All the cyclists are patiently waiting at a traffic light. Should they jump it instead?
Risking a fine
For a start, if they were caught, they would be issued with a £50 Fixed Penalty Notice. In 2013, over 4,000 cyclists were issued a Fixed Penalty Notice after jumping a red light or ignoring a road sign.
Aside from a potential fine, there’s a question of endangering pedestrians. According to statistics provided by TfL, between 1998 to 2007, 4% of pedestrian injuries were the result of red light jumping by cyclists. With the remaining 96% involving motor vehicles.
What about endangering themselves? Between 2001 and 2005, two cyclists were killed by red light jumping. In the same period, seven motorcyclists were killed in the same way. More recently, there is only one case recorded where a cyclist “most likely” jumped a red light, though this wasn’t given as the cause of death.
According to a report by the CTC:
“In 2012, ‘Disobeyed automatic traffic signal’ was assigned by police to 180 pedal cycles out of 13,212 involved in reported incidents where contributory factor(s) were assigned to one or more of the vehicles involved.”
This means that in 1% of incidents, red light jumping was a factor.
How many of us are actually jumping red lights?
We all have our own ideas of how many cyclists are actually jumping red lights. The reality is, we can’t trust our anecdotal evidence. After all, a cyclist waiting patiently at a traffic light isn’t noteworthy to us, so it hardly registers. Whereas a cyclist jumping a red light will definitely attract our attention.
Most surveys, such as this controversial one by the Institute of Advanced Motorists, have sought to paint an image that red light jumping is pandemic. However, upon closer examination they feature a self selecting audience of a small sample size and they rely on the honesty of respondents.
The most authoritative source is a TfL study conducted in 2007 at five different locations around London. Researchers observed that out of 7502 cyclists, 16% jumped a red light.
Whether 16% is unacceptably high or low is up for debate. Sadly, I couldn’t find a conclusive comparable survey of the percentage of drivers that jump red lights or disobey the speed limit. For the speed limit, some observational surveys suggested 18% and others as high as 75%.
Why do cyclists jump red lights?
There are of course cyclists that jump red lights because they know they can get away with it, they are too lazy to wait or they enjoy the short respite it provides from cycling in traffic.
The most common argument is that it is safer to jump a red light. There have been cases where cyclists have been killed or injured whilst waiting at a red light from a heavy goods vehicle that hasn’t seen them.
I’m sure anyone that has sat on a bicycle at a traffic light next to a heavy goods vehicle or an aggressive driver will attest to the feeling of safety from getting away from that situation as fast possible.
In our recent piece about five of the greatest dangers cyclists face in London, heavy goods vehicles are right at the top.
Other anecdotal evidence suggests that red light jumping cyclists are less likely to be in a collision, because they are more confident cyclists.
So should you jump red lights?
I obey red lights for one good reason. Perception.
When the occasional cyclist jumps a red light, he or she creates a bad image for all cyclists in the minds of other road users. The knock on effects are many:
- Drivers think that cyclists are rule breakers and treat them with less respect on the roads
- People write in to their politicians and police about the menace of cyclists
- The debate about cycling doesn’t move on beyond “but don’t cyclists jump red lights“
- The media feeds on the anger motorists feel and reports on red light jumping, which then fuels more anger
- When it comes to politicians making decisions about providing safer infrastructure to cyclists, this negative perception clouds judgement
If you’re still going to choose to jump red lights whether it be for safety or for other reasons, then at least watch out for vulnerable pedestrians and do so cautiously.
Before you leave a comment on this post
Like the debate on helmet use, the question of red light jumping always flares up some heated commenting. What I’ve tried to put together here is a well reasoned post and I’d like the comments to focus on reasoning over anecdotal evidence and the emotions that rule breaking brings up. As always, any posts with swearing will be removed.