady taillight. It helps identify me as a bicycle from behind, suggesting I'm traveling at a slower speed, while making it easy to judge distance from me....
I would emphasize the "easy to judge distance" part of this quote. A flashing light alone makes you more visible, but a steady light makes it easier for other to determine your position.

Here is a link to a study done regarding this issues with snowplows: http://www.lrc.rpi.edu/resources/pdf/iesna01a.pdf
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Old 05-16-16, 06:44 PM
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Originally Posted by kingston View Post
Flashing lights are obnoxious. I am still waiting to see the evidence that they make cyclists more visible or improve safety in any way at all.
I drive in to work each morning before sunrise. There is a bike path near my place of employment. I see quite a few cyclists on the road making their way to the path. Flashing taillights get my attention better than steady lights. Flashing headlights do too, with the exception being the steady high intensity LED lights.
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Old 05-16-16, 06:45 PM
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I'm doubtful that any single light, steady or flashing, regardless of size (within feasible limits) helps approaching vehicles estimate distance and relative speed. My theory is that at least two lights, separated enough to discern two points from a safe distance, are needed to give approaching vehicles enough visual information to make a snap judgement.

I've done some nighttime videos with lights set to all-steady, all-flash and combinations of flash and steady. I can see why some folks might find all-flashing lights confusing. For now I'm planning to run my rack mounted taillight on steady and rear-mounted helmet light on flashing. In the various videos, recorded out to around 100 yards, that combination seems like a reasonable compromise between offering two reference points for estimating visual convergence, and being more noticeable than all-steady lights.
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Old 05-16-16, 06:50 PM
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Originally Posted by Paul Barnard View Post
I drive in to work each morning before sunrise. There is a bike path near my place of employment. I see quite a few cyclists on the road making their way to the path. Flashing taillights get my attention better than steady lights. Flashing headlights do too, with the exception being the steady high intensity LED lights.
I ride my bike in the dark almost every day with one solid tail light and one solid headlight and have never been hit by a car in the dark. Neither one of our anecdotal life experiences is evidence that solid or flashing lights improves visibility or safety. Although I think everyone will agree that flashing lights are significantly more annoying to everyone else on the road.
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Old 05-16-16, 07:02 PM
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Originally Posted by kingston View Post
Although I think everyone will agree that flashing lights are significantly more annoying to everyone else on the road.
I wouldn't agree that flashing lights are annoying. They get my attention. That's a logical response based on sensory stimuli.

Annoyance is an emotional response. I do wonder what people mean when they say flashing/blinking/strobe bike lights are annoying, irritating, etc. I'm curious about that particular emotional reaction to sensory stimuli. But a battery of physical and psychological tests would be needed to reach that answer.

I'm not concerned about whether someone may find my flashing lights annoying or irritating. There's nothing I can do about people's emotional responses to sensory stimuli, at least not while riding a bicycle.

I'm only concerned about whether the lights get the attention of drivers. The flashers/blinkers do appear to be very effective in getting that attention. If that helps them to avoid entangling me in an accident, that's a good thing.

If someone finds the flashing lights annoying enough to actually retaliate somehow -- whether honking or yelling or chasing me down and trying to run me over -- that's beyond my ability to control. Being less visible for the sake of avoiding conflict with that rare driver who thrives on the ragged edge of emotion is a bad gamble, consider the vast majority of drivers I encounter seem to notice me and respond with reciprocal courtesy... or at least choose not to run over me.
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Old 05-16-16, 07:08 PM
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Originally Posted by canklecat View Post
I wouldn't agree that flashing lights are annoying.
You can't really not agree with that. While flashing lights may not be annoying to you, they are in fact annoying to everyone else.
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Old 05-16-16, 07:26 PM
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I actually prefer just a strobe in the rear to get a driver's attention behind me. Because my headlight can be super bright w/o the strobe setting.
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Old 05-16-16, 08:49 PM
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Daytime: flash, with ANSI yellow clothing.
Nighttime: BOTH steady and flash (two lights if you don't have one light that can do that) and ANSI reflective clothing.

