Often when the subject of cycling comes up over the dinner table the subject of cyclists running lights is soon raised. I often find this rather amusing as last time I checked I thought we had red light cameras in place; you know those expensive fancy cameras to capture evil cyclists running red lights right? Nope, sorry they are there because of you and me as motorists. Yep it is our driving which puts others at serious risk of injury or worse death, not because a cyclist runs a red light. An issue that is so bad we have to have cameras in place and in my experience not enough cameras given the new world view that “orange is green.” So maybe it is time for some reflection before we blame those evil cyclists yet again.
All that said, researchers at the Monash University Accident Research Centre have undertaken research to shed some insights into cyclists’ decisions to run red lights and have a published a paper sharing their findings.
The paper is titled Why do cyclists infringe at red lights? An investigation of Australian cyclists’ and is published in Accident Analysis and Prevention in 2013.
The authors note that their study investigates the behavioural, attitudinal and traffic factors contributing to red light infringement by Australian cyclists. The study is about cyclists attitude towards red light running and not the outcomes of such activities.
The authors suggest that red light running is one of the most obvious illegal behaviours of all road users including cyclists but I would beg to differ and suggest that speeding, failing to give-away, tailgating and the list goes on are all obvious illegal behaviours commonly observed among motorised vehicular traffic; red light running is one that stands out for cyclists as they don’t tend to engage in the other illegal activities due to being human-powered, i.e., cannot ride that fast for that long to be a serious offended.
Whilst red light infringement is a risk to other road users the authors note that cyclists’ red light running leads to few crashes. Yep, cyclists’ evil behaviour 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.
Despite this cyclist red light running is seen as an annoyance by drivers, is portrayed in the Australian media as a slight on society and of course results in “endless calls” for more police enforcement. Personally I would rather see police enforcing motorists running orange and red lights … you know those incidents that are likely to result in serious injury or worse.
Okay so we have some context to the matter at hand but why do cyclists run red lights even though it is perceived to bring upon them the wrath of the community and the media?
The authors surveyed via many online websites between February and May 2010 in total 2,061 Australian cyclists age of 18 years or older. In summary two primary questions were asked of the respondents”
- When you are riding do you stop at red lights?
- When would you ride through a red light?
The paper should be read for the full analysis but in summary the authors found that:
- 37.3% or 1/3 third of cyclists reported previously red light jumping;
- Male cyclists are more likely to jump a red light than female cyclists;
- Cyclists who had previously been involved in a bicycle-related crash were more likely to jump a red light than those respondents who had not been involved in a bicycle-related crash;
- The greatest number (32%) of red light jumpers where left-turners. Not surprising given there is some support for the allowance for left-turning on red lights;
- The second reason for red light jumping (24% of respondents) was given as not being able to activate the traffic signal in their favour. I will put my hand up here to having done this once at 3:00 AM in the morning.
- The third most common reason (16.6%) was no other road user, vehicular or pedestrian was present.
- A relatively small number of respondents (10.7%) indicating that they engage in “red-man” jumping at red lights. I can relate to this as there some intersections in Perth were the synchronisation is shocking. Karrinyup Road/Mitchell Freeway northbound exit comes to mine for starters. MainRoads WA really needs a serious attitude change on these intersections.
In respect to red-light jumping while turning left, the authors make a couple of points which in my view have some merit:
while it is currently illegal in Victoria [Australia] for any road user to travel through or make a left turn at any intersection against a red light, there may be some merit in considering allowing cyclists to turn left on red from a safety perspective. Recently, permitting cyclists to turn left on the red light was suggested as a possible solution to the increase in the number of cyclist-heavy vehicle collisions that have resulted in cyclist fatalities in the UK (Dominiczak, 2010). Permitting cyclists to turn left would eliminate the need for cyclists and drivers to negotiate the turn together and reduce the potential for conflict.
An additional benefit in permitting cyclists to turn left during a red light phase may be a reduction in cyclist travel time.
This may increase the desirability of cycle travel as a faster option, particularly in peak travel times. This in turn may lead to an increase in the number of people cycling and subsequently a strengthening of the safety in numbers effect (Jacobsen, 2003).
Overall this paper is insightful and whilst for more informed cyclists may have a element of “whats new” it also is one worth bringing up at the dinner table. May time for some mature discussion and self-reflection.
The paper’s full citation follows
and a copy can be downloaded from Dropbox folder [due to a request by a Matthew Stratton at Elsevier to Dropbox the copy of the paper has been removed. It seems that the research funded by Australian taxpayers is comercial property of Elsevier]:
Johnson, M., Charlton, J. Oxley, J. & Newstead, S. (2013). Why do cyclists infringe at red lights? An investigation of Australian cyclists’s reasons for red light infringement. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 50, 870-847.