Seeing red: Why cyclists ride through traffic lights

Mar 26, 2013 by Marilyn Johnson, The Conversation
We all know the rules, and yet some of us seem happy to break them. Credit: Looking Glass

You've probably seen it happen. You're driving your car and you come to a stop at the traffic lights. You're mindful of traffic infringement fines and public safety, then someone on a bike rides past you, unconcerned, straight through the red lights.

Riding through red lights is arguably the most hated cyclist behaviour – but why does it happen? Are cyclists just recalcitrant law breakers? Is the answer to fine every cyclist who rides through every ? Or is there a bigger picture?

We conducted a – the results of which were published in Accident Analysis and Prevention earlier this year – in which 2,061 cyclists were asked the following question:

When you are riding do you stop at red lights?

The majority (63%) said yes, while over a third (37%) said they had ridden through a red light at some time when they were riding.

What follows are the main reasons given by those who had ridden through a red light.

"I was turning left"

Turning left against the red light was the most common reason cyclists gave for infringement (32%), with safety and continued travel cited as the main motivations.

Some respondents considered it was safer to turn left against the red than to wait for the green light. Going through meant they would clear the intersection ahead of turning motorised vehicle traffic, considered safer than negotiating the turn with cars.

There was a that there was little risk from the crossing vehicle traffic as cyclist ride close to the curb and do not enter the line of traffic.

Continued travel was also a benefit of this infringement type with some respondents treating some intersections as a yield, or give-way.

Indeed at some locations in Australia (the image on the left was taken in Canberra) and internationally, all users are permitted to turn left on a red signal at some intersections.

Road users must come to a complete stop, give way to and turn any time when it is safe to do so.

In some states in the US, with right-side travel, right turn on red is legal at most intersections. In the UK, the idea of allowing cyclists to turn left on red was suggested in 2010 to address an increase in cyclist-truck conflicts at intersections.

"The loop doesn't detect my bike"

Almost a quarter of respondents (24.2%) reported they infringed because they were unable to change the red light to green, as the inductive loop embedded in the asphalt did not detect their bike.

Credit: Marilyn Johnson

The way the respondents described this scenario followed a similar pattern. On previous trips they had ridden to the and there were no vehicles present.

Despite riding over different sections of road, or waiting for long periods, they were unable to activate the signal change. On subsequent trips – based on that experience – the respondent would ride through the red light.

This typically occurred when riders were travelling early in the morning or later in the evening; but at some intersections, cyclists experienced this at at any time of the day.

This justification has been somewhat controversial in some Australian jurisdictions, with road authorities adamant that all cyclists can activate a signal change at all locations.

While this may be true, this has not been the experience for some cyclists who currently do not know the exact location they need to ride over to activate the signal change.

One simple and cost-effective solution is to clearly mark the location on the road that cyclists need to ride over to be detected by the sensor. A combination of bike symbol and a line of diamond shapes is already on the road at some intersections in Australia.

For the effort of a stencil and a bucket of paint, this solution enables cyclists to actively engage in the road network and affirms to the community that road authorities recognise the legitimacy of cyclists as road users.

Alternatively, it may be that, in fact, some locations do not detect bicycles. If this is the case, work needs to be undertaken, as it is clearly a gap in the road system.

Removing this blind-spot on the roads, where cyclists are invisible to the signalling system, may result in fewer cyclists riding through red lights.

"There were no other road users"

This reason is related to the previous one: without vehicles, cyclists couldn't change the light to green (so again, a stencil and paint could provide the solution). But this one is also related to behavioural norms.

The presence of other road users – whether cyclists or drivers – can have a deterrent effect on the likelihood of infringement. Simply put, some cyclists are more likely to break the law if no-one is watching.

"It was a pedestrian crossing"

One in ten respondents had infringed at a pedestrian crossing (10.7%). This behaviour was seen as carrying little risk as the rider continues to travel straight and there is no interaction with other vehicles.