Up front, strobe in the daytime, steady at night. Though I do like a little strobe up front. Either a much smaller white light, or I do like the Cygolite steady/strobe headlight mode. You can even use it in pitch black to see by.
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Old 05-16-16, 09:22 PM
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Originally Posted by ItsJustMe View Post
You can even use it in pitch black to see by.
To be fair, pitch black is the least challenging environment for testing a light. Virtually any light will appear impressive in such conditions. Illuminating the path ahead, relatively speaking, in full moon conditions, on the other hand, requires a good light. Likewise, in an urban environment with lots of lights (signs, street lights, headlights, tail lights), a pretty bright light is required to stand out from the background noise.
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Old 05-16-16, 09:23 PM
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Flashing
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Old 05-16-16, 09:27 PM
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One thing to mention is there are taillights that are TOO BRIGHT. They shouldn't be any brighter than a car's taillight, or at most their brake light. At least for use at night Bright is ok under the sun.

If you're running a super-bright taillight, then don't flash it at night.

A dim blinking light isn't annoying. A bright disco-strobe is.
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Old 05-16-16, 09:35 PM
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I remember hearing something about a study the CHP (Calif. Highway Patrol) did back in the 60's or 70's about the slow flashing yellow (amber) lights in the back of CHP units somehow causing drunk drivers to focus on the lights and therefore slam into the back of the CHP cars. Those lights had a very 'lazy' on/off pattern similar to the old fashioned traffic lights. I don't remember what the results of the study were....
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Old 05-16-16, 10:04 PM
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Like everything else in real life, this isn't a black and white issue.

On the one hand,a bright blinking light increases the chances of your being seen earlier (or at all), improving the odds of a driver steering around you safely. But there's also the issue of target fixation, wherein a driver may "lock on" and drive right through your bright flasher.

Target fixation is a real thing to consider, but on balance being seen trumps the other risk. I'll take my lead from other examples of the issue, ie construction sites that still use flashing beacons to mark off a hazard, and police cars who put out as much flashing light as possible when stopped by the side of the road. Granted they face the target fixation risk, but countless more cars see the lights and avoid them. So, I'll likewise risk the low odds risk of a fixated driver, and happily alert countless others.

BTW - I long ago (30+ years) abandoned red taillights, for flashing amber (not legal in NYS). I was stopped once, by an officer who said flashing amber is reserved for stationary hazards. I responded that given the comparative speeds, I preferred a car to think I was stationary, and maybe closer, then to have him assume I was moving at his speed and be surprised as he came up on me sooner than he expected.

The officer thought about it for half a minute and decided it made sense. I stayed with amber strobes for decades until moving to blue police strobes, which have greater contrast with the nights surroundings.
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Old 05-16-16, 10:38 PM
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Anecdotal thought: I saw a bike approaching an intersection perpendicular to me a few nights ago with a flashing headlight. A bright one. The whole time as I was approaching the intersection, I was wondering what was going on, as all I could see was strobing lights reflecting off buildings and didn't actually have the bike in my view to know that is what it was. Honestly, my first thought was either tow truck or mosquito control.

Whether the biker was safer for getting my attention (even though I didn't know it was a bike), or worse off because my mind was trying to figure out what was strobing, I have no idea. IN the end, I figured it out when I saw his wheel reflectors coming through an opening.
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Old 05-17-16, 12:29 AM
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Originally Posted by 10 WheelsStrobe Front and Rear Day and Night.
Originally Posted by Chris0516 View Post
Agreed
The ONLY problems with strobes at night are #1 they're often blinding to other road users including bicyclists and #2 they're actually ILLEGAL in many ares. Flashing lights are one thing but strobes are a whole different kettle of fish.

I've had times when coming back into town on an unlighted road where an approaching bicyclist with a bright front light on a high rate of flashing or strobe mode has forced me to come to a complete stop because I could see absolutely nothing as the light wa so blinding. A bright steady light and a lower powered flashing (not strobe light) works well and doesn't blind people.

Btw, blinding a driver of a 2,000+ pounds steel vehicle on a two-lane road is NOT agood idea. Be careful where your light beam is aimed at night.

Cheers
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