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Photometric Testing Uncovers LED Bicycle Light Arms Race

6th April 2013: Photometric & Optical Testing Services LLP has uncovered an alleged arms race in the field of LED-based bicycle lights. As reported in the Sunday Times newspaper on 31st March 2013 (page 23, “This’ll dazzle you: bike lights outshine cars”), the Photometric Testing investigation revealed that 80% of popular bicycle lights are more powerful than the legal limit for the dipped beam headlamps of cars. One of the lamps tested exceeded the limit for a dipped beam headlamp by a factor of 13.

Bicycle Light Cyclists, car drivers and pedestrians alike cannot fail to have noticed how bicycle lights have been getting brighter in recent years. In terms of increasing the conspicuity of vulnerable cyclists, that’s a good thing. However, with the adoption of high brightness LED technology, many bicycle lights can now cause a dangerous amount of dazzle to other road users. Based on concerns expressed by the cycling community itself, the Sunday Times approached Photometric Testing to conduct a study in to the performance of a range of popular bicycle lights.

The brightness – or more accurately we should refer to the level of luminous intensity in candelas – of ten popular light emitting diode (LED) bicycle lights was tested by Photometric Testing. With the lamps set to their lowest setting and adjusted for pointing down at the road, eight of the lamps emitted a luminous intensity that exceeded the legal limit (70 candelas) for a dipped beam car headlamp. This would lead to other road users being dazzled by the bicycle lamps. In turn this blinding effect could distract a car driver whose ability to judge the speed and distance of the cyclist would be impaired.

The Sunday Times alleges that bicycle light manufacturers are involved in an “arms race” to produce ever brighter lights, a fact acknowledged by some suppliers who argue that ever brighter lights offset the vulnerability of cyclists. However, causing dazzle to other road users could be counter-productive.

The Sunday Times asked the Department for Transport (DfT) to clarify the legal position regarding the brightness of bicycle lights. The Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations state that it is an offence for any light on a vehicle to cause undue dazzle or discomfort” to other road users. However, the Government Road Safety Minister Stephen Hammond is reported to have conceded that the law has not kept pace with technological improvements in the design and performance of bicycle lights and that the law would be reviewed.

Testing bicycle lights is just one area of activity for Photometric Testing. From standard photometric data for luminaires to photobiological safety testing, and from training courses in light measurement to developmental testing of new products, Photometric Testing saves its clients time and money and helps them to bring the next generation of ultra efficient lighting products to market more quickly. Photometric Testing has invested in the latest, state-of-the-art photometric, spectroradiometric and goniophotometric equipment to ensure that its measurements are accurate, repeatable and conform to the latest international lighting standards. This investment has lead to the creation of what is probably the most up-to-date lighting test laboratory in the UK. Click here to use our enquiry form to request a measurement on your product.

Click here to download a PDF of the Sunday Times article.