But for pedestrians there can be fatal consequences, as evidenced by the death of Mr James Gould who was struck by a cyclist riding in a bunch that had ridden through a red light at a pedestrian crossing on Melbourne's Beach Road in 2006.

In addition, some cyclists infringed when they were riding across the pedestrian crossing, as they would cross as a pedestrian, effectively jay-cycling.

Interestingly, an individual's previous behaviour was also related to infringement. who had been fined for driving through a red light had 1.5-times higher odds of infringement when cycling, compared to those who had not been fined when driving.

For some people, it seems, going through a red light is acceptable behaviour whether they are on two wheels or four.

Fewer problems, more solutions

There is definitely a role for enforcement to reduce the number of cyclists who ride through red lights. As with any other road user, cyclists need to be held accountable for illegal and potentially dangerous behaviour.

The current education campaign by the Amy Gillett Foundation, Ride Right – Ride Rules, focuses on cyclist behaviour, and the first rule is Stop on Red.

Increased red light compliance is likely to improve cyclists' image, and the attitudes some road users hold towards cyclists.

But this is just part of the answer. There are gaps in our road network and perhaps we need to begin to consider the safety benefits for in relation to their characteristics, rather than blanketing everyone with the same rules as car drivers.

It may be it's safer for everyone if cyclists turned left at some intersections during the red light phase, and a trial of this could provide insights.

Adding symbols to indicate where need to ride to activate lights is a necessary and positive step to creating a road system that's cyclist-inclusive.

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Doug_Huffman
2.5 / 5 (11) Mar 26, 2013
Look to the US state Idaho where cyclists yield on stop signs legally. Stop signs reinforce right-of-way rules and stop-look-listen caution unneeded by an exposed cyclist. The infrastructure for safe and efficient cycling is extant. Only an object lesson will cure a risky individual cyclist. Oz' experience with mandaDAMNtory hellmuts should be informative.
Shootist
1.8 / 5 (25) Mar 26, 2013
Seeing red: Why cyclists ride through traffic lights


Because, at heart, they are elitist pukes who care nothing for anyone other than themselves.
Blakut
1 / 5 (2) Mar 26, 2013
I always stop at red lights because i was a driver before i was a cyclist. I'm cycling now because it's cheaper and faster for me. also, left in the article becomes right, if you're not riding cars like the british.
DavidW
2.5 / 5 (18) Mar 26, 2013
Seeing red: Why cyclists ride through traffic lights


Because, at heart, they are elitist pukes who care nothing for anyone other than themselves.


The truth is, we are all equal. When a person falsely identifies others they have falsely identified their self. What you are calling other people a result of how you see yourself.

The good news is you are not an "elitist puke".

The bad news is you understand "elitist puke" better than you understand yourself.
dschlink
3.4 / 5 (8) Mar 26, 2013
Every time bicyclists in Portland demand stricter enforcement at an intersection, 90-95% of the tickets go to bicyclists! One recent 2-hr enforcement effort netted 4 drivers and 49 bicyclists.

DW -
"The truth is, we are all equal." Nothing like a partial thought: We are all equal in the eyes of the law. Not in any other way.
Cycling Science
3.4 / 5 (5) Mar 26, 2013
One reason for cyclists riding through red lights is that the infrastructure doesn't take their needs into account. Research in London UK has shown that cyclists are more inclined to stop at red lights when they have protected areas at the front of the intersecton, known as Advanced Stop Lines (ASL), ahead of queing vehicles. Introduce more ASLs and the current problem will diminish.
VendicarE
4.7 / 5 (15) Mar 26, 2013
They don't stop because not doing so reduces the loss of energy due to breaking.

Mystery solved.
Jo01
2.9 / 5 (16) Mar 26, 2013
As a runner and a cyclist I know that it is almost impossible to give me a ticket.
Almost no one is faster and a mountain bike can bring me anywhere.
So cycling means the ultimate freedom, you cannot have in a car. That's why drivers hate cyclist.
I have seen people who hope you die because you go through red, incredible.
The risk for others is almost zero (one or two freak accidents worldwide isn't a sane argument, you can also get a piano on your head) it's your own life that's at risk.
And I make that decision.

