Should cyclists be allowed to turn left at red?

allowing cyclists to go left at redHaving yesterday revealed the amount of time cyclists spend at red lights there is one suggestion that the Mayor of London supports that could make a big difference. Simply allowing cyclists to make a left turn at a red light. Currently, doing this incurs a £30 fine if you are caught. Yet, some cyclists will readily admit to undertaking this generally safe manoeuvre.

This seemingly small change is well supported by organisations such as the London Cycling Campaign. It’s not just the benefit of getting to your destination faster but it is also part of making cycling safer. The LCC see it as part of their campaign to make places more permeable to cyclists thus making cycling more attractive.

The bad news is, this kind of positive change to the law is slow to implement. All the Mayor really has the power to do is go up to the Department for Transport and request they review it. They then have to run a trial to see if it works before starting to make plans to change the law countrywide. That is if they feel it is even worth considering in the first instance.

David Love, founder of the 3 Feet Please campaign, said “It is a good idea however, measures to change driver behaviour would have greater overall impact on cyclist safety and could be brought in earlier and at a considerably lower cost”.

Turning right on red is the law in America where they drive on the other side of the road. A red light is instead treated as a stop sign. Both drivers and cyclists are allowed to make a safe judgement and proceed accordingly. This is not the only example of allowing road users to exercise their common sense. In some cities in Germany traffic lights are switched off late at night when traffic dies down. Drivers are expected to check at the traffic light rather than proceeding without giving it any thought.

Do you think cyclists should be allowed to turn left at red?

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60 Responses to Should cyclists be allowed to turn left at red?

  1. Mr Richie 03/09/2010 at 9:51 am #

    No. Pedestrians will still see a red light as meaning safe to cross, and given the standard of cycling – in London at least, sorry to be so Metropolis-centric – I don’t think cyclists can be trusted to follow a new law responsibly.

    Also, will this apply to other traffic?

    • Filippo Negroni 03/09/2010 at 10:42 am #

      My recent experience of Oxford has been that cyclists and pedestrians can negotiate junctions much better without looking at the colour of the light first.
      If both cyclists and pedestrians are careful, there is absolutely no harm.
      If an accident takes place, it is not a rule such as this one that is going to cause it.

    • Philip 03/09/2010 at 1:02 pm #

      Sadly I agree with your analysis, Mr Richie. Any traffic movement against a red-light would create an air of uncertainty and confusion. As a (London) driver and a cyclist I think it’s critical that we have one set of rules that apply to all — though this doesn’t exclude, for example, separate green-lights for cyclists.

  2. Gaz 03/09/2010 at 10:01 am #

    No. Cyclists will have a target to get to the light and turn as soon as they can, if that means going up the inside of a lorry, they will do so.

  3. Mr Richie 03/09/2010 at 10:27 am #

    Yes, very good point.

  4. maryka 03/09/2010 at 10:31 am #

    Yes! If it’s treated as stop sign with “yield to pedestrians” inherent in that — as it is in North America, where pedestrians are not run over any worse than here — it will be fine. As for going up the side of lorries, some judgement is needed there obviously.

    But thanks for thinking that all cyclists are morons, the previous two commenters. *rolls eyes* No, I guess we can’t be trusted to use our heads and ride responsibly.

  5. AdamS 03/09/2010 at 10:31 am #

    Yes – when safe to do so, and giving way to pedestrians crossing the road into which you are turning (which is already the highway code). We are already enough of a nanny state so a relaxing of the laws might do us some good.

    I don’t buy the lorry argument though. Cyclists are responsible for their own safety and in any case the reckless & ignorant already go on the inside of lorries, whether they (the cyclist) are intending to turn left or not.

  6. Patrick 03/09/2010 at 10:34 am #

    No also, well really “not yet”, perhaps when cycling is really mainstream, i think right now it might cause antagonism amongst other road users, especially if it’s not treated with responsibility by cyclists, which right now it’s not.

    • Mark 03/09/2010 at 12:04 pm #

      The solution is to make the law apply to all road users, right?

