California Laws on Bicycle Lights


California takes bicycle safety seriously, and the state has specific laws regarding bicycle lights and reflectors written into its vehicle code. The laws describe the minimum visibility needed -- a white front headlight, red rear reflector and white, yellow or red side reflectors -- but cyclists can add optional lights or make adjustments that help their visibility.

White Headlight

  • Per the California Vehicle Code, section 21201, bikes must have a white headlight attached to the front of the bicycle or to the cyclist. The light must be visible for 300 feet if looking at the cyclist from the front and sides. The headlight must be strong enough so that the cyclist can see the road in front of the bike.

Red Rear Reflector or Light

  • The same section of the code requires bicyclists to have a red reflector attached to the back of the bike. When regular car headlights shine on the reflector, the resulting flashes should be visible for at least 500 feet behind the bike. Stanford University notes that cyclists can use a red light, like a taillight, in addition to a reflector. The rear light will be more visible.

Side Reflectors

  • In California, both pedals must have yellow or white reflectors. Alternately, cyclists can wear reflectors on their shoes or ankles. When light shines on the reflectors, they must be visible for 200 feet. Both tires on the bike must have either a set of two reflectors, or the tires must be reflectorized. If the cyclist opts for reflectors, there must be one white or yellow reflector on the front half of the bike and one white or red reflector on the back half. The reflectors must be visible from both sides.

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