But I agree that removing the hinderances and waiting time is the right way to go.
A child died a year ago not because he bicycled through red, it was because he cycled through green and a lorry driver didn't see him while turning right (we drive to the right down here), so I wouldn't focus on the irritation of cycling through red and instead look at road safety for cyclists in general, because after all they are the vulnerable party.

J.
Jeddy_Mctedder
1 / 5 (11) Mar 26, 2013
traffic signals exist to help signal people to avoid danger and avoid being a danger. for heavy speeding vehicles this makes more sense than lighter slower ones.

for fuck sake, why don't we have traffic signals for pedestrian motion? why , because cars are dangerous enough to merit signal networks. is it not enough that these signals are legally binding and can be used to fine people and place them in jail for disobberying color signals?

what, are you going to put cyclists in jail and start fining them? you may as well just make it illegal to bike.
when the fines cost more than the bikes. it's confiscation , not elinghtened paternalism. how would you react if you were told speeding fines were to cost more than cars themselves?
verkle
2.5 / 5 (13) Mar 26, 2013
They don't stop because not doing so reduces the loss of energy due to breaking.

Mystery solved.


Vendi--I have to give you a hearty "5" for this one. I was going to submit simliar thoughts.
Some people make issues more difficult than they have to be.

P.S. I admit I have run many hundreds of red lights on my bicycle.

triplehelix
2 / 5 (12) Mar 26, 2013
"Some respondents considered it was safer to turn left against the red than to wait for the green light. Going through meant they would clear the intersection ahead of turning motorised vehicle traffic, considered safer than negotiating the turn with cars.

There was a perception that there was little risk from the crossing vehicle traffic as cyclist ride close to the curb and do not enter the line of traffic."

This is contradictory. They're saying negotiating slow moving turns is dangerous, but battling oncoming traffic going at 30-40mph is fine because they're close to the curb...Surely this is the case with the left turn, only less than 30mph?

As a motorcyclist this just pisses me off. I do my best to make myself seen and heard, and ensure I don't startle car drivers and these bastard cyclists just pop out and whizz everywhere. Nearly took one out once because he wanted to turn right into a minor road, I coming the other way, had to emergency break. My right of way dickhead!
ryggesogn2
1.6 / 5 (13) Mar 26, 2013
On the road, the laws of physics don't change.
The real question is why so many bicyclists aren't worried about dying from hitting a car.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.7 / 5 (11) Mar 26, 2013
They don't stop because not doing so reduces the loss of energy due to breaking.

Mystery solved.
Naw its just easier and safer. I stopped once at a light and my pedal didnt release and I fell over. This could happen to anybody.
Doug_Huffman
2 / 5 (8) Mar 26, 2013
I stopped once at a light and my pedal didn't release and I fell over. This could happen to anybody.
...Has happened to everyone learning to ride clipless on a bicycle. Will never happen to tricyclists like me.
Kitanne
4.4 / 5 (7) Mar 26, 2013
The reason drivers don't like cyclists is simple: Too many do not follow the rules of the road. They weave in and out of traffic, make illegal turns, run red lights, come up on sidewalks when the streets get crowded, and otherwise seem to think they are entitled to violate the law. Some communities in America require that bicycles for those over a reasonable age be licensed to help pay for all the special requirements that should be made for their safety that are really not included in the gasoline tax intended for motor vehicles' use. Cyclists' arrogant habits can get them killed; can harm other people. I still mourn the fifteen year old idiot who died at the scene when he "jumped" a left turn indicator (turned left before it came on) because all traffic lanes but mine were stopped for a light just turned green - he didn't see me because I was driving a sports car. Below the speed limit. He's dead because he was arrogant and stupid. Don't join him. Please. Obey the law
ODesign
5 / 5 (2) Mar 27, 2013
I used to ride in downtown Pleasanton California and the lights definitely don't work for bicyclist there. It's dangerous to wait just sitting in the left lane as it turns green then red then green then red without ever giving a turn signal. I almost got hit from behind just waiting once when because the cars around there go fast, the people are talking on their cell phone and just scan for other large vehicles. Their so distracted and in a hurry to get home from work they hit stationary large SUV's frequently in intersection, so it's not surprising they don't see a small bicyclist. The street lights also don't give a bicycle time to get through the intersection and cycle from green to red in 3 seconds, which is ok for a car going 45mph, but leave a bicycle in the middle of the intersection under a red light. The oncoming cars look at the light and when it turns green they hit the gas and then look 200 ft down the road, and don't see a bicycle trying to finish crossing.
trylogic
2.6 / 5 (5) Mar 27, 2013
Cyclists go for efficiency. I have been cycling for 65 years and run thousands of red lights. It does make sense. The stop and start procedures generally do not enhance safety. Car drivers despise the cyclist's freedom. Thanks "Vendi" for the best explanation!
ScreenWorks
not rated yet Mar 27, 2013
They don't stop because not doing so reduces the loss of energy due to breaking.

