Croatia: Bicycle lighting rules, and riding experiences (updated with comments on 2015-7-10)

A reader of my site gave me a lot of information, and I thought it would be interesting, so he agreed to let me put it here. The Croatian law has some nice details that make sense to me, and it looks fairly well thought out, even mentioning carrying cargo. I like that they allow dual taillamps which could be interpreted as meaning above each other, which indicates a narrow vehicle, as opposed taillamps positioned next to each other which indicate that a vehicle has a larger width, but this is not quite clear, see further on. This was an idea I first heard from someone via linkedin, after I gave someone else there who was developing a headlamp + taillamp, pointers on what proper beamshape and lamp design is about. Btw., I use a dual taillamp since the Secula came out (Secula on the fender, Lumiring on the rear rack)...

Here is Drazen's write up (thanks again!):

The Croatian rules

As for the rules of cycling here, you can ride a bike on the road when you're older than 9 years (but only if you have completed an education course in the school), or if you're 14 without any education. Wearing a bike helmet is mandatory for everyone under 16.

From dusk until full daylight, bicycle must have at least one and at most two white lights on the front and at least one and at most two red lights on the back turned on at all times while driving. Exceptionally, if the visibility is reduced, lights must be turned on even during the day. When riding on roads if the visibility is reduced, it is mandatory to wear a brightly coloured vest with large reflective surfaces or specialised cycling clothes with reflective patches. The front light must be mounted not lower than 40 cm and not higher than 120 cm from the pavement. The front light must be positioned in a way to light up the road not less than 10 metres and not more than 50 metres ahead. This is also the only mention of how bright the light has to be in the whole law. Nothing else is mentioned, which in turn results that there are many bicycle riders using ridiculously weak or waaay too powerful lights.

Here's what the law says about tail lights: The tail lights must be mounted not lower than 25 cm and no higher than 90 cm from the pavement. If there are two lights mounted to a bicycle, they must be mounted symmetrically and vertically according to the bicycle's vertical central axis. If the tail light has an incorporated catadiopter with a reflective surface of at least 8 square cm, no additional catadiopters on the back are required. If the tail light does not have an appropriate red catadiopter, one must be mounted separately, not lower than 25 cm and no higher than 90 cm from the pavement. The catadiopters must not have a triangle shape. A reflective catadiopter is mandatory on the pedals, both on front and back in yellow or orange colour. A bicycle must have reflective surface in white or yellow colour to the sides, mounted on the wheels to improve sideway visibility.

A bicycle is allowed to tow a trailer. The trailer must have two wheels and be securely attached, it cannot be more than 80 cm wide and on the back of the trailer there have to be two triangle-shaped catadiopters mounted on each side. If a bicycle is used to transport cargo, the total width must not exceed 50 cm from each side of the bicycle. (there is no mention of having to properly mark the cargo with additional ligths or reflective surfaces).

It is strongly forbidden to use lights of different colour, such as blue or green, anywhere on the bicycle. The law is vague with regard to flashing as it's only mentioned for different colour (than red or white) lights, by saying it's not permitted to use "either flashing or constant" lights of different colour. Obviously, the intention is to prevent cyclists from using blue or red orange flashing lights, as to not cause confusion with police, ambulances and firefighters. And then it goes on to say that the front light must be white and only white and taillight must be red and only red. So flashing white headlamps and flashing red taillamps are not forbidden. Officially, police has stated several times in past years that they consider flashing lights as effective as constant lights, as long as they're not blinding other drivers. Obviously, from their point, it's better to get the cyclists to use any kind of light, rather than nitpick about whether it's strong enough, flashing, bluish-white or warm white etc.

Correction, comments from another reader

I got some comments from Vladimir (in March, life got in the way of writing it up on this page earlier), and after some correspondence with him I included his comments and some of the later exchanges about esp. the symmetrical lights, here:

1. Symmetric light placement

"If there are two lights mounted to a bicycle, they must be mounted symmetrically and vertically according to the bicycle's vertical central axis."

This is a bit vaguely written by Drazen and may have misled your conclusion.
" I like that they allow dual taillamps and that they mention that these must be positioned vertically (thus indicating a narrow vehicle, as opposed taillamps positioned next to each other which indicate that a vehicle has a larger width)."

