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Should cyclists be allowed to jump red lights to stay safe?

Tuesday 17th September 2013

A journalist from the Telegraph suggests that the best way for a cyclist to stay safe is to “sometimes break the law”, and that “cyclists should be allowed to jump red lights”.

Chris Harvey wrote his piece after being stopped by the police for jumping a red light – something he admits to doing regularly while cycling because he believes it improves his personal safety.

In the Telegraph article, he says: “I'm pretty careful, I don't endanger pedestrians, I don't slow cars down. And sometimes the best way to stay safe for a cyclist is to go through a red light. If you cycle regularly, you know this.

“There are many who believe that the higher incidence of deaths among women cyclists are because they are more likely to follow the rules, more likely to be waiting patiently behind the stop line on the left hand side of the road when a lorry turns left and crushes them under its wheels. Most cyclists want to get as far away from cars, buses and lorries as they can.”

Despite this, he goes on to point out that one of the first acts of Andrew Gilligan, London’s new cycling tsar (who is also a Telegraph columnist), will be to crack down on ‘bad’ cyclists by promoting a new £30 on the spot fine for red light offenders.

Chris Harvey adds: “Personally, I think cyclists should have an intermediate status between pedestrian and car, and be allowed to cross on a green man, while giving way to pedestrians. At least, under those circumstances, a cyclist will be aware that someone is likely to be stepping out into the road in front of them.

“Perhaps an even-handed solution would be to introduce £30 spot fines to crack down on ‘bad’ pedestrians, who step into the road without looking.”

Click here to read the full Telegraph report.

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On my daily walk from Cannon St to Finsbury Sq in The City I regularly see cyclists going through red lights. Fine, do what you like if you think that makes you safe, but NOT when you are crossing a pedestrian right of way when the green man is lit. I'm visually impaired so probably walk with my 'eye's more open' than many people but I don't always see these offenders until the very last second. I'm not saying pedestrians are angels, there are too many that risk crossing in front of motor vehicles and bicycles to save that extra 5-10 seconds off their commute!
Ian Collier, London

Agree (1) | Disagree (0)
+1

I've seen the slogan "Think bike". What I haven't seen advertised is "BIKE THINK".
J. Cook Doncaster

Agree (2) | Disagree (0)
+2

If Chris Harvey's observation skills are such that he did not see the police car perhaps he should not be on a bike at all.
Peter London

Agree (4) | Disagree (4)
0

Mr Harvey has done his job brilliantly to keep the subject of cycle safety in the headlines. The consternation that many of the responses here reflect is natural, but this entire issue can be resolved simply and effectively. All we have to do is remove the conflict on the roads (and pavements, and shared use paths). Segregated infrastructure for cyclists will stop the RLJing. More importantly it will also stop the needless deaths and serious injuries caused by roads that for the past 40 years have been designed solely for the motor car at the cost of the human being.
Steve, Merseyside

Agree (3) | Disagree (8)
-5

One of the problems with this issue is that cyclists are not pedestrians but neither are they fully fledged vehicles. More able and confident cyclists do behave more like drivers of powered vehicles - until they get to traffic signals. One of the (many) oddities is that if a cyclist dismounts they can push their bike (at a run) across a stop line, along the pavement, across a zebra or the wrong way up a One Way street without breaking the law. (A judgement in the 1990s means they no longer have to pick up the bike to do this). To the law the two are different but all but identical in practical terms.
Mark, Caerphilly

Agree (8) | Disagree (2)
+6

Perhaps this line of arguement from the journalist is because he is one of many cyclists attached to the machine by his feet and does not wish to momentarily unattach them. Nonsense, they can't have it both ways, we are all road users and need to anticipate what others do. With many cyclists at night I have to watch out for their safety as they do not seem to care, cycling across my bows in the dark, no lights etc. Many of us are cyclists too and we survive because we don't take ridiculous risks.
Olly, Lancs

Agree (19) | Disagree (0)
+19

I regularly see some cyclists cycling the wrong way up one way streets, riding through red lights, cycling on pavements in an unsafe manner, etc. I also see some cyclists obeying the law and if they are using shared cycle/pedestrian paths, doing so with care. I do think those breaking the law should be dealt with - the same as any other vehicle user. What is the point of having laws to make travel safer if they are ignored by some? What we need is an infrastructure which supports the safety and needs of all road users and a change in attitude - back to the old word "courtesy" on the road!
Lucy, Scotland

Agree (21) | Disagree (0)
+21

Dave.... I want to promote motorcycling as being fast fun and with greater freedoms than any other form or transportation.

I just want to see how much sympathy I will have with that statement.

Just as with any minority group, motorcycle riders have good ones and bad ones - but none that I know who would pass through lights on red or jump lights because they can, or because they want to.

Yes there are idiots in all forms of transport, whether it's cyclists or not, and once again the minority will destroy the freedom for all by their lack of responsibility.

