I was criticized for having a blinking red light facing forwards on my handlebars (in addition to a White headlight). What is wrong with this? It was nighttime in Manhattan. Isn't more always better when it comes to being seen?

THANK YOU FOR THE ANSWERS, my mistake has been corrected. Best wishes to you all.

  • 12
    While A light might be perceived as better than NO light, having the WRONG light is of limited value. Car drivers are simple machines and can't be expected to perceive you correctly if you're giving bad information, and giving the driver cognitive overload. Do it right, get home alive.
    – Criggie
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 5:01
  • 10
    I nearly rode into an oncoming cyclist who had a bright red light on the front on a bike path. He had a white light as well but it was feeble - dimmer than the reflection of my front light off common reflective backpacks. Dodging onto a bumpy verge at 20mph in the dark I was lucky not to do myself an injury. Add white or yellow if you want more front lights.
    – Chris H
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 6:37
  • 26
    Please don't do this! Can you imagine the carnage if people started modifying their cars in this way? A red light is almost universally understood to mark the rear of a vehicle (and therefore that the vehicle is moving away from the observer). Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 8:41
  • 12
    What is wrong with this? Look at every other vehicle on the road. Do they have red lights on the front? Other people have explained the very real safety problems with putting red lights on the front of a bike but, honestly, your question is very much like, "I decided to cycle on the other side of the road for a bit but I was criticized for it. What's wrong with it?" Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 11:23
  • 3
    In the Netherlands it's illegal to drive with a non-white light up front and a non-red light at the back. Orange is an iffy case, but the rest is forbidden. I suspect the same rule applies in many other countries.
    – Mast
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 16:46

3 Answers 3


No. You should always ride with a white light facing forward and a red light facing backwards. If you want additional illumination, you can add multiple white/red lights in the appropriate direction. Amber/yellow lights can be used facing any direction for additional visibility.

The first reason is that it's the law:

(a) Every bicycle when in use during the period from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise shall be equipped with a lamp on the front which shall emit a white light visible during hours of darkness from a distance of at least five hundred feet to the front and with a red or amber light visible to the rear for three hundred feet. Effective July first, nineteen hundred seventy-six, at least one of these lights shall be visible for two hundred feet from each side.

More importantly for your safety though, the color of a light conveys a certain meaning. Drivers, pedestrians, and other cyclists associate the color red with a taillight and the color white with a headlight. If you put the wrong color facing the wrong direction, people may think you are traveling the opposite direction. Imagine a car is pulling out of a driveway and sees a red bike light flashing to their left. They may assume that means a bike is moving away from them on the left. If they then pull out of the driveway and you're really moving towards them, you could get hit.

  • 15
    And the driver who sees what seems to be a white light and a red light on the same vehicle has to spend time wondering what on earth that person is doing. I'd rather they spent that time looking out for me. A red light on the front of a bike is dangerous to all road users, not just the person with the wrong light. Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 11:24
  • 3
    @DavidRicherby: There is a common situation where a white and red light would be seen in close proximity on a vehicle: a car traveling in reverse. The key point, though, is that on wheeled vehicles a red light is used to indicate the rear (boats have red lights on the port side and green lights on the starboard side, but having green lights on a wheeled vehicle could be a bad idea).
    – supercat
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 15:44
  • 1
    @supercat A car in reverse is a great point. Doesn't quite apply in this situation because the red light was flashing, but the question could just as well have been about a steady red light. Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 15:48
  • @supercat In English countries, green flashing lights are restricted to doctors/medical people on urgent business. Likewise Blue lights are reserved for the exclusive use of police on urgent business. So normal vehicles can have white forward, red rear, and amber/yellow to the sides.
    – Criggie
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 23:18
  • 2
    @DavidRicherby He's talking about doctors on emergency response, not emergency services. See The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 part 11(2)(m). Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 15:18

DOT 108 forbids red lights on front of vehicles and on front sides ahead of the rear axle of the vehicle, except for emergency vehicles.

  • 2
    Welcome to the site - are you referring to a law in Manhattan or elsewhere ?
    – Criggie
    Commented Jan 29 at 9:43
  • 1
    DOT is probably the US Dept of Transport. The OP might mean 49 CFR § 571.108, where CFR = the US Code of Federal Regulations. The thing is, the intro does not seem to describe it as applying to non-motorized bicycles (but IANAL).
    – Weiwen Ng
    Commented Jan 29 at 15:08

It's more because when a red light is shone, it implies to face an observer from either idle stance or from the same direction. But, if they were white, it'd imply onward, additive-to-impact velocities and state of impulse direction.

  • 3
    Welcome to Bicycles! We recommend that all new members take our tour to learn how the site works. In this case, your answer is not clear to me, so I recommend that you read how to answer and the rest of the help center. Then, please edit this post to make your meaning clear to others
    – andy256
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 3:17
  • 2
    Insofar as I can understand it at all, this seems to just duplicate the final paragraph of the existing answer. Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 10:42

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