Mystery solved.


It really is that simple. And if I feel the upcoming intersection presents danger and/or hazard, I will stop-- both for my own safety and those of others.
JRi
1 / 5 (2) Mar 27, 2013
I could mark every check box of the above article! :)
In addition, I tend to follow and choose from both lights for cars and lights for pedestrians, whichever makes my ride smoother.
Doug_Huffman
1.4 / 5 (9) Mar 27, 2013
I always stop at red lights because i was a driver before i was a cyclist.
I wonder if there might be a correlation here, that bicyclists first trained as motorists conflate the risks and risky behaviors of driving and riding, first trained as bicyclists do not?
ryggesogn2
1.3 / 5 (14) Mar 27, 2013
Cyclists go for efficiency. I have been cycling for 65 years and run thousands of red lights. It does make sense. The stop and start procedures generally do not enhance safety. Car drivers despise the cyclist's freedom. Thanks "Vendi" for the best explanation!

No, its not the freedom drivers despise, its the arrogance of bicyclists who have no respect for others.
Auto drives would very likely happily run over a bicyclist not yielding the right of way if not for the liability costs.
COCO
1 / 5 (12) Mar 27, 2013
easy solution is to make all cyclists licensed - these mouth breathing clowns need to adhere to rules even more so than drivers. Coupling this with police enforcement - would give most of them something to do - would eliminate this concern and lead to public safety - not rocket science.
kochevnik
3.7 / 5 (12) Mar 27, 2013
The problem is autos and trucks. The energy required to propel a ton vehicle around town so any imbecile can impulse buy a stick of gum is melting the ice caps. Trains are much more energy efficient than trucks. Impulse travelers pollute the air and cut lifespans short by ten years causing lung inflammation and heart attacks from micropoaricles and tyre dimer dust. Cars only make sense in the country far removed from dense populations
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (12) Mar 27, 2013
Impulse travelers

This is called liberty. Free to travel when and where one needs and wants.
barakn
5 / 5 (2) Mar 28, 2013
I usually stop at a red light on my bike, even though if there are no cars stopped I have to pull up on the sidewalk to push the walk button - the sensors embedded in the road don't detect bicycles. Many bicyclists ignore the red lights because the red lights ignore them.
kochevnik
2.7 / 5 (12) Mar 30, 2013
Impulse travelers
This is called liberty. Free to travel when and where one needs and wants.
That's 'liberty' in the Confederate red states. Freedom there is a zero-sum game. Freedom for the few at the expense of the many is glorified there
antigoracle
1.7 / 5 (13) Mar 31, 2013
Car drivers despise the cyclist's freedom

Nope, I despise the idiot who suddenly weaved in front of me as the light changed and I started to drive forward. A second or 2 difference and I could have killed him.
Jeddy_Mctedder
2.3 / 5 (12) Mar 31, 2013
as a life long cyclist both for pleasure and commuting (and once a brief messenger) in manhattan, and having seen the bike culture in montreal and tel aviv

i'll say this:

1) bike culture is local to the city it is in
2) my understanding is that there are more cyclists biking in cities in china and in india than the rest of the entire world
3) bike culture is inherently conflicting with car culture
4) the electric bike is in the process of a 20-40 year take over of western streets. mark my words. the next major gas crisis will be the next major inflection point for electric bicycles and scooters. eventually there will be NO gasoline scooters whatsoever. and many cars will be replaced by electric bikes and trikes.
VendicarE
5 / 5 (2) Apr 01, 2013
It is for the same reason you have no fear of dying in an effective 60 mph collision with a solid concrete wall when driving down a city road at 30 mph.

