Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Red Lights, and Red Herrings.

Let me get one thing straight from the start. I don't red light jump. I don't feel a need for it.

Right. Glad I got that out the way.

Some people on bikes do red light jump. That's a fact. I am though, as I have pointed out on numerous occasions, not guilty of the sins of others, and thus their red light jumping in no way whatsoever reflects on my cycling.

No matter how many times I or others refute it of course, many commentators use red light jumping as a crutch upon which to build their arguments. Just today Mr Loophole, though he didn't  say it specifically suggest that behaviour like it justifys the need for bike registration and legislation.

You can listen to the interview here.

Yes, we've heard it all before. But it got me thinking......

Why is it that we actually have rules on the road? Why don't we just let everyone get on with it? Surely everyone would do their best, to avoid getting killed? Well, history tells us different, and it all began with men with red flags, running in front of cars. Today we have strict rules and regulations that are there for a reason....to protect us from risk.

Driving a car is associated with risk. When you drive a car you are propelling a 1 tonne hunk of metal, plastic and fabric along at high speed. It has considerable momentum and has the potential for surprisingly considerable destruction.

Cycling on the other hand is, as Carlton Reid put in the interview above is.'a benign form of transport'. Now neither of us are claiming that cycling is risk free with regards to other road users. It is entirely possible for a cyclist to kill someone. It is however a very small risk, possibly not too dissimilar to someone accidentally running into someone and knocking them over if they are out jogging.

In that same interview (above), Mr Loophole (Nick Freeman) who is a lawyer known to get drivers 'off' charges, suggested that we need 'legislation to help identify cyclists', 'legislation to allow cyclists to be banned' and we 'need to force cyclists to wear helmets'.

I'm not going to touch on the helmets. That is dealt with very well elsewhere. I'm going to focus on one particular type of 'transgression' that Mr Loophole is almost certainly referring to.

Red light jumping.

I'll focus on that as it is something that many hate, many think is dangerous and because it has accurate statistics associated with it.

First the stats.

The source for this table can be found here. TFL

This table discusses the cause of cyclist casualties in London, a particularly busy (by UK standards) city for cycling. It shows the top five causes. Interestingly the top 5, contrary to what many might believe or suggest, does not include cyclists red light jumping. In fact the top 5 reasons are not the cyclists fault at all, they are the drivers fault.

The actual rate of cyclists accidents which are caused by cyclists running red lights, something that 'many apparently do', is 2% according to the Department for Transport.

It would appear that the nasty cyclists who are cycling terribly and running red lights are actually doing it..... umm, errr,.....well.....safely. The risk of cyclists, running red lights appears to be very small.

This got me thinking, as did this incident that I recorded the other day on my camera.

I was annoyed at the time, but the reality is that what they did was very, very safe. None of them were riding fast, none of them endangered anyone, and I'm certain that had someone been crossing, that they would either have stopped or cycled past with plenty of room to spare.

So running red lights is generally safe for cyclists to do, it would appear.

Then today I read the news from Paris that there, at certain traffic lights (almost certainly like this one), cyclists would be allowed to run the red light.

Now let me make this clear. I don't condone red light jumping here in the UK and I won't be doing it, but the reality is that cycling through a red, if done with care, is very rarely risky to anyone.

OK, so what's my point?!

My point is that the very thing that Mr Loophole and friends, get all worked up about...dangerous lycra louts, blah, blah blah, is a whopping great red herring. Cycling really is a benign form of transport. The health benefits to the nation as a whole far, FAR, FAR, outweigh the very small risk that cyclists pose to others and themselves.

The real risk, to everyone on the roads, are those that drive the 1 tonne plus of metal around.

That's not anti-car in any way, remember I drive one myself (and not a small one), it's just a fact.

So what of the law?

Well, when it comes to road law, its purpose is to keep those who use the roads safe. Road law is not there to pander to Mr Loophole and Mr Angry (perhaps the same person). Just because many are ignorant of the real risks and get angry when a cyclist runs a red light, or pavement cycles or God forbid...legally rides two abreast.....does not mean any new laws or registration is required. What it does demonstrate is that people get angry for no good reason and they often take that anger out on the cyclist, who is an easy target.

The answer, as I have said, many, many times, is to change our infrastructure, something that Mr Loophole and I agree on.

I did laugh though when Mr Loophole said

'Cyclists riding on our roads'.

No. They are not your roads. They are everyone's road. The problem is that they are currently designed as roads exclusively for the motor car. It's time we all took them back.


  1. Basically in the 112 years we have had legislation for the motor car, as opposed to considering it a light road locomotive (pre 1903) it has been recognised that the keeper of a motor vehicle needs to have sufficient resources to settle any civil claim for which they are liable, due to the damage or injury caused by the presence of that motor vehicle on the road at the locus of an incident.

    Because of the scale of damage and injury that can arise the law required that the keeper (ie generally the driver) of the car had to prove sufficient resources in cash would be available to pay-up. Currently you can avoid having to buy car insurance, but I think the figure of £0.5m in readily available cash has to be deposited as the insurance bond. Most car owners do not have such cash resources available and thus opt for paying someone to underwrite their liability.

