I want to see you; use your lights

If this doesn’t make you feel good I don’t know what does: a lovely fairy-like girl in a dress full of lit cycle lights handing these lights one by one to people on bicycles who don’t have working lights. The cycling offenders were brought to her by her helpers. Two assistants on bicycles, one covered in white lights followed by one covered in red lights. They found the offenders with the help of a spotlight. After the fairy gave the ‘evil cyclists’ a white front light and a red back light they could be on their way again. Much safer this time and on the right side of the law. Probably also glowing after so much friendliness.

I want to see you, show in the bicycle lights campaign 2012

The evening spectacle took place in ‘s-Hertogenbosch the other day, but it is a traveling show. Many cities in the Netherlands will be visited as part of a much larger campaign organized by the Dutch Cyclists’ Union (Fietsersbond). Director Hugo van der Steenhoven personally opened the night in Den Bosch. The catch phrase this year is ‘Ik wil je zien’ (I want to see you). But this campaign to remind cyclists to use their lights returns every autumn and is in turn part of the umbrella governmental road safety campaign ‘Daar kun je mee thuiskomen’ (That will bring you home) that is also aimed at motorists sometimes, as I have shown you before. A notable earlier version of the bike lights campaign was the one saying “loose lights are okay too (but don’t forget to turn them off)”. Which ran in 2008, the year the law was changed and detachable bike lights were acceptable too. One thing all the versions of the annual bicycle lights campaigns have in common is the very positive tone. In Dutch campaigns you usually do not see any fear mongering, but rather a positive message to get people to change their behaviour.

The campaign especially targets the youth from 13 to 25 years old, because investigations show that is the age group least likely to have lights on a bicycle. It is very important to have lights since in the darker season in the Netherlands it can be dark from as early 4 pm, to 9 am the following day. In which time of the day and night a lot of cycling is done, also by younger people going to and from school and sports clubs etc. The campaign is accompanied by a Facebook page and a website and there is an app where you can transform pictures to send to people you would like to see.

I want to see you
The “I want to see you” website aimed at younger people aged 13 to 25 years old to get them to use their bicycle lights more.
The rules

Front lights on bicycles have been mandatory in the Netherlands since as early as 1905 and the rear light followed in 1938. If stopped by the police, you do get a fine for not having lights which is €45. It’s another €30 if one of the mandatory reflectors is missing. And you need quite a lot of reflectors under Dutch law. There has to be a red reflector at the rear of the bicycle and there need to be yellow reflectors on back and front of the pedals (all since 1979). Every bicycle wheel has to have a reflective surface over the full size of the wheels on both sides in yellow or white (since 1987). As said, loose lights are permitted since 2008 but they have to be attached as steady as possible. Which means they are only allowed to be worn on the body and not on the arms or legs. Illegal under Dutch law are flashing lights. This may surprise you but there is a good reason. Flashing lights are only permitted to indicate a direction change but especially to mark a dangerous situation and if there’s one thing cyclists are not, it is dangerous. All these measures are in place to make sure other road users instantly recognize that they are approaching someone on a bicycle and not something else.

mandatory reflectors
Apart from a white or yellow front light and a red back light, these bicycle reflectors are mandatory under Dutch law. Since 1979: a yellow pedal reflector and a red rectangular back reflector. Since 1987: circular wheel reflectors on rim or tyre. So that a bicycle is instantly recognizable as such.
Candle in the wind
Bike lantern with candle early 20th century.

Most people in the Netherlands use dynamo powered bicycle lights. Simply because when you use your bicycle every day you want the most reliable lights and batteries are always flat when you least expect them to be. Fixed lights can also not be misplaced or forgotten. Modern dynamo’s do not require any noticeable effort to power your lights. How different it was, when in 1905 the laws on lighting came into force! My grandfather always told me a nice story about when he was a teenager in the late 1910s, early 1920s. In those days electric lights were far too expensive for ordinary people so they had “bicycle lanterns” with real candles! But according to my grandfather: “these terrible candles would always be blown out every time the wind got into the lantern!” If that was close to home they were too lazy to stop yet again, open the lantern and get fire to light the candle again, especially with cold hands that was a real hassle. But of course you would always bump into the local constable at such times. Who would always check the excuse ‘it got just blown out officer and I am almost home’ by touching the lantern to see if it was still warm. “And boy, if it wasn’t! You’d be in big trouble!” How easy we have it nowadays!
Hi-viz gear is absolutely not necessary, but we really do want to see you, so use your lights!

