Spring is here, which brings out more bicycle commuters, and more people pushing daylight for a ride. I tend to recommend that these individuals have a lightset, just in case. It’s always better to be able to light up than not.
Minnesota law discusses the need for lights in darkness in 169.22:
Subd. 6. Bicycle equipment. (a) No person shall operate a bicycle at nighttime unless the bicycle or its operator is equipped with a lamp which shall emit a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front and with a red reflector of a type approved by the Department of Public Safety which is visible from all distances from 100 feet to 600 feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful lower beams of headlamps on a motor vehicle. No person may operate a bicycle at any time when there is not sufficient light to render persons and vehicles on the highway clearly discernible at a distance of 500 feet ahead unless the bicycle or its operator is equipped with reflective surfaces that shall be visible during the hours of darkness from 600 feet when viewed in front of lawful lower beams of headlamps on a motor vehicle. The reflective surfaces shall include reflective materials on each side of each pedal to indicate their presence from the front or the rear and with a minimum of 20 square inches of reflective material on each side of the bicycle or its operator. Any bicycle equipped with side reflectors as required by regulations for new bicycles prescribed by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission shall be considered to meet the requirements for side reflectorization contained in this subdivision. A bicycle may be equipped with a rear lamp that emits a red flashing signal.
A common question I hear is if a helmet lamp is suitable under this statute. While I am not a lawyer or a law officer, I know quite a few of each. The answer I’ve gotten from them is “uh, sort of.”
The statute says “No person shall operate a bicycle at nighttime unless the bicycle or its operator is equipped with a lamp which shall emit a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front,” italics mine. Obviously, a headlamp would be attached to the operator. The challenge is that the light is intended to be seen 500 feet to the front. The light is really intended to function similarly to that of a headlamp on a motorcycle or headlights on a car: visible face forward.
When a helmet lamp is attached to a head, however, it may not always face forward. It may face to the side or another direction as you peer around. This is somewhat contrary to the point/language in the statute.
My sources say that a helmet lamp probably qualifies under statute, but that you’re probably better off with a light attached to the bike. This can be in addition to a headlamp. By having a light that is fixed to a forward-facing position, you may be able to avoid a lot of shenanigans in the event of an accident, particularly when dealing with an insurance company trying to prove something to be your fault for not complying with law.