    Cyclists do also have such civil liability, as do pedestrians but unlike the driver of a motor vehicle weighing between 10 and 20 times the weight of its occupant, the scale of damage and injury caused by a cyclist on a bike weighing between a tenth and a fifth of the rider's weight, is little different from a pedestrian colliding with another person or property. Most household contents insurance policies cover the householder and family for third party liability in the course of their everyday use of the streets, on foot, and usually on a cycle, with a similar exception to that applied to car insurance, that the car or cycle is not being used in any competitive activity - for that most cyclists join British Cycling, as their membership includes provision for competitive cycling activity insurance cover.

    A great read is traffic law, especially those fine Victorian laws drafted using the term 'carriage' for any wheeled vehicle, so that for each development the law simply defined the new vehicles as carriages - the cycle in 1888 (with case law setting this out in 1878) and the motor car in 1903. Hence the Highways Act 1835 Section 72 still applies to any carriages being driven or ridden on a footway (in England & Wales*) but curiously the Police fail to deal with the biggest offenders - in motor cars, whilst pouncing on cyclists with great vigour.

    *Section 129.5 of Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 applies here.

  2. Good article, and correctly nails this issue as the road safety red herring that it is.
    My red light jumping is legal these days (Nantes piloted the scheme Paris is now introducing), and of course it's fine, though it should be noted that French junction rules have always been different from the UK's, as vehicular turns across a green pedestrian phase are often permitted if there are no pedestrians crossing.
    But as someone who once advocated the practice on London's roads in the pages of Time Out, where it was certainly illegal, I'd put a couple of points.
    As the French are currently recognizing, providing courtesy and priority is *always* given to pedestrians ("le pièton est roi"), the practice of cyclists treating a red light + stop line, as a simple stop line is harmless, and indeed likely to be safer for a couple of reasons.
    As your diagram illustrates above, the main danger comes from the side. So if cyclists can make their moves at a junction when there is less chance of such side traffic (because it is stationary), so much the better. And with or without an advanced stop line (un "sas vélo" en français) it is generally preferable to wait with a good overview of all movement at the junction, then manoeuvre with respect to the traffic not the light.
    Air pollution levels fall off sharply with distance from motor vehicles; lower pollution doses will therefore obtain when cyclists shorten their red phase observance. Equally, motor traffic held at the light has the opportunity to observe the departing cyclist's path, giving plenty of time to anticipate and adjust their subsequent trajectory. When there are successive signalised junctions, the brisk cyclist who shortens his or her wait at the red phase will often enjoy the illusion that they have the road pretty much to themselves. This increased efficiency of utilisation of a public resource will surely warm everyone's heart?
    Finally, my punchline for that Time Out article, and it bears repeating here, was that I had little sympathy of cyclists who got tickets from the police when there was a crackdown. "If you're not paying enough attention to spot the cops," I wrote, "you're not paying enough attention to jump the light."
    Of course the rules should change—"the pedestrian is king" wouldn't be a bad place to start—and of course, if the police wish to maximise their road safety effectiveness, they'd direct their attention at enforcement of the rules against bad driving, particularly speeding and mobile phone use, not hassle cyclists.

    1. As noted over a decade ago by the 5000 cyclist OxCam Survey, the number of cyclists admitting to riding through red signals to turn left, or cross the 'top' of a T junction is proportionately far higher than the crash statistics would appear to indicate.

      The survey concluded that this behaviour was inherently safe, with a low crash rate relative to the number of violations and the demand for the facility made the practice an 'acceptable' violation in the minds of the cyclists doing it.

  3. In Paris the majority of traffic signals are on a fixed cycle I.e they will often show red when no opposing/crossing traffic is present. in the UK the majority of signals are traffic-activated

    1. Do please show me a set of motor traffic activated signals in Glasgow, and pretty much most other major cities in the UK now - most operate on fixed cycles, and only the pedestrians and cyclists lose out by having their special phases made 'optional' - either only when pressed or sensed, or locked out at night.

  4. How can number 4 in the list be the drivers fault? A cyclist would only be hit in this situation if he was under taking whilst a driver was turning left. That's clearly the cyclists fault isn't it?

    1. I would expect this stat is more likely to be where a car overtakes and then turns left.

    2. ...or doesn't check his blind spot before crossing a cycle path.

    3. You seem to be assuming that the cyclist is faster than the car while the reverse is more often true. The problem is known as a "left hook" and is something the majority of cyclists will have experienced, even if it hasn't been close enough to cause more than annoyance. Just search for left hook on YouTube and (besides boxing videos) I'm sure you'll find plenty of examples

  5. I cycle too but a red lights a red light. If the bike can pass as their was no risk, should a car not be given the same option?

  6. Ah, another player in the 'Ban Bikes' conspiracy emerges.

    “was the ghost writer of The Art of the Loophole: Making the Law Work for You by celebrity lawyer Nick Freeman”


    Their hidden agenda is 'Ban Bikes from Main Roads' - what can we do to pre-empt it ?