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Shining a light on lamp legislation

By Mario

The regulations covering the lights on your motorcycle are many and complex. Little wonder then that riders can get confused about what’s legal. A recent enquiry prompted us to do some digging…

If you visit the Ride Forever Facebook page you might have spotted ongoing banter about modulating headlights. We recently had a message from one rider suggesting we write a piece on integrated taillights, explaining what’s permissible and what might get you a WoF failure come inspection time.

Integrated lights are unusual on ‘bikes. They’re confined largely to American imports. The best way to imagine them is like the set-up on American cars, where what looks like one red light functions as stop-lamp, rear positioning lamp and indicator.

Our enquirer had been told to ‘sort out’ his integrated light because the tail positioning light took up ‘more than 25% of the bulb’, while ‘at least 75% should be for the braking function’.

It’s a theme that runs through lighting legislation, shown for example in the rules around lamps that contain an array of light sources, e.g. LEDs. These must have at least 75% of bulbs operating, and the NZTA’s guidance on WoF inspections for motorcycle stop lamps states it’s a fail when “a lamp comprises an array of light sources (eg LEDs), [and] fewer than 75% operate.”

However, talking to NZTA’s Principal Advisor on Motorcycle Safety, Jim Furneaux, it turns out that there isn’t a set 25% ‘limit’ on the tail positioning lamp. “The Lighting Rule states that a mandatory stop lamp must provide sufficient light output to fulfil its intended purpose,” says Furneaux. “Which suggests that it has to be brighter than the tail light. The 75% rule is for LED arrays. It makes it clear that the greater majority of them must work.”

Other Issues:

Being pretty rare, integrated lights come with some other unusual issues covered by legislation. One perhaps surprising ruling concerns the stop lamp and direction indicators. The legislation requires that the stop lamp function is overridden by the direction indicators. Now that might sound risky, because you wouldn’t be showing that you were slowing down while indicating. But as Jim says: “If the brake lights had precedence, that would be a more dangerous situation as other road users would not know which way the rider was intending to move and could take inappropriate action.”

Motorcycles of American origin are given another dispensation. While the overall lighting rule states that all lamps have to remain steadily illuminated, unless otherwise allowed to flash as part of their function (e.g. indicators where a flash-rate is stipulated), modulating headlights are permitted if they are OEM fitment of US origin.

Finally, Daytime Running Lights (DRLs) are becoming standard fare on new bikes and quite a few riders are retrofitting them to older machines. One needs to be careful, however, in navigating the rule book. Some of the main stipulations are that lights must project to the front only, be substantially white or amber in colour, be symmetrically mounted and broadly similar in intensity and colour, and be neither too bright to dazzle other road users nor insufficiently bright to be easily seen in daytime–whether that’s through modification, deterioration, dirt or the wrong light source. On motorcycles, only one or two are permitted and that ’75% of light sources must be working’ rule applies. A stipulation about the maximum candela was removed in 2014.

For the full rundown of lighting legislation, click on the link below.

Motorcycle lighting details on NZTA's website