Active and passive lighting systems for cyclists

08 Nov 2020 Vehicle Technology

When it comes to the safety of cyclists – both with and without electrically assisted vehicles – lighting plays a key role.

Fully functional lighting that complies with the legal requirements is essential to ensuring that cyclists can see well, and especially that they can be seen, all year round. In Germany, Section 67 of the Road Traffic Permit Act (St-VZO) on lighting systems on bicycles was revised back in 2017, and Section 67a on lighting systems on bicycle trailers was added at the same time. This legislation places a high degree of responsibility in the hands of cyclists: They are not required to have potentially detachable active lighting equipment – i.e. head lamps and tail lights – mounted on their bicycle during the day, nor are they required to carry it with them. When cycling in darkness, however, they must ensure that their lights are attached and, of course, in full working order.
If a cyclist is unable to comply with this requirement in a one-off situation – if one of their lights suddenly develops a fault, for example – then their passive lighting equipment becomes particularly important. Passive lighting equipment can only fulfill its function as a potentially life-saving safety measure to the required level if all the legally required reflectors and retroreflective devices are permanently attached to the bicycle and not covered up.


This means that road cyclists and mountain bikers likewise do not require battery-powered lighting on their person or their bicycle in daylight. But when the sun starts to set or they enter a tunnel, they should have lights on their bikes in order to avoid penalties – and, more importantly, to keep themselves safe. Generally speaking, lighting systems, including those on bicycles, need to be of an officially approved design, which means they need to have a test or approval mark on them. In addition to this, care must be taken with all types of headlamp to ensure that they do not dazzle oncoming traffic.
There are also several other important changes: Bicycles with a width of over one meter must be equipped with paired horizontal reflectors facing the front and rear, plus at least two white head-lamps and two red tail lights fitted in pairs no more than 20 centimeters from the outer edge of the sides of the vehicle. Front and rearfacing turn signals are only permitted on cycles with more than two wheels and bicycles whose design results in the rider’s hand signals being partially or completely obscured. For trailers being pulled by bicycles, the relevant provisions of the new Section 67a of the StVZO apply. These are a life-saving measure, especially when riding with children on board.
During both standard bicycle checks carried out on the road and those included in road safety training at schools, there are regular issues. Among the most common of these is bikes on which the passive lighting equipment (reflectors) that forms part of the legally required equipment when cycling both in daylight and at night is either missing or not attached in full. Legally prescribed lighting equipment only becomes noticeable when it is dark –especially if it is absent (Section 67/67a, StVZO), if it is not switched on (Section 17, StVO), or if it is defective.
In order to counteract the increasing frequency on the road of bicycles that do not have all the legally required reflectors facing the front, rear, and sides, we need to increase awareness of this problem/requirement by reminding cyclists and the entire bicycle industry of it. In many countries around the world, police bicycle squads are becoming increasingly common as a way of conducting more bicycle checks. Despite the wide variety of irregularities and violations in everyday traffic, it seems expedient to subject cyclists and their bikes to a “full inspection” with every police check and whenever a punishment is issued for a severe offense, regardless of the original reason for pulling them over. If any issues are found during the inspection, for instance with the passive lighting equipment that is also required when riding in daylight, care should be taken to ensure that the act of pointing out the problem is used as a teaching moment – and, where necessary, combined with a verbal warning and/or the threat of a fine if it turns into a repeat offense.