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Red Light Jumping Cyclists – Is it really that bad?

The issue of cyclists running red lights comes up often in social media and of course the very fact that we have red light cameras conveniently gets over looked, as does the number of people killed and families destructed by “road rage” on our roads by the very group of road users most complaining about cyclists. The Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC) Catalyst program recently took a look at road rage and again raised the issue of cyclists running red lights so I thought an updated blog post on the topic was warranted. So is it really as bad as the social media participants and the newspapers like to make it out to be?

Well I would suggest it is not, definitely not in comparison to the level of risk and the real outcomes that come from motorists running red lights and the view that orange is now the new green (see I can make unsubstantiated claims to).
Some interesting research findings on red light jumping by cyclists shed some light on the topic:
Johnson, Newstead, Charlton and Oxley (2011) in a study of Melbourne cyclists at 10 intersections between October 2008 and April 2009 found 6.9% of cyclist where non-compliant, i.e., ran red lights. This compares to report non-compliance rates of 7 to 9% by motorists (Daff and Barton, 2005; Johnson, Charlton & Oxley, 2008). However the numbers do not tell all the story as Johnson et al note ” travel direction, specifically turning left, was the greatest predictor of infringement. Cyclists may perceive turning left to be a relatively safe manoeuvre since they are exposed to fewer points of conflict from cross traffic and cross traffic did have a deterrent effect and the perception of safety and opportunity to infringe decreased as the cross traffic volume increased.” This compares to the perceived need to install red-light cameras at intersections despite similar levels of non-compliance by motorists. I would suggest that the negative outcomes from those 7 to 9% of non-complying motorists are far greater than those 7% of cyclists.
This view is further supported by the findings of the Lindsay (2013) who found that only one crash in the 61 crashes making up the sample was caused by a cyclist running a red light, yep only one, yet some 79% of the crashes was the fault of motorists.

Johnson, Charlton, Oxley & Newstead (2013) found that whilst red light infringement is a risk to other road users they noted that cyclists’ red light running leads to few crashes. The authors refer to three studies which show that 1.8% of UK red light running incidents led to crashes; 6.5% of Queensland red light runners crashed and in Brazil red light running by cyclists was not significantly associated with crashes. The “noise” on the issue just does not collate to the facts or the real versus perceived dangers of cyclists running red lights.
Now don’t get me wrong, I prefer cyclists to stop at red lights, but I much more prefer motorists to do it! I really don’t want to be injured or worse by a motorist failing to stop, so stop whining at cyclists and learn what green, orange and red really mean please.

Edit January 27, 2015. I saw this image posted on the European Cyclists Federation Facebook page. It is a “go through the red-light sign” advising people riding bicycles that they can go through the red light. Interestingly that once again the Europeans are being smart about road-rules designed for the vehicle type rather than road rules designed for motor vehicles being forced on to other vehicle types irrespective of any proper risk assessment of the rule or behaviour.

Go-through the red light sign for bicycle riders

Go-through the red light sign for bicycle riders

References

Daff, M., Barton, T., 2005. Marking Melbourne’s Arterial Roads to Assist Cyclists.
Johnson, M, Charlton, J., Oxley, J., 2008. Cyclists and red lights—a study of the behaviour of commuter cyclist in Melbourne. In: Australasian Road Safety Research, Policing and Education Conference, Adelaide, 10–12 November.
Johnnson, Newstead, Charlton & Oxley (2011). Riding through red lights: The rate, characteristics and risk factors of non-compliant urban commuter cyclists. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 43(1), 323-328.

6 Responses to Red Light Jumping Cyclists – Is it really that bad?

  1. Ride2Wk September 29, 2013 at 7:14 PM #

    Good to see a very balance article on this subject that gets so much inappropriate attention from motorists. Well done.

    Personally I think motorists who whinge about bikes breaking road rules are just hypocrites. Most motorists break far more road rules than most cyclists but they either don’t even know they are breaking rules (e.g. rules 72 & 73 pedestrians have right of way over vehicles turning in or out of side streets. Read the definitions carefully and bikes on paths along the main road also have right of way. But it’s rare that drivers actually give way.) Ignorance is no excuse. Or they justify it as “everybody else does it” e.g. speeding 10kmh over the limit. Then they call speeding tickets “revenue raising” without realising the effect extra speed has on reaction & stopping distances and the damage that little bit of extra speed has on a human body.

    Another thing that most people don’t realise is that if the traffic lights are “inoperable” then vehicles can proceed after giving way as if there were no lights. Too many traffic lights fail to detect bikes and there are not always cars around to trigger the lights for us. So the lights are “inoperable” for bikes. To expect bikes to go up onto the footpath (illegal in some states) or dismount and walk to push the pedestrian button is discriminatory as far as I’m concerned. If the State want bikes to comply with red lights at all times of day, then the road authorities need to set the adjustment of detector loops to detect bikes not just cars.

  2. David June 14, 2014 at 12:34 AM #

    http://bikeleague.org/content/bike-law-university-idaho-stop

    See this for evidence based research that I found matching my benign experience with the practice.

    Beware that people can post on a cycling forum purporting to be cyclists yet it doesn’t qualify them for understanding such a simple cycling concept when competing with their lifelong conditioning of legality = morality.

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