I don't think this is the correct conclusion and you may want to revise this section.

The rules state clearly that: two lamps have to be positioned symmetrically in regard to the vertical axis. Thus, they are not supposed to be positioned one above the other, but one next to another. The rule is the same for both front and back lights.

Drazen thought it was meant this way, as having 2 taillamps above each other would indicate a narrow vehicle, i.e. bicycle. We both thought this was a good idea!

But thinking more about it I suggested to Vladimir that I could read this line "two lamps have to be positioned symmetrically in regard to the vertical axis", in 2 ways: Symmetrical around the axis can mean side by side (reflective symmetry), but also above each other (the symmetry being not that both lamps are equi-distant, but that the sides of the bikes are equidistant to both lamps).

Vladimir translated the complete relevant section and it says:

One or two symmetrically positioned lights for road lightning on bicycles and mopeds need to be made and set up on the front side of the bicycle, moped, three-wheeled moped or light quadro-cycle [ not sure if the latter is the correct translation, but it refers to a motor-vehicle. WHS: Quad-cycle or just Quad ? ]. Three-wheeled mopeds and light quadro-cycles which are wider than 1,30 m must have two lights for road lighting which are symmetrically positioned in relation to [front-to-back] vertical axis of the vehicle.

As you can see, it explicitly mentions the axis in one situation, but bicycle aspect is not clear. I'm not a lawyer, but I can see why this can possibly be interpreted in either manner.

Thinking more about this interpretation in the above text which has the full context with other vehicles, I would say that symmetrical is probably meant left-right, even for bicycles. But I think 2 taillamps above each other, to indicate a narrow vehicle, would be better! :))

2. Enforcement

When it comes to enforcement, this is a big deal in Croatia. Drazen made a good portrait of the police's loose treatment of blinking lights and reflective material. They don't comment if you have a front light direclty above your wheel and another on the side of your handlebar. Such lights are obviously not symmetrical in relation to either axis, but this is not an issue for fines.

Similarly, the ruling for necessary lighting of the surface (10-50m ahead of the vehicle) is also not enforced. Police tolerate "Frogs" (gum lights with "coin" batteries), although these only serve to "be seen".

3. Standlight

There is another interesting rule that Drazen didn't mention. Some vehicles are exempted from having to have lights turned on in certain conditions. Eg. mopeds and bicycles can have lights off if they don't have own accumulators and are stopped on the side of the road inside settlement. (article 103 of the traffic law). This is an archaic detail of the law from the time well before "standlicht" technology on dynamo lights. Many rural bicycles are 30+ years old and updating their lights tech would often be more costly than the entire bike, so this detail is likely to remain for some time to come.

We discussed this and though there seems no mention of traffic lamps, I suppose this is what it is meant for: No lights when stopped on the road waiting for a traffic lamp. 'Side of the road' made me think about vehicles parked at the edge of the road, but after thinking more about it, probably that's not what is meant.

4. Trailers

Additionaly, trailers are mentioned correctly - 80 cm max width. However, it's important to note that they have 50 kg max load and that transporting passangers (adults or children) is illegal. (article 159) This is not enforced and adults are often seen riding their kids in the back in a shop-bought bike-trailer, but it's another outdated segment of the law that should be updated.

Commentary by Drazen (with a few comments by me)

The problem is, this law was passed in 2005., when LED's were just emerging on the market.

WHS: For headlamps this is true, for taillamps, LEDs were being used a long time, I had in 1992 for example a Specialized Flashback with LEDs and 2x AAA NiCads which could be set to steady or flashing light

Not many people used them (WHS: LED-headlamps) because they were very expensive so I'm guessing that's why there's pretty much no mention of light specifications (beamshape as well as light source) anywhere. An even bigger problem is that, while the law was passed in 2005. it wasn't until 2012 that the police finally decided to start enforcing it. So, pretty much over night they started stopping cyclists and writing out fines to people most of who weren't even aware that the law existed, let alone that they have broken it. It resulted in public uproar, so police then switched their strategy, went with eductaion, warnings and even giving away lights to cyclists. Since then the situation has dramatically improved, but I still see at least one cyclist a day riding in the night without ANY lights and ANY reflective surfaces.

