Safety Concerns for Motorcycle Underglows
Underglow lights improve conspicuity
When a civil society makes vehicle equipment laws, safety is typically the primary concern. Recently, I have been thinking of the issues related to underglow lights on motorcycles. People who ride motorcycles at night claim that the underglow light helps them to be seen by other drivers. Being seen is a primary concern. The most common motorcycle vs car accident involves a car turning left in front of an approaching motorcycle. The car driver often claims that he didn’t see the motorcycle. Promoters of underglows espouse that the additional lights help save lives by averting accidents wherein the motorcycle is not conspicuous.
The police in St George are starting to enforce, what they believe to be, anti-underglow statutes. In fact, the other night, I was stopped by a St George LEO for underglows on my scooter. The LEO was very professional and very respectful. I was also polite, and we tried to discuss our different opinions on the state statutes. Unfortunately, the LEO was called to a more pressing event and we were not able to reach a conclusion on the underglow lights.
Do underglow lights fall under the section 1618 law?
After our encounter, I read up on the statute which he felt I violated. Here is the statute:
- (1) Except as provided under Subsection (2), a person may not use, have for sale, sell, or offer for sale for use on or as a part of the equipment of a motor vehicle, trailer, semitrailer, or pole trailer any head lamp, auxiliary fog lamp, rear lamp, signal lamp, required reflector, or any parts of that equipment which tend to change the original design or performance, unless the part or equipment complies with the specifications adopted under Section 41-6a-1601.
- (2) The provisions of Subsection (1) do not apply to equipment in actual use prior to July 1, 1979 or to replacement parts of this equipment.
- (3) A person may not use on a motor vehicle, trailer, semitrailer, or pole trailer any lamps under this section unless the lamps are mounted, adjusted, and aimed in accordance with this part.
As I read the statute, I see a list of lamps which currently exist on the vehicle: “head lamp, auxiliary fog lamp, rear lamp, signal lamp, required reflector,” and a cast to that existing gear: “or any parts of that equipment.”
I also read that the equipment has an “original design” and “performance” level further enforcing the stipulation that the equipment in question is pre-existing.
Basically, this statute is about modifying the existing lights. Underglow lights are not in violation of this statute because they are not part of the original equipment and not on this list. The statute does not apply. If the state does not want underglows, then the state needs to specifically list them by name or add a clause referencing “any additional aftermarket or accessory light.”
Section 1601 exempts motorcycles from certain equipment rules
Additionally, the reference to Section 41-6a-1601 is a key factor. 41-6a-1601 is a lengthy section. In sub-section (4) we read:
- (4) Except as specifically made applicable, the provisions of this chapter and rules of the department with respect to equipment required on vehicles do not apply to:
- (a) implements of husbandry;
- (b) road machinery;
- (c) road rollers;
- (d) farm tractors;
- (e) motorcycles;
- (f) motor-driven cycles;
- (g) vehicles moved solely by human power;
Note those key words “the provisions of this chapter [6a] … with respect to equipment required on vehicles do not apply to motorcycles.” I am not an attorney, but it seems to me that there is room for some interpretation of the chapter rules as they apply to motorcycles and their equipment. As we interpret and navigate the state statures, above all, we keep safety our focus. Since motorcycle riders are exposed and lack the security of a steel cage, their safety carries weight.
Safety and conspicuity are the purposes behind these laws.
Section 1618 specifically tells us that any change to the existing listed lighting parts must comply with Section 1601. We read in 41-6a-1601(2)(c) that Section 1601 also adopts the rules in 49 C.F.R. 571 Standard 108 related to lights and illuminating devices; The purpose of that code is:
571.108 Standard No. 108; Lamps, reflective devices, and associated equipment.
- S1. Scope.
- This standard specifies requirements for original and replacement lamps, reflective devices, and associated equipment.
- S2. Purpose.
- The purpose of this standard is to reduce traffic accidents and deaths and injuries resulting from traffic accidents, by providing adequate illumination of the roadway, and by enhancing the conspicuity of motor vehicles on the public roads so that their presence is perceived and their signals understood, both in daylight and in darkness or other conditions of reduced visibility.
Now we see that there is direct statement as to a motive behind the equipment laws. We see that these laws are not arbitrary; there is a purpose. Even if motorcycle underglows fell under 41-6a-1618 (which they do not), they are completely within the purpose of the adopted 49 CFR 571.108 which is “reduce accidents by enhancing conspicuity.”
I added underglow lights to improve my visibility and by extension, my safety. I want to be seen. When I measure any potential distraction a car driver might have from modest after-market illumination to the benefit of me being seen and avoiding an car-vs-motorcycle accident, I will always vote to save the exposed motorcyclist.
Are underglows a legitimate distraction to other drivers?
The LEO who stopped me indicated that his concern was the potential distraction other drivers suffer as they look at my modest lights. I just don’t buy the idea that underglows are a potential distraction to drivers. Really, even if a driver looked at me and the lights, I’m happy. He saw me!! Secondly, a driver would only look for a moment and note the presence of a motorcycle. It would be no more distracting than a hot-rod, a classic car, billboard,or a scantily-clad pedestrian. And we don’t outlaw those things.
Cell phone usage is the real danger.
There are plenty of other things which are far more distracting than underglow lights. I would list cell-phones as the biggest offense. If the state does not want a distracted driver, then completely outlaw the use of cell phones– complete, 100% ban on all usage while the vehicle is moving. The state just enacted a new law which bans certain uses of cell phones, but drivers can still answer them and talk on them and hold them in their hands. When I get pushed out of my lane or cut off, the driver is commonly talking on a cell phone– not always texting— talking. They have the phone to their ear and their brain is not focused on staying safe. That is the real hazard on the road– not an illuminated motorcycle.
What can you do personally?
I would really like to see a law specifically listing underglows as acceptable. There is a petition on Change.org trying to move in that direction. I encourage people to read and sign it. If we can get a law to specifically name underglow lights then the LEOs can turn their focus to catching car-drivers on their cell phones. And that is good policing.