  7. Henrik Risager 03/09/2010 at 10:41 am #

    Where this works is in countries where everyone has been trained/educated about it for years. Just look at the ASL how many people are “obeying” that highway code, simply because they don’t know what it is.

    Same goes with allowing cyclist going against one way streets, if we are going to allow this it has to be across the board not just the odd borough.

    As Gaz said this only will invite cyclist to come up on the inside of HGVs etc. so this idea is a nono. And as Mr. Richie said pedstirans will just wander out and with the cyclist coming flying around the corner at the very least we will have a lot of swearing and hatred towards us cyclist.

    • Filippo Negroni 03/09/2010 at 10:45 am #

      Education has to start from somewhere.
      Teething problems they are called. A bit of pain initially for a lot of gain later.

  8. Mike Smith 03/09/2010 at 10:41 am #

    There is a phrase used in the main report above which it would help us all to remember…”common sense”.
    It’s not very common, and not a genetically-inherent sense, but when used it makes cycling much, much safer and more enjoyable.
    If you are the type of cyclist (and we’ve all seen them) who flies across pedestrian crossings and lights regardless of who’s on them, the right to turn left at a red light won’t make much difference.
    But if you’re the type who is aware that their are other road-users who may be using the same patch of road, and cycles accordingly, the right to turn left would mean a smoother, more enjoyable ride.
    If you’re the type who slides up the inside of buses and 40 ton trucks – maybe the gene-pool will benefit in the long term.

  9. Corin 03/09/2010 at 10:41 am #

    Gaz makes a good point. However, I vote Yes because the measure wouldn’t tempt me personally up the inside of other traffic but would save me some time and make my journey more convenient at those times when I happen to be at the front of the traffic queue at lights.

  10. Matt 03/09/2010 at 10:55 am #

    Yes…. but only if it applies to all traffic. A traffic law should apply to all road-going traffic in order to lessen confusion.

  11. Adrian 03/09/2010 at 11:00 am #

    I vote yes. I think this should be a general change to the highway code for all vehicles, and it should be treated as a “stop” sign to ensure it is done safely. This works well in the US (althought that is a right hand turn) and a number of other countries.

    Cutting down the congestion at traffic lights as they turn green can only help improve cycle safety

  12. Mark 03/09/2010 at 12:03 pm #

    I vote yes. This is one of the quickest, easiest, cheapest (it’s free) legal measures that can be taken immediately to aid traffic flow on the roads: to allow cyclists to turn left at red lights, provided they give way to all other vehicles or pedestrians who have the right of way.

    Part of Boris Johnson’s 2008 mayoral campaign was to allow cyclists to turn left at red lights. In 2009, he wrote a letter to the DfT outlining his plan, but he never submitted a formal proposal to change the left-on-red law for cyclist. It’s a shame, really.

  13. chris 03/09/2010 at 12:32 pm #

    One of the key things in the US is that in order to turn left on a red signal you have to come to a complete stop, then move off. Just flying through a red signal willy nilly isn’t really very helpful.

    All of the comments predicate on common sense and good manners, two things which aren’t much in evidence on my commute by peds, cycles or drivers.

    • Patrick 03/09/2010 at 12:46 pm #

      Yep, common sense and good manners could go a long way to making the world very much a cooler place.

  14. One Loose Nut 03/09/2010 at 12:57 pm #

    I have driven in Canada where cars can turn right at red lights if it is safe to do so. I think that this worked well and should apply to both cars and cycles in the UK (but for left turns). For cycles this should be expanded to pedestrian crossings. Every now and again I come to crossings where the pedestrian has gone across long before the ‘green man’ only for the lights then to stop me – in cases like this the cyclist should be able to cross the red light in safety.

    • Cath 27/01/2012 at 12:12 pm #

      Same situation in Australia – at lots (but not all) of intersections both cars and cyclists are allowed to ‘turn left on red light if clear’. It works well, and is only allowed for appropriate intersections and particular times of day – i.e. not for big and busy intersections or at peak hour.

