Motorcycle Headlight Modulators

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Motorcycle Headlight

By: Pete Crusoe

For decades, industry experts have been telling us what we already know: motorists don’t see motorcycles and even when they do, they often can’t judge motorcycle speed and distance correctly. All too often, the result is fatal.

More bikes are on the road and drivers are getting older…

Every year the number of motorcycles on the road increases. At the same time, the driving population in general is getting older. According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, U.S. motorcycle sales have increased steadily for the past 14 years. In 1992, sales were about 250,000 units. In 2006, motorcycle sales were over one million. At the same time, the average age of motorcycle drivers has increased from 24 years old in 1980 to an average of 41 years old today. Currently there are almost 19 million drivers licensed in the U.S. that are 70 or older. By, 2020 it is estimated there will be more than 30 million drivers over the age of 70.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation reports that the primary traffic violation committed by drivers aged 50 and over is “failure to observe the right of way”. For older drivers, it is well known that as we age our depth perception is reduced, peripheral vision deteriorates, and reaction time becomes slower. Also, let’s not forget the new drivers; Studies have shown that young drivers take a long time to develop and hone their “information gathering” and response skills.

So, what does any of this have to do with headlight modulators?

Well, for starters when a motorcycle is the victim in an accident with a motor vehicle – the number one reason given by the driver is that they didn’t see the motorcycle and as stated above, the leading cause of these accidents is failure to yield the right of way.

Motorcyclists have become invisible again:

One of the problems facing motorcyclists today is they no longer have the advantage of standing out in the crowd through the use of “always on” headlights. Now that most motor vehicles currently on the road are equipped with Daytime Running Lamps (DRL’s), motorcyclists have been thrust back to invisibility.

Some motorists may be slightly annoyed – but, they’ll know you’re there!

From the motorist’s point of view, a headlight modulator on high beam pulsating in the rearview mirror may be annoying. However, in these situations the modulator can be run on low beam or shut off when stuck in traffic. In any case, the goal here is safety and headlight modulators will get you noticed.

In addition, the argument that “there are no definitive studies that prove headlight modulators reduce accidents” is certainly countered by the fact that both the U.S. and Canada have legalized their use. Obviously, these governments must have been convinced of their value.


So, as our roads become more congested and motorist still can’t see us, and we can’t react as quickly as we once could, but we want to keep doing we what enjoy – then, there’s only one option: Change the variables!

It is our responsibility to do what we can to insure our safety on the road. Wearing high visibility clothing, proper riding gear, attending driver training courses, and compensating for our changing abilities are all requirements for safe riding. Modern headlight modulators offer motorcyclists the opportunity to once again be seen and should be seriously considered as a valuable component in the mix.

Sources, Technical Information and Facts:

Headlight Modultors are legal for use in all 50 states.

– The use of Headlight modulators is governed by Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (49CFR), specifically, 49CFR Section 571.108, paragraph S7.9.4, entitled “Motorcycle Headlamp Modulation System”. Click Here to read the full text.

– Also Title 49, US Code, Chapter 301 (Motor Vehicle Safety) explains that states may not prescribe a safety regulation that differs from a motor vehicle safety standard prescribed under this section…except they may impose a higher standard of performance. Click here to read the full text.

Headlight modulators work by varying the power at a specific rate of speed. (50-70% max power and not less than 17% of max for each cycle and rate is 240cpm +-40). Accordingly, since the light never shuts off, it does not flash but pulsates.

It is a common belief that headlight modulators will burn out the bulbs more frequently. Actually, since the average power applied to the bulb filament is lower, it would stand to reason that the modulator would effectively extend the lifetime of the bulb. Moreover, even if it were true – bulbs are not that expensive.

It is also a common belief that headlight modulators will keep animals from running into the path of your motorcycle. Sorry, but you’re still going to have to rely on your good judgment and skills in this area. While some studies show that some animals are effected by daytime running lamps, there is no evidence to suggest that headlight modulators are more are less effective than any other light or device at deterring animals from crossing your path.

Headlight modulator resources:

Diamond Star

Article Sources:
California Dept of Motor Vehicles
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
SmartRider Motorcycle Safety Program Inc.

Article updated 4/08


  1. Andy A., 7. June 2008, 2:26

    Very good article! Well thought out and informative.

  2. Jack Lenhard, 9. June 2008, 22:45

    I drive over 25000 mi. a year and in the past 6 years I’ve seen only 2 modulating headlights on motorcycles. I have also almost turned across the path of an oncomming cycle. Cycles are small and hard to see, even with all there small steady lights. However, those two with modulators I spotted 2 to 3 miles up the road, like “WHAT THE HELL IS THAT”? Actually, there are two types of motorcycle opperators… the intelligent type with modulating lights and those without them which obviously have a death wish. State law should require them as it does seat belts in cars. Thank you, Jack Lenhard

  3. Jack Lenhard, 9. June 2008, 22:53

    I believe a modulating head light should be a state law for all motorcycles operating on public roads

  4. Chuck Nordby, 1. February 2009, 2:39

    Statistics show almost immeasureable difference in safety between headlight law states and others who have no headlight laws. WE HAVE ENOUGH LAWS. SO SHUT UP ALREADY OR WE WILL HAVE A HELMET LAW TOO!!!! (And what other laws these Ralph Nader idiots can dream up)

  5. Paul Graham, 14. April 2009, 20:21

    I work for and our modulators have been independently proven to increase visibility in socal traffic by 120-200%. After getting so much press about our P1 sales have gone through the roof. For $66.00 you cant buy much chrome, you can buy one of the best safety devices for a motorcycle.