As said.... with great freedom comes great responsibility and at the moment it seems that with cyclists it is take and no give. Either legislation, or rather the application of the existing laws, or many new laws will prioritise cyclists to the exclusion of all others.
bob craven Lancs

Agree (18) | Disagree (2)
+16

Its absolute nonsense to suggest that it is safer for a cyclist to jump red lights. I’ve been a cyclist and car driver for over 40 years, I ‘ve never been crushed nor pinned against a pavement edge by a vehicle turning left. The reason is simple, I don’t ride up the inside of a vehicle which is turning left. However, I am in favour of increasing junctions where motor vehicles are held further back from the stop line giving the cyclist frontage priority thus a head start advantage when pulling away.
Charles Dunn RoadDriver.co.uk

Agree (25) | Disagree (6)
+19

I suppose the real question is do bicycle riders want to be treated as road vehicles, or do they want to be treated as 'enhanced pedestrians'? If they want to be treated as road vehicles then the various laws that make traffic flow smoothly and safely should be observed by the riders. If, on the other hand they want to be treated as enhanced pedestrians then the traffic laws should no longer apply.

What we have at the moment is a kind of half-and-half situation where cyclists pick and choose which type of road user they are without there being any way for other road users to know which mode they are currently in. This leads to a certain degree of chaos as riders swap between modes when it suits them to do so. It is essential in any traffic environment that the actions of other road users are fairly predictable, but in a situation where one type of road users actions are entirely unpredictable, accident and injury can only be the regrettable result.
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

Agree (22) | Disagree (3)
+19

I'm not sure Mr Harvey is advocating anything but a common sense approach to cycling here. Many road users from time to time cross a red light in the interest of safety and perhaps some for a good news story? Not convinced? How many of us have cleared the way for emergency vehicles?
Gareth, Surrey

Agree (7) | Disagree (5)
+2

All sane adults break laws. We accidentally carry and exchange counterfeit currency, have illegal recordings of TV programmes, steal pens from work, exceed speed limits, cycle on the pavements etc. It is not possible to write laws that apply in every situation therefore, if every law were fully enforced, almost every citizen would be in prison, including the politicians, police officers and judges.

The effect of a law cannot be divorced from the enforcement of it and the authorities used to know this. That's why laws were only supposed to be enforced when “in the public interest”. Society is changing, though, because the authorities now advocate that particular laws should be enforced, irrespective of the public interest.

Enforcing laws against all cyclists (not just the dangerous few) may discourage cycling and even increase collisions. I want to promote cycling as fast and fun with greater freedoms than other choices.
Dave Finney, Slough

Agree (4) | Disagree (17)
-13

I think that cyclists should obey the law like everyone else. Suicidal cyclists jumping red lights and undertaking moving vehicles (especially HGVs and buses) are just playing with death. Cyclists not using hand signals to indicate their intentions, riding without cycle helmets nor reflectives do not help matters either.
Phil, Kent

Agree (20) | Disagree (3)
+17

I would suggest that Mr Harvey's comments are not particularly motivated by safety but more by the inconvenience of stopping and starting at lights when cycling. Yes, it is clear that the infrastructure we have, for the most part, is inadequate in allowing large vehicles and bicycles to navigate through the same junctions resulting in conflicts. But, we need to ensure we are looking at the whole picture so that we don't just replace one problem with another. There definitely isn't a 'one size fits all' solution!
Matt Staton, Cambridgeshire

Agree (17) | Disagree (2)
+15

A difficult one. I regularly see cyclists jumping reds around Sussex, surprising cars who aren't expecting someone to appear against the prevailing permission. Aside from this, I'm also interested in why many cyclists don't use dedicated cycle lanes, instead preferring to try and cycle through traffic flow. There are a lot of issues that need some real exploration to help everyone stay safe!
Neil Hopkins, Sussex

Agree (17) | Disagree (2)
+15

As I said to Eric, some of us see what we want to see and if we can't see it, we make it up to back-up a belief or viewpoint. "I regularly see cyclists improving their safety and assisting other road users by cycling on pavements" is a good example of this. This is still a Road Safety forum isn't it?
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (14) | Disagree (6)
+8

The voting on Dave's comment reinforces the view that those who read these comments are interested more in law enforcement and compliance than in the safety of road users. Disappointing for a road safety website, and more suitable to ACPO. I'm uneasy when I see cyclists go through junctions on red but it seems reasonable for them to go across a clear pelican while cars have to stop (I have seen them weave through pedestrians which is not reasonable).
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

Agree (10) | Disagree (15)
-5

“Yes” is the short answer. Cyclists should be allowed to break laws (red lights, cycling on pavements etc) but, if we do, we must not be allowed to make any claim against another road-user, no matter who's at fault. The law should only be enforced when a cyclist is genuinely careless or dangerous, ie when it is “in the public interest” to prosecute.

I regularly see cyclists improving their safety and assisting other road users by cycling on pavements. Cyclists regularly pass red lights thereby being ahead of, and definitely visible to, vehicles turning left. They also have greater speed when vehicles overtake making them more stable with a lower differential speed.

Also breaking laws forces the brain to think, and that creates high concentration levels. Abiding by the law can lead to complacency. The law should exist to produce better outcomes, not to be the end in itself.
Dave Finney, Slough

Agree (8) | Disagree (31)
-23