  15. Gareth 03/09/2010 at 1:23 pm #

    No. We are traffic and are safest when behaving, and when treated by other road users, as traffic. When we go through lights – whether illegally now, or legally as proposed, we become some hybrid of traffic and pedestrian and we cause confusion for pedestrians and motorists and cause risk of harm to ourselves and pedestrians. It won’t kill us to wait a minute or two at lights.

    • Filippo Negroni 03/09/2010 at 2:57 pm #

      The matter of fact is that roads are designed around cars and bigger vehicles, and pavements around pedestrians.
      We are hybrid vehicles and we should embrace that.
      I can easily mount on the pavement and where safe, proceed cycling when the main road is hogged by huge SUV’s not allowing safe filtering: would you rather stay behind one of those oil burners and inhale their farts?
      Matter of fact is the bicycles make us hybrids: we can move at the speed of traffic but also at the speed of pedestrians, and easily morph from one to the other.
      Alll IMHO of course.

  16. John 03/09/2010 at 2:57 pm #

    I think that’s where the current attitude is wrong, cyclists are not traffic, we are (and should be treated as) mechanised pedestrians – exactly a hybrid of pedestrian and traffic. On red lights take the exact same view as when walking, if you judge it safe to cross then you should cross. If a quiet one-way-street is between you and the alternative is a congested, busy main road then go up it. Pavements? debatable, but then they also fine pedestrians who wander along cycle lanes!!

  17. Gareth 03/09/2010 at 3:26 pm #

    Saying ‘matter of fact’ doesn’t mean that it is a matter of fact. We are traffic – we should behave as such and we should campaign for road-space increasingly to be designed for us as well as for cars etc. We put pedestrians at risk when we use the pavement. Not to mention that what you describe doing is currently illegal and can get you fined.

    • Filippo Negroni 03/09/2010 at 3:45 pm #

      I don’t put any pedestrian at risk: I can see a pedestrian well in advance. If I couldn’t see a pedestrian, how could I see cars? At that point I wouldn’t cycle, full stop. I am not a two ton vehicle pelting it down with restricted visibility. I proceed with caution at most at 6 MPH, while following my son on his scooter. I am not a danger to him, nor anyone else. And if I see a pedestrian I slow down or even dismount.

  18. Access Legal Guy 03/09/2010 at 3:57 pm #

    Gareth is correct here. Our road traffic laws indicate that we are fully entitled to use the road. In doing so we have a responsibility to do so lawfully.

    In fact, other than pedestrians we, as cyclists, have more access rights than any other group. Seeking to have a right that no other orad user has is wrong and will only increase the alienation that some motorists have towards cyclists. And all for teh saving of a few seconds.

  19. Corin 03/09/2010 at 4:38 pm #

    I agree with the people arguing cyclists are road users, not pedestrians or “pedestrians on wheels” (like roller skaters/skateboarders).

    I believe the law at present treats us as road users, and it is simply confusing to other road users and pedestrians to muddy the waters by sometimes using the roads and following road rules and then at other times switching to pavements or choosing which road rules to obey on the basis of the cyclist’s perception of a particular situation.

    I have to say I find it slightly irritating when cyclists talk of choosing a course of action based on what they can see and control. It doesn’t smack of respect for other road users and pedestrians who may not have seen the cyclist and behave, therefore, in unpredictable but understandable ways.

  20. Access Legal Guy 03/09/2010 at 4:57 pm #

    Corin’s point hits the nail on the head.

    As a cyclist I like to think that I’m a very good judge of the road and have a good vision of what’s around me. Yes, of course I think that I can use some common sense and safely turn left at red lights.

    From my experiance the vast majority of cyclists injured or worse on our roads are done so, not because of their actions but because of the action of others.

    Turning left at red lights would often mean that a cyclist is coming out of a potential blind spot of other road users and certainly be acting in a way that is not expected. Even if legal it would take years for motorists to accept or recognise it because we only take our driving test once in the UK.

    Putting all this into the mix together has the potential for a rise in injuriy statistics.

    • Mr Birch 03/09/2010 at 6:11 pm #

      Great points made there.

