Observations And Reflections On Using Flashing Rear Lights Whilst Cycling

I’m very fortunate – I’m able to do most of my bike riding during the day, on (relatively) quiet roads. On the whole I don’t feel I need lights, high-visibility clothing and so on; I don’t feel that vulnerable. (I would have a very different attitude if I was riding in towns / commuter traffic.)

Lately though, the days are just not brightening up and there’s a lot of general murk around, and so I’ve been riding with a flashing red LED back light on at all times.

The interesting thing about this is that I’m pretty sure it does make the average driver give me a wider berth as they overtake me. For that I’m grateful – it all contributes to making for a more pleasant ride.

The very interesting this is that the average driver is giving me a wider berth but often taking quite significant risks to do so – going over the central line despite approaching blind corners; in some cases despite approaching traffic.

I don’t know how I feel about that. On the one hand, I’m still the winner – I’m getting a wide berth and if drivers are taking risks to do so, that’s their look-out.

On the other hand, it would appear that by riding with a flashing back light I’m creating a conflict in drivers: they feel compelled to give me more room than they might otherwise, but they can’t fight what seems to be a deep-seated urge to get around me even at considerable risk to themselves.

No, I don’t think I would feel guilty if, in overtaking me, a vehicle takes a risk and they don’t get away with it. I can’t be responsible for another’s actions and, surely, it’s reasonable to expect competent adults – especially those judged capable of driving a vehicle – to be able to exercise a degree of foresight. They can easily wait for a safe spot to overtake me.

That said, I drive a car too, and I know how deep-seated the urge is to get around something that’s going very slow; how innate that urge seems. I’ve been there – I’ve felt it.

The upshot, perhaps, is that we need to look at the expectations that are somehow engendered in drivers, of driving; what is it that makes the urge to get by something slower so strong. Is it over-crowding – are we feeling too pressured, too hurried to cut anyone any slack? Is it the image of motoring that’s ‘sold’ to us – the very attractive myth of forging ahead on an open road?

I don’t know, there could be any number of reasons, but I know the problem’s real, and I know that while I might not feel guilty if a car overtaking me foolishly then crashes, it’s not going to be a life-enhancing event for anyone – me included.

And the other upshot? Using flashing red LEDs at all times seems sensible. While we wait for a solution to the urge to overtake, perhaps cyclists will have to learn to live with witnessing accidents. Witnessing is better than being involved.