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Commuting 101: Know the dangers of cycling at night

by Commute by Bike

In a recent article at www.seattlepi.com the question is raised:

Night Cycling: Is it Safe?

This time of year many commuters will find themselves commuting in the dark both to and from the office, so the questions is raised… are you in more danger?

The article cites a study that is, unfortunately, almost 15 years old. However it clearly shows that more accidents happen at twilight and dark hours than other times of the day.

bike collisions at night

Also cited is this bit from the Edgewater, FL Bicycle Safety page of their website:

Nearly 60 per cent of all adult fatal bicycle accidents in Florida occur during twilight and night hours although less than three percent of bicycle use takes place at that time.
Many factors compound the danger of riding at night, such as:
-Motorists driving under the influence of drugs/alcohol.
-Motorist’s ability to see what is ahead is limited to the area illuminated by headlights. Visibility is further reduced by the glare from lights of oncoming vehicles.

The major problem occurs when the sun is already low in the sky when you head home at 5pm and the roads are at their highest peak of congestion.

Here’s a few ideas to stay safe:

  • Leave early or stay late – See if you can get permission to change up your work hours by thirty minutes to an hour. This will allow you to commute when the roads are less congested.
  • Use plenty of lights and reflective material – Buy some blinky lights. Get reflective tape. Do whatever you can to stay visible to drivers.
  • Take alternate routes – Use our guide to finding the perfect route on Google Maps and find yourself a safer route to and from the office that keeps you offer major roads.
  • Know when to say ‘no’ – There are conditions that I just won’t ride my bike in. If the traffic is congested, the weather is wet and the sun is down you may want to opt for your car or public transportation. It’s not worth your life.

What other things do you do to stay safe this time of year?

 
The Chariot Summer Sale - 2013

18 Responses to “Commuting 101: Know the dangers of cycling at night”

  1. Warren T says:

    Something I read 20 years ago in Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising has stayed with me a long time: twilight, when the sun is just below the horizon, is the best time of day to elude your enemy. The contrast between the light sky and dark ground makes it almost impossible for people to see you.

    In bringing that over to my cycling experience, that means I stay off heavily trafficked streets and head to side streets or the bike path during those times.

    When it is really dark, I’ve had more close encounters with deer than I have with vehicles…

  2. gazer says:

    Wouldn’t you want to normalize by the fact that those peak collisions per hour probably also coincide with the peak number of riders per hour?

  3. kaz kougar says:

    My experience is that people tend to drive more erratically on side streets especailly in the dark, i.e. running stop signs, pulling out in front of you when they know you’re there, speeding, driving drunk. On the same note a too heavily travelled street can pose threats which could worsen depending on the posted speed limit, time of day, and conditions. It becomes a case of using your best judgement and considering all your options. I wear yellow and try my best to look like Clark Griswold’s house at Christmas with all my lights that way if someone hits me at least they can’t say they didn’t see me.

  4. paul from Minneapolis says:

    This is a good artical. Still when in question, I worry more about a plane landing on me than getting hit by a car. When I ride with this friend, she won’t ride behind me because she says my taillights blind her and she won’t ride in front at night, she says she can’t tell when a car is behind because my headlights are too bright. If her lights were brighter then she could complain about all the refecters : /

    With all that I still don’t like to ride when the sun is low. If I can I’ll leave a few minutes earlier then I’ll wait till the sun is down. I no longer have think about it, it’s just a part of my life now.

    Now that it’s getting colder up here, maybe I’ll stop over dressing when I’m riding : ~

  5. Quinn says:

    I agree with Kaz, around here, the second peopple turn onto a side/residential street, their Stupid Switch is turned to ON, that is why I like taking the Major roads, beside the major road I take is a divided 4-lane with Shoulders wide enough for a big-rig to safely pull over, so I can stay far from cars.

  6. Mark Evans says:

    For the most part, I use a lot of lights (front and back) as well as a jacket with reflective tape. I also mostly take side streets as opposed to major roads. Most important, I assume cars don’t see me.

    mark

  7. Mike Myers says:

    I do a lot of night riding. I work 8:30AM–5:00PM, and I live 20 miles from work, so I end up with 45 minutes or so in the dark, since the sun sets at 5:30 or so this time of year. Lighting is key, but reflectivity doesn’t get enough respect, IMHO. This is a link to my Flickr page, with pics of my two commuter bikes:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/schwinnrider

    My Surly has a Flash Flag with 3M Diamond grade tape on the left seatstay, the same tape on the crankarms, and a big reflector I made with the tape and a piece of plastic. I use three blinkies–Planet Bike Superflashes on my helmet and saddlebag, and a BLT Super Doppler DX on the right seatstay. I’ve received compliments from drivers as to my visibility. Headlight? DiNotte 600L on the bar and DiNotte 200L on the helmet.

    My Gunnar has no added reflectivity, but the panniers have reflective patches. I use a DiNotte taillight on the seatpost(AWESOME) and a PB Superflash mounted to the rack. The same headlight setup as on the Surly. I may put reflective tape on the fenders but I hate to spoil the clean looks of the bike.

    Rivendell sells velcro spoke reflectors. They’re 5 bucks apiece but much more reflective than the plastic spoke reflectors which are OEM, and they’re lighter too.

    I feel safer at night than in the daylight. Drivers give me much more space. I am a bit concerned about the “moth effect”, as I run my lights on flashing mode. Some people say the flash attracts motorists, but I think my lights are so obnoxious(especially the DiNotte) that motorists get far away.