      I reckon it’s such a tired and weak case when it’s argued by a group that they have ‘common sense’ and know what they’re doing when everyday on our commutes to work we see plenty of examples of the exact opposite. A defence or attack on a law needs a much more robust argument than ” I don’t hurt or bother pedestrians”.

  21. Dani Riot 03/09/2010 at 5:37 pm #

    Not this old argument again. Red means stop, end of story.

  22. John 03/09/2010 at 6:31 pm #

    When you are turning left into a road that has a pedestrian crossing on it with a green man showing how can the pedestrians expect to be able to cross safely – they cant, they only have seconds now to cross, are they going to spend this time looking for bikes and then let them pass only to find the red man is now showing!
    It will just cause loads of accidents for us and what about at a red light where the on coming traffic has right of way to turn right, they are taking a wide swing to turn right infront of stationary traffic and someone on a bike shoots out to go around the corner! well it won’t be me, Wait and be as safe as you can for every bodies sake.

    • Filippo Negroni 03/09/2010 at 6:46 pm #

      I think you don’t understand how the system works for example in California, where most junctions allow it for cars.
      As you approach the red light you look to your left first for any oncoming traffic, and then, if clear, with caution, you proceed to turn right, giving way to pedestrians.
      It works, and works well because it allows a smooth flow of traffic.
      Yes, the onus is on the traffic to give way to pedestrians, so in case of accident the blame is on the driver.
      But then nobody is forcing anyone to turn on red: it is allowed if safe. If you don’t think it’s safe to turn, for whatever reason, it being you can’t see well or worry about a collision, you just don’t turn.
      How difficult can it be?

      • Gaz 03/09/2010 at 7:11 pm #

        But in California all vehicles can turn right on red, not just cyclists. And that is where the issue will be. Some cyclists make silly decisions whilst on the road and i can see the deaths of cyclists raising in capital cities if this is is applied and only cyclists are allowed to do so.

        • Filippo Negroni 03/09/2010 at 7:15 pm #

          You are telling me that only allowing cyclists is more risky than allowing HGV’s to do same?

          I see signs indicating that HGV’s can’t overtake cars on particular stretches of road.

          That means special exceptions are made.

          Why wouldn’t this work?

      • Gaz 03/09/2010 at 7:19 pm #

        The problem is you will get hordes of cyclists going up the inside of long queues at junctions so they can get to the ride like and turn left. What happens if the lights go green? they are going to be stuck in no mans land and the possibility of getting squashed is increased.
        I see this sort of thing happen on a daily basis as it is in london already. I can’t imagine what it will be like if this rule is brought into play.

        • Filippo Negroni 03/09/2010 at 7:21 pm #

          You worry about what would happen if all cyclists were morons.

          That way we’ll never move on.

      • Gaz 03/09/2010 at 7:24 pm #

        Worrying about that is a problem. But what is more important. Getting to our destination slightly faster, or keeping the deaths of cyclists down?
        I know which one I will pick.

        I know that it can be done safely around traffic, and i, as many others would do it correctly by going around the outside of the traffic and then coming across them and then turning right. But i’m just thinking about the bigger picture.

      • Mark 03/09/2010 at 9:02 pm #

        Exactly, Filippo!

    • Filippo Negroni 03/09/2010 at 6:52 pm #

      I would also like to point out that, at least in the continent (I am originally from Italy), pedestrian crossings regulated by traffic lights work in synch with the main flow: that is, if it is green for cars to proceed at a traffic light, so it is for the pedestrians travelling in the same direction.
      If a car is turning right at a junction, and it is green for pedestrians, the car waits for the pedestrians and then turns.
      Not all junctions work this way, but the ones that do, do not pause any additional risk to the pedestrian.
      I think sometimes people here in the UK think the roads are so unsafe when after 20 years living in the continent I can assure you UK roads are some of the safest, and this is not down to traffic lights, but thanks to roundabouts and general consideration from drivers of all vehicles and pedestrians.
      Infact, the roundabouts in Italy used to work the opposite to the way they work in the UK, until a decision was made that the UK system was a better one and was adopted, progressively. Confusing at first, where some roundabouts required you to give way to the right and stop ON the roundabout. But now it can be safely said that the pain was worth it.

