With Governor Brown’s recent veto of the three foot passing bill, there’s a new product popping up specifically for cyclists looking to preserve a bit of personal space. The bike safety light from XFIRE allows riders to create their own bike lane (as they ride) by projecting red laser beams onto the ground on either side.

Last month The Guardian took the XFIRE bike safety light for a test ride in the following video:

In their article on the new product, The Guardian’s bike blog questioned whether the DIY bike lane actually increases rider safety or merely offers a false sense of security. After all, if the projected bike lane isn’t clearly visible to passing vehicles it sort of defeats the entire point of the device.

Although the idea of a self-made bike lane is admirable, the reality seems to be that there’s a significant gap between concept and execution. According to the senior technical officer at the National Cycling Charity, the only person the bike lane is clearly visible to is the actual cyclist. He’s quoted as saying:

“The road will reflect only a small fraction of the light that falls on it. And it’ll reflect in all directions – but more back to source than other directions – so only a tiny fraction goes towards the driver.

Then there’s the question of whether the driver is looking at the road surface anyway. Research on driver eye fixation confirms the obvious, that they give most of their attention to potential threats and signals, such as oncoming traffic, crossing traffic, traffic lights and road signs, most of which is offside or high above the road, and only some of which is to the left or down on its surface. So their eyes are mostly up and rightwards. The cyclist’s challenge is to grab the driver’s attention in the few glances he gives to the nearside.

Can the driver even see the nearside road surface? Not very near he can’t. My bonnet blocks my view of that part of the road for some distance ahead.

I think this is a mostly harmless gimmick. I’d rather have the extra light directed somewhere more obviously useful instead.”

Despite criticism surrounding its efficacy, advocates of the technology contend that it has the potential to save lives. And, given what we know about the dramatic effect even minor separations between cars and cyclists can have on a rider’s safety, it might not be too far-fetched to think the bike safety light could still have a positive effect. Even if criticisms about it being difficult to see are completely valid, the only real harm to the rider would be treating the fictitiously created bike lane as if it’s an actual barrier protecting them from traffic.

Regardless of the visual signs a cyclist offers surrounding vehicles, the best thing they can do to protect themselves is ride defensively and never assume a car is aware of where they are. The bike safety light is just one more tool (albeit an arguably gimmicky one) that allows cyclists to encourage vehicles to keep a safe distance and share the road.