    I use a reflective vest sometimes, too. It’s hi-vis green with reflective material front and rear—and it has LEDs. I’m visible. Dorky but visible.

  8. Quinn says:

    Mike-

    On the Gunnar, the Rear Dinotte’s battery, you could mount that to the seat rails, right?

  9. Mike Myers says:

    Quinn—

    Yes, it can mount to the seat rails and that’s where I have it now. It’s a good light. I felt a bit weird spending a hundred bucks on a taillight, but it’s worth it. Battery upkeep is a pain with the DiNotte but the aura it projects behind me is unique. DiNotte is now offering a taillight version of the 600L—so that’s 600 lumens of taillight–three 5w emitters. Unreal.

  10. Fritz says:

    A couple of points about this article:

    1. Dusk/dawn is indeed the most dangerous time to ride.

    2. Most people ride without lights or reflectors. Night riding is quantitatively more dangerous, but riding with lights provably mitigates that risk.

    3. Okay, three is more than a couple, but anybody who says riding in congested traffic is dangerous doesn’t ride in congested traffic. I’m *much* more comfortable riding in heavy 30 mph traffic than I am on the lightly traveled lanes with 50 mph traffic. Here’s video of my nighttime bike commute. Sorry about the crooked video — the camera was mounted to my helmet and the weight pushed my helmet sideways.

  11. Tarek says:

    I second gazer’s comment – this chart does not lead to the conclusion that “cycling at twighlight is more dangerous” than any other time.

    The only thing you can draw from this chart (alone) is that more people get into accidents around twilight, but unless we see the corresponding hourly bike-miles or some such metric, we can’t draw any other conclusions.

    For the record, I _do_ think riding at twilight is dangerous, but not because of this chart.

  12. Mindy says:

    Hey Fritz, that was fun to watch. Cute kids! My night riding seems to be infinitely easier than yours. I have bike lanes all the way and cars are never parked on my right. I don’t feel any more afraid of being hit than I do during the day, but I notice that people are way more likely to act like assholes once the sun goes down. After dark the hollering incidents increase drastically, a teenager chased me on foot one night, demanding my money, and my husband had a water bottle thrown at him one dark night. The car had to stop at the next light and my husband caught up to it and confronted the occupants, who were mortified.

    Well, I seem to have changed the subject, sorry about that.

    Mindy in Tucson

  13. CaptCanuck says:

    I have found that the danger zone is 8am-9am and 5pm to 6pm. I have the luxury of time shifting and either plan my commute to work from 8am to 4pm or 10am to 6pm. Just safer to skip the danger zone.

  14. zonerr says:

    Deciding to save money on gas I found a bike at a thrift store. In my usual obsessive way I bought the parts to fix it up. Studied the books at the library and work out my path. Working second shift I bought lights and started started pedaling to work.
    Then while pedaling home one night I was held up at gunpoint. Forget saving gas money. At that moment all thoughts of biking were worthless. A man on a bike becomes a target for those who prey on people at night.
    I would not recommend riding at night for anyone really.Be careful if you do decide to ride at night. Still getting over the violence of the moment for my part.

  15. Fritz says:

    Zonerr, sorry to hear about that. I’ve been sitting on a story about crime and bicycling for about 18 months now — I really need to publish it. I interviewed police officers and personal safety experts for their tips on minimizing the chance of becoming a victim.

    Two weeks ago a cyclist car-jacked a motorist (and murdered the motorist) just one block off of my commute route, so the violence can go either way.

    FWIW, I’ve been bike commuting year round since 1987 and have never been victim of violent crime. My dad is a retired detective, and I used to do homeless outreach work in some “interesting” parts of town so I stay pretty aware of my surroundings.

  16. Maureen says:

    I worry about what Warren said in the first comment: running into animals in the dark. I’m more worried about skunks than deer, although both are distinct possibilities where I am. It’s so dark when I come in now even with two headlights on the bike I can barely see the road if there’s no traffic coming from behind to light it up with headlights. I don’t want to give up riding just yet, but I may have to concede defeat with the days so short up here. We’re above the 45th parallel, so days are shorter here than in many other places.

  17. zonerr says:

    My incident may have been a one of a kind accidental situation. I live in a doughnut city that makes it hard to commute downtown safely without going through the roughest parts of the city to get home. A warning should stand though! Riding at night can be as dangerous as walking.
    The repercussions have been odd. I actually found myself feeling sorry for the two criminals at the preliminary trial. It felt like a prosecution factory and one that didn’t really care about the lives involved.
    Then there is the fear and loathing I feel. The anger at having my life threatened. The perusing of guns at the local gun shop. Thinking about buying a bullet proof vest. Fantasy replays of the incident where I fight back.
    All in all I guess I’m a little confused inside. If I hadn’t been on a bike at 12 o’clock at night it wouldn’t have happened. If I didn’t live in a car centric city I wouldn’t of had to go down only one main street to get home. Maybe I can consider it a learning experience. I just don’t know.

  18. Tom Bowden says:

    Just tried something new – Costco is selling rechargeable 1 watt LED flashlights in packs of two. They are called Hybrid Lights. They charge all day from ambient light even indoors) and will run (allegedly) for 10 hours on a charge, after which two CR2032 button batteries kick in for back up for a couple more hours. They are really very bright. Comparable to my 3 watt AA maglite. I strapped one to each side of my helmet and they focused their beams together right about where I needed the spot, but of course, I can point them at cars to make sure they see me. It’s GREAT not to have to worry about batteries! You won;t be mistaken for a motorcycle, but you will be seen and you can see the road quite well as long as you don’t “outrun” the spots.

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