      • Andrew 05/09/2010 at 8:15 am #

        In New Zealand (and probably other countries) we too have intersections where turning traffic has to give way to pedestrians crossing in the same direction as the green signal. It seems a little crazy at first but does work (except for the REALLY slow peds!)

        • Richard 27/02/2011 at 2:44 am #

          Same as Japan…I think that the system is bonkers. When you’re trying to turn right across traffic you often find that a pedestrian, or even worse, a cyclist, has appeared out of nowhere, blocking your path. You have to both wait for a gap in the traffic and look over your shoulder for pedestrians crossing from behind you as the same time.

          It naturally puts cars in conflict with humans…accidents happen all the time.

  23. K8 03/09/2010 at 6:44 pm #

    Two towns, Strasbourg and Bordeaux in France, have tried “tourne à droite au feu rouge” (right turn at red lights) at certain junctions. They have published the results of their trials and you can find these (in French) on their websites. These show that there have been no collisions and one of these towns wants to extend the scheme to all its junctions. I think both towns have created special traffic lights and signs to show road users who has priority. In both cases, I understand that pedestrians have priority.

    • Filippo Negroni 03/09/2010 at 6:54 pm #

      Not surprised. Makes sense.

      • John 03/09/2010 at 7:32 pm #

        Yes this is the fundamental point, if you have special lights that allow cyclists to turn left at a red light to other road users and a light on crossings warning say an orange man to cross but beware of cyclists then the system is workable.
        You say about ordinary left turns without traffic lights, yes I agree there are not endless accidents, why? because no one is under the impression they have a right of way eg no green man, no red light saying traffic is stopped.
        This will always be the problem of double standards where at some crossings there are not cyclists turning left and at others there are.
        We have Toucan crossings for bikes and pedestrians, have a similar system at red lights, but make it one that we we all know what to expect of others.

    • John90 03/09/2010 at 8:14 pm #

      Good to have some data rather than speculation.

      I voted yes, although I mostly turn left on red already if it is safe to do so. I thought almost all cyclists do that, I’m surprised it has generated as much debate as it has.

      I don’t think it will increase resentment. It will bring common practice (my perception/assumption) within the law and therefore in time make it more acceptable to all road users.

  24. Emo 03/09/2010 at 8:07 pm #

    Interesting. I can’t say since I don’t live there yet. But this brings up thoughts about when my wife was becoming accustomed to driving a car in the US, that indeed we can turn right on a red, unless a sign is posted not to and no one is coming from the left. Seems harmless enough. When she said it wasn’t allowed in the UK I think I just figured the was confused since everything was switched for her.

    I do find it very odd that you can’t turn left on a red. If you can see clearly both ways at the intersection, you should be able to hug the corner and get on your way. Very strange to me that you’re not already allowed to do it. But hey, it is what it is.

  25. Access Legal Guy 03/09/2010 at 9:00 pm #

    Andreas’ question here, is for cyclists only.

    I’m a ‘no’ to cyclists only, but would be much more open to it applying to all road traffic.

    Also, with all due respect, the roads of London are older than the US, let alone the road system there.

  26. christhebull 03/09/2010 at 10:17 pm #

    I think left turns at red should be allowed, although I respect that there are issues regarding the temptation of undertaking large vehicles, and “give way” signs or makings at the pedestrian crossing may also be needed, because vehicles turning into a minor road from a major road have to give way to pedestrians crossing the mouth of said road.

    Ideally, cycle lanes should be wide enough to act as a left turn filter lane, and should be protected with a kerb where motor vehicles are likely to intrude – as it is, many “feeder” lanes for ASLs are barely the width of a set of handlebars and are often obstructed by motor traffic (sometimes the ASL is also blocked). Unfortunately London’s cyclists are being shafted with sub-standard infrastructure such as the ridiculous Superhypeways.

