Nighttime Lighting Requirements

The intricacies of these requirements vary quite a bit from state-to-state; here are Arizona’s…

there is an enormous variety of opinion in “the community” about what works best for safety (“like a christmas tree”, strobe lights, etc)… this article just lays out what is required

Here is the statute:

§28-817. Bicycle equipment
A. A bicycle that is used at nighttime shall have a lamp on the front that emits a white light visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet to the front and a RED REFLECTOR ON THE REAR of a type that is approved by the department and that is visible from all distances from fifty feet to three hundred feet to the rear when the reflector is directly in front of lawful upper beams of head lamps on a motor vehicle. A bicycle MAY have a lamp that emits a red light visible from a distance of five hundred feet to the rear in addition to the red reflector.

nighttime is defined elsewhere as “the period between sunset and sunrise” — §1-215

other notes: nobody really knows what “of a type that is approved by the department [of transportation]” means.

Note that the CPSC all-reflector system requirements apply ONLY to sale/sellers of new bicycles, and have nothing to do with state operating requirement. Notably, the CPSC requires pedal and wheel mounted reflectors, while AZ has no side or pedal requirement.


Arizona requires only a white light of certain specification MOUNTED ON THE BICYCLE. A head-mounted lamp alone does not meet the requirement.

Arizona’s statute does not address blinking or pulsing; as such it’s not clear if other than steady white light is allowed, or meet the requirement.


A red rear reflector is required! Taillights are great, but please protect yourself legally; if riding at night you are required to have a red rear reflector irrespective of having a taillight.
You can debate if that makes any sense or not– but in any event the law is the law and it will be used against you if at all possible.

Not only that, if the light fails for whatever reason, a typical reflector is quite bright; also a (not legally required but nice to have) pedal reflector can provide additional visibility advantage because of the motion.

In the pic, there are two taillights (that are off) up by the seat; down lower left is a standard CPSC red reflector, and center-right can see the amber pedal reflector… the pic was taken in a dim light, from pretty far away illuminated only with the little led on my camera/phone (it’s so grainy because it’s zoomed in, and the flash is weak).

The reflectors are highly visible so long as something is casting even a little of light their way (like headlights from an approaching vehicle).


as mentioned above, Arizona has no side requirement (even though CPSC mandates bikes be sold with side/wheel reflectors); Side reflectors are of little practical use since by the time a vehicle’s lights would illuminate a bicyclist at a right-angle threat, it would be too late for the motorist to react. (This is why a front LIGHT, and not just a reflector, is required).

Freebie Lights (#freebie)

A rear reflector is more reliable than a taillight

I have the contrarian view that free taillight give-aways are, at best,  of little safety value for two reasons. First, besides not being particularly bright, they only work as long as the battery does. For someone riding regularly at night, this won’t be long (a few days?). Second, when they are not turned on, most  do NOT operate as reflectors (I’ve never found any that do). See photo — from left ot right: Red SAE DOT reflector, Amber SAE DOT reflector, freebie amber pendant (designed to be clipped to clothes) turned OFF, and freebie red taillight turned OFF.

In the upper photo, taken at significant (30′ or so) distance with only a weak camera-phone flash the reflectors appear to be lit, and the active but turned off taillights do not; the lower photo is take with dim ambient light to give a better view of the products.

And just a reminder from above, a taillight alone; no matter how bright, does NOT satisfy AZ’s nighttime lighting requirement.

SAE reflectors are available from auto-parts stores for a couple of dollars one-time cost. The biggest hassle is figuring out how to mount them… The bike it would normally be riding in the dark has a rack and crate, so it’s relatively easy. Bike manufacturers could definitely do a better job at providing more standardized mounting options, both front (headlight) and rear.

7 thoughts on “Nighttime Lighting Requirements”

  1. Good information to point out. On some bikes, I mounted a reflector on the rear simply to be “legal”, even though I also had at least one light on the back.

    Some rear bike lights have reflective lenses that function as both a light and a reflector – you can check if yours reflects by shining a light on it at night.

    For daytime riding, I always using a flashing white light in front, and flashing red light in the rear. I feel using daytime flashing lights has saved me many times – when I see in driver’s eyes they have registered my presence. (The ability to see driver’s eyes with tinted windows, a whole subject onto itself.)

    With advances in technology and quality bike lights now available at reasonable pries, I would not object to updating the law to require better lights on bicycles day and night.

    I’ll also note that my wife and I now use a $13 electronic horn purchased off of the big “A” website and use it in traffic to get the attention of drivers. We still use our bike bell on bike paths.

  2. Hello Thomas that red reflector your asking about.its very simple you see they have these called stores and you buy things from them ask your parents to help maybe they will take you to one if you’ve been been good and did all your home work…..omg smh did a grown ass MSN just ask how…IDC

  3. Don’t be a silly goose — He was referring, I think, to how to mount the reflector to the stay of the bike’s frame… Most reflectors come with a mount sized for the seatpost, which has a way larger diameter.

  4. what are the fines for not having said equipment out of curiosity if anybody has answers to that. Just bought an old mongoose bmx with no reflectors or lights, I always carry flashlight and mounted (and dear god dont ask me how) a front porch security light to the bike till I can get a normal light, mind you I bought this bike a week ago at a swap meet. I’m only 16 and cant get a job right now so no stable income. The porch light works impressively well but its not exactly what you’d call a white light, and hell if i know if you can see it from 500 feet out. Im confident its bright so I’m sure the distance is fine but it seems distracting to have an extremely oversized light on a bicycle. The Border patrol always slow down and sometimes talk to me when the see me out at night so I’m convinced it appears confusing and sometimes distracting. Back to subject though, even if this light does meet requirements, I still have no rear reflector.
    Would hate to get fined or stopped for something that dumb. so what could possibly happen if i do get stopped? should I perhaps just wait till I have the correct equipment???

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