Cyclists: Do your part and be light smart!


Motorists: Expect bikes on the road!

Drivers and cyclists are on the same team for safe roads.

Will you be seen?

Your mouse acts as headlights on the cyclist below. Roll your cursor over the images to see how reflectors and lights are likely to appear to a motorist before and after car headlights shine on the cyclist.

What a motorist sees: Cyclist's type of Gear:
NoLightNoReflector No reflectors or lights.
Reflector only Rear reflector.
Reflectors and Lights Lights on rear and front of bike, as well as blinking light on helmet.
LightsVestTires Light on rear and front of bike, blinking light on helmet and reflective tires, vest and leg/wrist bands.
ReflectiveandLit Lights on rear and front of bike. Blinking light on helmet, lights on wheels, reflective vest, wrist and ankle bands.

Lighting and reflective equipment falls into two categories.
Be sure to use both for adequate visibility!

Active Lighting is...

Self lit (without the need for any outside source of light such as streetlights or car headlights).

Examples of active lighting:

  • Front white light
  • Blinking lights
  • Flashing bands


  • Active lighting is seen from a greater distance than passive lighting
  • Active lighting is visible prior to a cyclist being in the path of car headlights

Passive Lighting is...

Gear that requires light to shine upon it in order to be seen

  • Reflectors
  • Reflective vests
  • Reflective tape

Passive lighting requires a car's headlights to be:

  • Functioning
  • Turned on
  • Pointed at your reflector
  • Able to illuminate your gear in time for a motorist to avoid a collision

Benefit: Passive lighting is relatively inexpensive, requires no batteries and doesn't need to be turned on.

Drawback: Reflectors and reflective clothing increase visibility only when in the path of headlights. These items disappear when outside the path of car headlights. For increased and sustained visibility, cyclists should combine active lighting with passive lighting and light colored reflective clothing.


The Best Case Scenario

Combine active and passive lighting to be seen:

  • From all sides
  • From a greater distance
  • To provide a sense of your scale and proportions so motorists can more easily discern how far away you are

Tip: choose the location of some of your lights and reflectors to emphasize your 'biomotion'. Motorists will have a higher likelihood of distinguishing you from other items in their field of vision when your human motion is recognizable.

Watch this video for some bright ideas for biking at night.





Take the quiz to learn about (and avoid) the 5 most common collisions between bikes and cars. Also, learn about bike laws. Click on each question to see the answer.

What is the required gear for a cyclist riding at night?

It is required by law, that when riding in times of darkness, cyclists' bikes are equipped with a white front light* visible for 500 feet and a red rear reflector. A red light may be used in addition to the required reflector.

*Note that a headlamp worn on the head does not satisfy this requirement. The light must be affixed to the bike.

Click here for details about the law

What lane position should a cyclist use?

When traveling slower than traffic, cyclists should ride as far right as is safe, except: when preparing to turn; when passing another vehicle; and on a multi-lane one-way road.

Cyclists may occupy the middle of the lane: when traveling at the speed of traffic; if the lane is too narrow to permit a car to share the lane; or when road conditions (poor surface, drain grates, parked cars, etc.) prevent riding to the far right.

At intersections: cyclists should utilize the rightmost lane or portion of lane designated for their destination. However, if no turn lane is available, cyclists should occupy the left side of the lane to turn left; just right of the center of the lane to travel straight; and the right side to turn right.

Cycling is NOT permitted: on designated sections of our State's Highways (click here for details); on sidewalks in business districts (Downtown Bellingham and Fairhaven).

For information about permitted cycling areas on campus, please see the Western Campus Bike Map.

The above information can be found in full in brochure format at these links:

Share the Road and The Rules

Bicycle Traffic Laws For Washington State

The Washington State Cycling Laws can be found here.

What are the five most common collisions between a bike and a motor vehicle?

  1. A motor vehicle turns right, across the path of a cyclist traveling in the same direction.
  2. A motor vehicle turns left, across the path of an oncoming cyclist.
  3. The occupant of a parked motor vehicle opens their door, and a passing cyclist runs into, or is hit by the door.
  4. A motor vehicle strikes a bicyclist from behind (when passing them, for example).
  5. A motor vehicle pulls from a driveway or parking lot into the path of a cyclist.


How can motorists avoid the five most common collisions?

  • Expect bikes on the road! Be vigilant and drive without distractions.
  • Approach the road slowly from driveways and parking lots. Look on the sidewalk, in the bike lane and in the center of the lane prior to entering traffic.
  • Pass to the left of a cyclist at a safe distance - 3 feet minimum. Remain behind the cyclist until it is safe to pass at this distance.
  • Do not drive or park in a bicycle lane. You may cross a bicycle lane when turning or when crossing the lane to park near the curb. (Always look for cyclists in the lane first).
  • Yield to on-coming cyclists when turning. Do not underestimate their distance or speed.
  • When nearing an intersection, do not pass a bicyclist who is ahead of you in order to turn right. Instead, slow down and merge behind the cyclist.
  • Before getting out of your car, check behind you for approaching cyclists before opening your door.

For this information in brochure format, visit this link: Share the Road And The Rules.

For additional tips, read the See and Be Seen tips in the blue box on this page.

For inspiration to safely share the road, see the video below, shared from


How can cyclists avoid the five most common collisions?

General Tips

  • Make yourself visible with lights and reflectors.
  • Ride in the same direction as car traffic.
  • Do not wear headphones while cycling.
  • Ride predictably and obey traffic laws.


There are a variety of strategies for attempting to avoid common collisions through the use of lane positioning and route choice. Here are some resources with further information to consider:

1. everybodyBike cycling videos

2. Websites (not endorsed or created by Western - use your own discretion when choosing which information to utilize)


For additional tips, read the See and Be Seen tips in the blue box below.

Additional Resources

See and Be Seen Tips!

Do your part for safer roads!


  • Light yourself so that motorists can see you. A white front headlight and red reflector are required by law after dark.
  • Equip yourself with more than the minimum; add extra lights and reflectors to yourself to increase your visibility!
  • Ask a friend to look at you in the dark to make sure you're as visible as you think!
  • Ride predictably.


  • Expect bikes on the road.
  • Be vigilant for bikes especially when it is dark.
  • Clean the inside of your windshield and have wipers that work!
  • Give cyclists at least 3 feet of space when passing.
  • De-fog and de-ice your windshield completely before leaving your driveway.
  • Stay alert - avoid distractions while driving.


  • Blinking, lighted or reflective tools: Cyclists and Pedestrians, are you curious if you're visible enough? Contact Western's Sustainable Transportation Office to request a free 'Visibility' session. A Sustainable Transportation staff member will come to you at your request and will provide feedback on about your current visibility. In addition to tips for increasing your visibility, you can also receive free blinking, lighted or reflective tools while supplies last.


  • Visit everybodyBike's webpage for cycling information, events and classes suited for cyclists of all levels.



Page Updated 11.27.2017