The lights-fairy blows you a kiss for using your lights!

11 thoughts on “I want to see you; use your lights

  1. What kind of trouble was one in if the constable caught you with a cold candle in the dark? I have never heard of legal requirements to light up the side of the wheel before. I have reflectors in the spokes, but I don’t think I have them on the actual rims. I wonder whether they are legal requirements where I live. I wonder where you can actually get them.

    1. Four years later I’m replying to this but I have Schwalbe Marathon Plus touring tires on my utility bike (in New Orleans) and i cannot tell how much I love them (the retroreflective is now usually on the tires, I imagine since it would be best to periodically refresh it and that’s easiest to do just by changing tires when they’re worn). One thing that the all-round reflective stripe does that a spoke reflector cannot is guarantee that the reflector can’t be blocked at a stop by a pannier or other luggage paraphernalia. Reflector regulations in the us as far as i know are exceptionally vague (well, like most things bike-related usually) so as long as you have the “Eight” (front, rear, pedals, wheels) you’re probably fine.

  2. We don’t have the reflective wheel requirement, but front and rear + pedal reflectors are also required here in the UK. It’s always mentioned by the Recumbent crowd that it is impossible on a recumbent for these to be visible (which is how the law states the pedal reflector requirement I believe). Is the Dutch law any more sensible in that regard. I thought that NL has quite a recumbent and velomobile crowd.

  3. Wonderful positive campaign.

    Interesting point about flashing lights. Much as you say I’ve always thought that flashing indictated danger: fire engines, traffic accidents – that sort of thing. They are quite common here in the UK, along with that other piece of equipment I associate with emergencies – the hi-viz jacket!

  4. I live in the same city as Mark and we do have some cycling paths that have a right of way for the cyclists above all traffic that crosses these paths. These crossings in itself may be dangerous for cyclists if a car does not see the cyclist, either because he drives too fast or does not stop to look first or on the other side if the cyclist stays in the dark. The same applies when a car is leaving a roundabout where there is no separate lane for cyclists (and we do have a LOT of these “pancakes” in our town and in our country).

    This time of the year (late sunrise, early sunset) the risk gets a lot bigger when a cyclist doesn’t have lights. Especially in the dark and when the weather is bad (rain, snow, they are around quite a lot this time of the year) it’s sometimes already hard to see a bike (or cyclist) with lights (flashing or not…). A car driver also has to take his responsibilities by not driving too fast, taking his time to see what’s going on, stopping if necessary, etc., but this responsibility to prevent accidents is shared with the cyclist.

    Recently I saw what can happen if a car and a cyclist collide on such a crossing: the victim had to be taken away in a trauma helicopter. I do really hope this campaign is a big success, I do think the attitude of Dutch cyclists (especially the younger variety) could use a bit of a boost when it comes to “carrying the light”… The light fairies do really bring some light in the darkness when they are there. Let’s hope some of the light stays on!

  5. Good point about the fear-mongering. So nice to see a marketing campaign that doesn’t strap helmets on everyone. Great work.

  6. I bought myself some – highly visible – Pedalites a couple of years ago and they work just fine. They flash, and they’re not supposed to do that, but so far I’ve had no problems with the law.

  7. I do my best to stay lit up, but regularly strike problems as the wiring between dynamo and lights gets knocked around in the bike parking racks.

    Wireless may be the way to go, but the cheap Hema battery-operated lights are hard to attach firmly and they work loose and clatter to the ground.

    Perhaps I should carry a lights fairy on my luggage rack.

    1. I couldn’t help but recall the difficulties i had when first fitting my dynamo kit to my bicycle here in New Orleans, USA. I have an AXA HR Traction sidewall dynamo, which came with a weird push-in connector that more or less just didn’t work, particularly on our terribly broken and jarring streets. I found myself constantly having to lean forward and manually force the thing back in at night. Finally I got fed up and got to tinkering. I measured the (male) spade connectors that the push-on thing was meant to cover and ordered the correct size/gauge female crimp connectors with heat-shrink sleeves and simply terminated my wiring with these and plugged each one individually into the underside of the dynamo with some Boeing T9 (synthetic water-displacer) for good measure and haven’t had a problem since.

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