Texas is the second largest motorcycle-owning market in the U.S. and many riders have embraced the use of LED lights to make their bikes show up better at night. However, until recently, the relevant state law was ambiguous at best regarding the legality of these lights and was open to interpretation by individual law enforcement officials. State Senator Kirk Watson is an active motorcyclist and saw an opportunity to ensure motorcycling was safer for riders by clarifying the legal verbiage during the recent legislative session to ensure certain types of LED lights are legal for use with bikes in Texas.
Initially, the law prohibited the use of lights brighter than 300 candlepower (CP), could not project a beam more than 75 feet, do not flash, were not red, nor directed from the center part of the vehicle. Further, the application of the law was subjective to each law enforcement official.
The debate on this issue could be found going back to 2011 on discussion forums online and with little clarification on what was legal. When Sen. Watson got involved due to a suggestion from a constituent, and he quickly saw the need to clarify the verbiage.
“We need to do all we can to make riding as safe as possible,” said Watson. “And we should do it so that we don’t put riders in a situation where they might be accidentally violating the law. Our laws should be clear so that people know how to comply and officers know what it is they’re enforcing.”
Effective September 1, SB1918 passed to add TRC 547.306 which directly addresses the use of LED lights on motorcycles.
- LED ground effect lighting equipment means light emitting diode (LED) technology that is attached to the underbody of a motorcycle for the purpose of illuminating:
- The body of the motorcycle; or
- The ground below the motorcycle.
- A person may operate a motorcycle equipped with LED ground effect lighting that emits a non-flashing amber or white light.
The ability for a motorcyclist to safely use white or amber LED’s is an important factor as the failure to see a rider is frequently stated as a main cause with wrecks involving motorcycles. In fact, according to the 2013 data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (the most recent numbers available), approximately 25 percent of all fatalities involving a motorcyclist occur between non-peak traffic times of 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.
Watson wholeheartedly embraced the initiative to clear up the law after hearing from concerned riding constituent, Theodore Cody who had researched the previous law after hearing from other riders about harassments they had received from law enforcement over the use of LED’s. Cody then turned to the state senator, a rider who himself recently rode more than 3,000 miles on his Harley-Davidson to attend the 75th anniversary of Sturgis Motorcycle Week yet he rarely rides his bike after sunset due to safety concerns.
“This is a great example of a constituent calling something to my attention,” said Watson. “A motorcycle rider in my Senate District contacted my office pointing out the obvious safety benefits of allowing motorcycles to have more lights on them at night. However, he also noted that the law was ambiguous so some riders were receiving tickets, especially if the lights made their bikes look like emergency vehicles. We worked with the Department of Public Safety to assure that riders seeking safety wouldn’t run afoul of the law and put it into legislation.
State Representative and motorcycle rider Joe Pickett of D – El Paso presented the new law to the House. “Senator Watson, as the Senate sponsor, approached me knowing I have an interest in motorcycles and motorcycle safety,” said Pickett. “I agreed with his feelings that these actually make motorcycles more visible. I always ride with high beams on during the day and, as we who ride, know we have to do so defensively.”