I just want to say before we delve into this post that we aren’t discussing the legality of the LED motorcycle auxiliary lights in this post!
The short answer is Yes, they are legal. And they are legal in most countries.
Nobody will prosecute you for having (or not having) LED lights on your bike.
The more pressing question is “do they work?”
The Usefulness Of Auxiliary LEDs
The decision to have LED lights on your bike is that of preference. Nobody is saying you should or shouldn’t.
Like the decision to wear hi-viz or reflective clothing, it’s purely down to personal preference. Because scientific research isn’t conclusive either way.
If you’ve ever ridden with LED lights, you’ll know that they have little real-world use other than to make your adventure bike look a bit more adventurey.
They are generally positioned at a low level so as not to blind other road users. And because of this, they don’t increase your ability to see by all that much.
The Conspicuity Of LED Auxiliary Lights
But what about their impact on other road users seeing you?
Through delving into the research, it’s clear that conspicuity is where the importance lies.
Everybody knows that bikers encounter a higher percentage of accidents than our four-wheeled counterparts.
And research has shown that a large proportion of these accidents are a result of ‘right of way violations.’ In other words, vehicles pull out in front of us when we have right of way.
Object Size & Human Form
Well, research points us to size and shape.
When drivers approach the main road, they look left and right before manoeuvring.
The problem is that they are conditioned to look for large objects such as cars, vans, buses, and trucks. Biologically, humans are also compelled to notice human-shaped objects.
What they aren’t looking for are small motorcycles moving at speed, with only one headlamp that is shining in a single plane.
Looking vs Glancing
Scientists have known for decades that the eyes (and brain) see everything if we look. But things get missed when we glance.
So what we need to do is catch the attention of glancing drivers. And whilst LED auxiliary lights may help increase the chance of being seen, there is no concrete evidence to say they categorically work.
“Motorcycle Conspicuity and The Effect of Auxiliary Forward Lighting”
This study by the US Department of Transport tested conspicuity in relation to LEDs a few years back. And despite attestations on the internet, the results were not as conclusive as we think.
If they were conclusive, LED auxiliary lights would be compulsory on all motorcycles.
But they aren’t.
The US DoT tested various LED setups against a ‘baseline’. This baseline was a motorcycle with only a single headlight – as typically seen on the road.
And whilst the study was conclusive in that road users did see motorcycles with LEDs quicker than they saw motorcycles without LEDs, the fact is, the results were not statistically significant.
Therefore we cannot deduce from this study that LED auxiliary lights prevent bikers from having accidents any more than not having them.
Factors To Reduce The Risk Of Accidents
Other research, however, has shown that our conspicuity is greater when we can make our bikes appear larger.
And people are less likely to pull out on us if they notice a human form.
It is therefore assumed that LED lights, in combination with reflectors (to reflect light outwards or downwards), go some way to increasing our presence on the road.
And reflective jackets increase our size whilst putting emphasis on the human form.
Whilst LED auxiliary lights are not statistically significant in the prevention of accidents, other factors might be.
For example, wearing red, white, yellow, or fluorescent colours leads to enhanced conspicuity. And this increased visibility is thought to reduce the risk of accidents by 37%.
Similarly, light-coloured helmets reduce the risk of accidents by 24% in comparison to dark ones.
Reflective clothing (particularly reflective elements on our bikes or helmets) reflects light from our surroundings and makes us appear larger.
LED Auxiliary Lights: The Defence
As mentioned earlier, size is a pivotal factor in road users noticing bikers at a glance.
And it goes without saying that they are more likely to notice a triangle of lights (headlamp plus two LEDs) compared to a single headlamp on its own.
Combined with reflectors to distribute the light, LEDs could improve conspicuity.
But in and of themselves, it would appear that whilst LEDs increase luminosity, they don’t increase conspicuity. Not in a way that is statistically significant, anyway.
Flashing LED Auxiliary Lights
Despite the above, there is some compelling evidence to suggest that flashing LEDs catch the attention of motorists much more readily (think bicycles.)
Alternating (blinking) lights were suggested in one study. And there is some strong research out there to suggest that the human eye is drawn more effectively to flashing lights than non-flashing ones.
Whilst it’s currently illegal to have flashing lights on your motorcycle, it’s not illegal to wear them on your body or helmet.
LED Auxiliary Lights: Conclusion
Whether you choose to install LED auxiliary lights on your bike is completely up to you. And ultimately, it comes down to what you feel most comfortable with!
Personally, I don’t use them because they’re something else that can break when I drop my bike on the trails! And in everyday life, I simply don’t have any use for them.
But there’s some good evidence out there to suggest that LEDs in combination with strategically placed reflectors, a light-coloured helmet, and a hi-viz jacket with reflective patches are more likely to get you seen.
Flashing ones would be even better!
Top image via Honda