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The latest debate: Should cyclists be allowed to skip red lights?

vt blog the latest debate: Should cyclists be allowed to skip red lights?

Posted on 28th Sep, 2015 by Jonathan Peach

With recent changes on Paris’ roads allowing cyclists to jump a red light, we’re asking whether this new change really will make the city’s roads safer? The new scheme, designed to make roads safer, has gone down a success in Paris, but would we really want to try a similar scheme here in the UK? In today’s blog we’re looking at the good and the bad to find out whether cyclists should be allowed to skip red lights. 

Cyclists on the road: the facts

In its rules for cyclists, The Highway Code clearly outlines that cyclists must not cross the stop line when traffic lights are red. However, following a recent experiment, the Paris authorities have given cyclists permission to turn right at a cross-junction at a red light. They’ve also allowed another red-light jumping scenario, where cyclists can now continue straight on at a T-junction, through a red light, when the road is on their left. The reasoning behind these changes is to improve road safety and the flow of cycle traffic – both of which proved to be a success in recent experiments.

Jumping red lights isn’t new. Research, by the City of London, has revealed that a certain proportion of all road users ignore red lights at traffic signals, including cyclists. In fact, over 4,000 cyclists were issued a Fixed Penalty Notice after being caught jumping a red light, or ignoring other road signs, in 2013. While this behaviour is illegal, the risks posed to cyclists by jumping red lights are actually very low, with approximately four percent of collisions between cyclists and other road users being due to cyclists failure to obey traffic signals/signs. However, is this figure low enough to support a change in the law?

The good

The National Cycling Charity outlined a number of reasons why cyclists tend to jump red lights. The main reason behind red-light jumping was that cyclists tend to feel safer moving into open spaces at junctions, rather than waiting with fellow road users who often accelerate into the junction when lights turn green. It is also thought that allowing cyclists to proceed through a red light is safer, because it means they avoid getting caught beside trucks and buses as they wait for lights to change. What’s more, it’s collisions with buses and trucks that are the origin of a lot of accidents on the road.

The bad

Despite these demands for change, there have been incidents that clearly highlight the risk of cyclists being allowed to drive straight through red lights. In December 2013 a cyclist was jailed for twelve months after jumping a red light, knocking down a nine-year-old girl and leaving the scene. The cyclist collided with the girl at approximately 30mph after he failed to stop at the red light and she stepped out onto the pedestrian crossing. So, the question is, do the infrequency of such incidents like these really outweigh the frequency of collisions that occur when cyclists do stop at a red light?

That’s what we’ll soon be finding out…

What do you think about this new potential policy change? Do you think cyclists should be able to skip red lights? Whatever your opinion, share it with us in the comments below or tweet us @VisionTechnique