Skip to main content


Throwing some light

By Mario

Ever wondered what the rules are about adding extra lights to your bike to stand out more?

Quite a few riders have taken it on themselves to add extra lights to their bikes, presumably hoping to improve the chances of other road users seeing them. But some of those we’ve spoken to are unclear about the legality of adding extra lights to their bike. So what’s the score? We undertook a bit of research to clarify the issue, and spoke to the person responsible for pretty much all things motorcycling at NZTA to check we weren't off target.

There are several rules that apply to lighting on motorcycles (or ‘Group L vehicles’, in official parlance), contained in the document ‘Land Transport Rule: Vehicle Lighting 2004’ and its subsequent amendments. There are general rules for lighting and specific rules about additional lighting, including daytime running lamps (DRLs).

The general rules are pretty much as you’d expect. For example, if any lighting equipment has a maximum number of lights specified, you cannot exceed it. In theory, because extra DRLs are not a legal requirement, provisions about their visibility, condition and working order do not apply. But in practice they have to be working if fitted (see below). Another general provision is this:

“2.1A(1) Lighting equipment fitted to a motor vehicle or a vehicle of Class AA must be:
(a) capable of providing sufficient illumination, light output or light reflection to:
(i) fulfil its intended purpose; and
(ii) enable the vehicle to which it is fitted to be operated safely on a road; and
(b) correctly aligned; and
(c) fitted in a position and perform in a way that is appropriate for the equipment and the vehicle.”

Flashing lights are out, unless they flash as part of an anti-theft alarm:

“2.1A(2) The light emitted from a lamp must be steady unless otherwise specified in this Rule or any other enactment.
2.1A(3) The light emitted from a flashing lamp required or permitted under this Rule must flash at a fixed frequency.
2.1A(4) If the lighting equipment that is fitted to a motor vehicle is activated by an anti-theft car alarm, 2.1A(2) and 2.1A(3) do not apply.”

There are other rules about placement and performance, but we’ll come back to them after looking at the details of fitting daytime running lights, specifically to motorcycles (‘group L’):

“10.3(1) When operated, a daytime running lamp must emit light that is substantially white or amber.
10.3(2) A daytime running lamp must not operate when a front fog lamp or headlamp is in use.
10.3(3) A motor vehicle of Group L may be fitted with up to four daytime running lamps to the front of the vehicle provided that the sum of the outputs of each lamp, as declared by the lamp manufacturer, does not exceed 2400 candela.”

So you can have up to four forward-facing lamps, so long as they don't exceed that maximum brightness, but you CANNOT have them on at the same time as your headlamp. It is a legal requirement under the Land Transport User Rule 2004 to have either your headlamp or DRLs on during daylight hours, and to have your headlamp on during the hours of darkness. Given all modern motorcycles have the headlamp on at all times, fitting DRLs will mean wiring a defeat into the headlamp circuit for operation in daylight. So, even though their fitment is not a legal requirement, once fitted they must be kept in sound working order. 

Does that cover it? Maybe. Sometimes the law is arguable or not clearly defined. This, for instance:

“2.1A(5) The light emitted by lighting equipment must be visible under clear atmospheric conditions from the distances specified in this Rule.”

So what are “the distances specified in this rule”? For motorcycles, there are different distances specified for different lights, but none directly specified for daytime running lights. For motorcycles, headlamps must “illuminate the road in front of the vehicle for 50 m”, position lamps and indicators must be visible from 200m in the dark, and indicators from 100m in daylight. For daytime running lights 2.1A (1) most likely applies - they must be ‘fit for purpose’.

Other things to be aware of include how the lamps are positioned and appear in relation to one another

“2.1A(6) Lamps (except direction-indicator lamps and beacons) fitted as a pair to the front or to the rear of a motor vehicle must:
(a) (b) (c) be symmetrically mounted as far towards each side of the vehicle as practicable; and except as provided in 2.1A(7), emit light of similar intensity when the pair is operated; and except as provided in 2.1A(7), emit light of similar colour when the pair is operated.”

Plus, of course, there are ‘design rules’ and standards any lights must adhere to. The relevant ones are here and here.

Perhaps most interesting of all is that the Land Transport Rule and the Vehicle Inspection Requirements Manual (that guides WoF inspections) appear to be in conflict. According to the VIRM, anyone testing your motorcycle would be instructed to fail it for having more than two daytime running lamps. The relevant section is Lighting, section 4-4.

How did that come about, and what does it mean if you fit four DRLs, as you are legally allowed, but your ‘bike is then failed for it at its WoF?
The issue for the VIRM is the way the Rule is worded around the allowable candela. If you have two DRLs no tester is likely to raise an issue. If you have four, and the tester pulled you up for it, you would need to prove the output.