    Left turns on red (or right turns on red in some countries) are not an issue where cyclists are provided with a separate track along the side of the road, which is the case in the Netherlands and certain other locations such as Munich, but it is still allowed there in the absence of such a track if specifically signed.

    Another consideration is that increasing numbers of traffic lights have all way stops so that all directions of pedestrian movement have a green man. Oxford Circus has such a configuration, but there are other, quieter, locations lacking the diagonal crossings where cyclists could be allowed to continue in any direction on red after stopping. A separate signal indicating this would be necessary so that the cyclist did not proceed through red with traffic going across his path.

    • Gaz 04/09/2010 at 2:21 pm #

      Not really, as that driver is turning left on green and doesn’t see the motorcyclist.

    • Nick 05/09/2010 at 2:48 pm #

      Yeah, that’s the equivalent of turning right across oncoming traffic here.

  27. Phil Russell 04/09/2010 at 10:28 pm #

    Only turn left at red lights in red tights.

  28. Andrew 05/09/2010 at 8:48 am #

    Ever since I visited the USA over 10 years ago I thought turning left at red signals (after first stopping and looking) should be allowed for all road users. Whether it is allowed or denied by exception (with signs or lights?) is another debate, but I think it would improve traffic flows.

    I still voted YES to this ‘cyclists only’ question, and there is some merit in giving this right to cyclists only (slower speeds, better visibility, less risk to crossing pedestrians) but allowing vehicles to flow better would also benefit cyclists.

  29. Nick 05/09/2010 at 2:55 pm #

    Surely if you want more people cycling rather than driving, having drivers sat waiting as cyclists sail on through (when it’s safe, etc.) would increase people’s frustration with their cars. Which is (in some ways) a good thing. No? I used to drive some days, cycle some days, but after getting fed up with sitting in traffic all the time I’m now cycling all the time. Freeing up the flow for cyclists just makes cycling all the more attractive a proposition, at least for me it did.

  30. Lexxxx 07/09/2010 at 10:18 am #

    I don’t know if i think this is a great idea, for me personally i just think waiting at red lights is part of cycling, driving, walking in a city – everyone has to do it. but certainly I do disagree with the contention that it is sad that laws change slowly; it is vital that assessments, trials and perhaps even some form of democracy are involved in the process instead of fast-tracking things through

  31. Access Legal Guy 07/09/2010 at 10:46 am #

    We have to ask ourselves if changing the law for all traffic to turn left at red could increase risk for cyclists.

    The risk is thus, it will encourage cyclists to filter along the left hand side, a dangerous place for a cyclist to be, at the same time as vehicles are intending to turn left. This takes the cyclist into many a motor vehicles blind spot and certainly out of sight of all other vehicles.

    I agree that experianced cyclists may be comfortable with this and their own skill, however it takes away any calculation of what others around you may or may not do.

  32. William K Wallace 11/09/2010 at 5:22 pm #

    Your having a laugh, most cyclists dont spend any time at red lights!…99% of cyclists are colour blind and think that the lights are always at green…

  33. John Somers 27/01/2012 at 6:43 pm #

    While I do agree with this concept and would love to see a large scale trial in a relatively large metropolitan town/city before it is pushed out nationwide but…..(and I don’t like saying this really) this relies on the use of common sense a little too much for me to fully support it’s role out, outside of some towns and cities!

    This lack of common sense is across the spectrum and I have observed some Darwinism lack of this far too often while cycling through London on Marylebone/Euston Road in particular when I’ve been pile driven in to by a following cyclist when I stopped at a red light that he obviously wasn’t going to stop at!

    If there was a physical filtering system to allow this to happen, it would have my full support as it would provide a little bit of a barrier to prevent a motorist from ploughing in to the cyclist while they joined the carriageway – but that would cost money that isn’t there to build on every junction so by only having a few junctions enabled for this to happen would introduce confusion which WILL lead to incidents/accidents.

    So until a satisfactory method to protect cyclists when joining the carriageway has been fitted, I have to say no don’t allow it …..yet!

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