WHS: In the UK such people are called bicycle-Ninjas :)

For obvious reasons we both agree on, I think it would be better if flashing lights on the front were banned. Some of NGOs asked the police for clarification and their response was that they find flashing white lights acceptable on the front, especially since the law has seen nation wide enforcement only from 2012. onward and only after the law was changed with one single line - the cyclists were no longer considered a special category, they were now "drivers". And as such, a lot of traffic rules started to apply to cyclists. And of course, it was chaos.

So, the police decided to act preventive, rather than repressive - at least for the time being. It was also stated by the police that, as cyclists become more aware of necessity to at least have some kind of lights, that they would then start promoting using steady lights and educate people on brightness and blinding other drivers. Interestingly, the police also said that they would not be very insisting about reflective patches on the pedals, as long as the cyclists has taken sufficient care to mark the bicycle with lights or other reflective surfaces. It was to be left to individual interpretation of the officer to decide if a bike in question is sufficiently marked.

Another unclear detail is the line in the law about wearing either a "brightly colored vest with reflective patches" (pretty clear) OR "specialised cycling clothing with reflective surfaces". The thing is, and this was confirmed by the police, that you could be wearing anything reflective on you, and you would not be breaking the law. And by anything, I mean anything - a reflective zipper on the jacket, a brand logo on your cap, a reflective patch on your shoes etc. The law does not go into detail about how large this reflective surface has to be, or does it have to be seen from the sides, front, or back. My assumption is that this was deliberately done, as to not antagonize people forcing them to wear a safety vest. Recently in neighbouring Serbia a law was passed that every cyclists must wear a safety vest at all times, night or day. It caused a huge uproar from the public, and I've read interesting studies that show that such rules have two major impacts: 1. dramatically reduce number of cyclists, 2. dramatically increase the risk of getting run over by cars for cyclists that do not wear safety vest.

WHS: And that point 2 is exactly the problem that I think DRL will give (we will see in a few years from the stats I suppose). Everything else such as cats and dogs that might jump out onto the road, everyone else, pedestrians and esp. children who are prone to do unexpected things and thus you need to watch children to make sure they don't step out in front of you, will get less attention... And that means other accidents can happen because of that (improper responses, trying to evade and hitting another car head on for example).

Cycling in Croatia (written by Drazen)

Compared to the Netherlands, there are really not that many cyclists. But I happen to live in a city (Osijek) that has most bicycle lanes per capita in Croatia and we're definitively leading the cycling revolution - but that just sounds great on paper, it's actually more a reflection of the fact how little other cities care for bicycles. Also, it helps that I live in a continental area, so everything here is flat, all the roads are wide, and it's much easier to "steal" a bit from the pedestrian zones and roads and paint in bike lanes. It's much harder to create bike lanes in tight coastal cities, where trafic in general is very intensive and the terrain configurations makes it difficult to bike. Most people there opt for scooters.

In last few years there has been a growing public interest in both safety and fighting out for cycling rights. There are a few non-goverment organizations here that are pressing on the local government to keep expanding the bike lanes and recently there has been a rise in cycling tourism. Besides that, my city hosts the best extreme sport competition in this part of Europe, Pannonian Challenge, which, besides skateboards and inlines, has a two day event featuring BMX and dirt jumps and we also host the "Frame festival" - the only cycling-themed film festival in Croatia. I was in the jury of the festival two years ago, since I'm a videographer and photographer.

Overall, cyclists don't suffer from motorists' hostility - at least not in my city. The reason for that is probably that over the years, as the number of the cyclists has grown, so has the public awareness. Also, there was a lot of news coverage about how the law is forcing cyclists to ride on busy roads, even when it's evident it's much safer to ride on the pedestrian areas. So there is some symphaty and understanding about that. For example, there are 4 lane roads with 70-80 km/h limit in the city, where drivers often hit a 100 km/h speeds and you're forced by law to bike on the road. This is especially problematic when you consider you've got 10-year old kids driving bicycles in these conditions. It would seem smarter to drive on the pedestrian area, even risking the fine, but that's just how it is.

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