State Bill Would Require Bicyclists to Wear Reflective Clothing at Night

The bike wars continue.
Credit: Shutterstock.com

Credit: Shutterstock.com

A bill has been introduced to the Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee which would require bicyclists to wear highly visible reflective clothing at nighttime under all circumstances. But the safety-minded legislation, sponsored by Allegheny County Representative Anthony DeLuca, is being harshly rebuffed by cycling groups.

Bike Pittsburgh thinks it’s crap, for one. In a blog post referring to the legislation as a “bicycle fashion bill,” the group lambasted DeLuca’s efforts (while noting that his bill was “most likely well-intentioned”), saying this change would force bicyclists to carry around special clothing in the event they’re caught riding when the sun goes down. Further, the group notes, the state vehicle code already requires headlamps and rear lighting on bicycles.

The group is not cherry-picking one change among others in the legislation to complain about. Shiny clothing is the legislation. Here’s the entirety of the 27-word proposed addition to the state vehicle code:

Reflective clothing. — Any person operating a pedalcycle between sunset and sunrise shall wear high-visibility safety apparel, which may include a vest, jacket or shirt, that is retroreflective.

Believe it or not, the bill resembles legislation proposed in Oregon earlier this year that would’ve created a punitive fine for bicyclists who don’t wear reflective clothing at night. After stiff opposition from bicycling coalitions, the clause was removed from the Oregon bill. (The same was true of near-duplicate measures in California and Wyoming.)

But do the biking advocates protest too much? A study out of Australia’s Queensland University of Technology found that most bicyclists are in fact less visible than they believe they are, often overlooking the importance of reflective strips and fluorescent vests. Bike Portland put it this way in a 2013 blog post:

To see how people’s ideas measure up with reality, check out the chart below. The black bars indicate the distance at which people riding bikes thought they would be spotted in each type of clothing, and the grey bars indicate actual visibility:

Bike Portland/Joanne Wood

So while mandating that cyclists wear reflective clothing seems like an overreach, it’s still something riders probably should do when out at night.

Most legislation introduced in Harrisburg goes nowhere, and we’d guess that will ultimately be the fate of DeLuca’s bill. Which still leaves an important question: why is the statehouse still using the word pedalcycle?