Riding a bicycle in California is a dangerous prospect. The state holds the dubious distinction of being the most fatal to bicyclists, with 338 deaths between 2010 and 2012. Since most fatal bicycle accidents happen at night, increasing visibility could be the key to increasing safety.
A new bill, AB 28, would mandate that cyclists mount a rear-facing flashing light to their bikes. Rear-facing red reflectors are already required in California, and though a rear light is a good idea embraced by lots of cyclists, many riders don't use them.
"We know that collisions are more frequent at night for cyclists and a lot has to do with riding without lights," said Eric Bruins, policy director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. On that front, the coalition has tried to encourage riders to use lights. Bruins said educating cyclists was vital.
The bill's author, Assemblyman Kansen Chu (D-San Jose), said the impetus for the bill came from many foggy nights driving home from San Jose City Hall when he was a councilman. "Many nights when I got off work and saw bicyclists without their red flashing light, it made me really nervous. This is really for the protection of bicyclists as well as protection of the motorists. Nobody wants to hit somebody on the way home after a long day," he said.
Due to a typo, the introduced bill says that a "white flashing light" would be required. But a spokesman for Kansen Chu (D-San Jose) said the language has been corrected. The bill is in the transportation committee, and bicycle advocates are involved in the writing process.
"Although there are many different approaches to reducing accidents resulting in injuries and fatalities to bicyclists, enhancing visibility through reflective clothing and lighting is important," the bill reads. Wearable reflective gear could be worn in lieu of a light.
Bruins of the coalition said he hopes lawmakers might make another legislative change to boost safety: creating a bike safety school for cyclists that would function like traffic school for ticketed drivers. "If someone does something wrong they may or may not have known it was illegal," he said. "That would be a huge opportunity to make bike education more widely available."
Chu said he's aware of this idea and it could find its way in front of the Legislature at some point. "It's something I'll be looking into. I just don't want to put too much of a burden on law enforcement, but we'll see how this one goes," Chu said.
Read more about bicycles in Southern California with Krista Carlson's Departures column, Bike Culture.