They, like you, have no experience with such things, and hence have no point of reference.

"The real question is why so many bicyclists aren't worried about dying from hitting a car." - RyggTard

All you need is a twitch of the wrist, a broken wheel, or similar on an oncoming car that cause you to collide and you are a dead man.

In your case, the world would be a better place for it.
VendicarE
5 / 5 (2) Apr 01, 2013
I agree, and agree for a variety of reasons. Reduced road width and reduced maintainance will be one of those reasons, but sheer economy and utility will be the driving factor behind the transition.

A curiosity 6 years ago, I now see no less that 5 electric bikes or scooters every day, and the number grows every year.

"mark my words. the next major gas crisis will be the next major inflection point for electric bicycles and scooters. eventually there will be NO gasoline scooters whatsoever. and many cars will be replaced by electric bikes and trikes." - Jeddy

http://www.youtub...-cUxMcJw
VendicarE
5 / 5 (3) Apr 01, 2013
No it is called Stupidity.

"This is called liberty" - RyggTard

Your opposition to driving regulation shows how spectacularly stupid Ayn Randites like yourself are.

VendicarE
5 / 5 (3) Apr 01, 2013
it is pure Comedy to see Libertarian/Randite mouthpieces like RyggTard demanding respect when they continuously show that they have no respect or consideration for the welfare of others.

"its not the freedom drivers despise, its the arrogance of bicyclists who have no respect for others." - RyggTard

I have never encountered a Libertarian/Randite who wasn't a congenital liar.
DirtySquirties
1.4 / 5 (9) Apr 01, 2013
I can't stand it when I use the crosswalk and bikers in my area scream by without any attempt at slowing down. It's the worst when I don't notice them and they scream by a car that has kindly stopped for me. There have been a few close calls and one guy even has the nerve to ring his stupid bell at me to let me know he is barging through. It's infuriating.

FYI, here's the right of way:
Peds > Bikes > Motorized Vehicles

Not:
Bikers in condomsuits > Condomsuit bikers in their BMW > Everyone else
jibbles
5 / 5 (2) Apr 01, 2013
I still mourn the fifteen year old idiot who died at the scene when he "jumped" a left turn indicator (turned left before it came on) because all traffic lanes but mine were stopped for a light just turned green - he didn't see me because I was driving a sports car. Below the speed limit. He's dead because he was arrogant and stupid. Don't join him. Please. Obey the law


the idiot here isn't just that bicyclist. clearly, your obeying the law didn't prevent you from killing a kid. experienced bicyclists know that obeying the law is no guarantee against getting into accidents. what will? it's called "defensive riding". i ride though a green light exactly as i would through a red light. a less experienced bicyclist friend of mine almost lost his life riding though a green light because an idiot driver ran their red.

as for you, something called "defensive driving" might well have kept you from killing a 15 yr old.
jibbles
5 / 5 (1) Apr 01, 2013
I still mourn the fifteen year old idiot who died at the scene when he "jumped" a left turn indicator (turned left before it came on) because all traffic lanes but mine were stopped for a light just turned green - he didn't see me because I was driving a sports car. Below the speed limit. He's dead because he was arrogant and stupid. Don't join him. Please. Obey the law


the idiot here clearly isn't just that bicyclist. your obeying the law didn't prevent you from killing a kid. experienced bicyclists know that obeying the law is no guarantee against getting into an accident. a less experienced bicyclist friend of mine almost lost his life obeying the law, riding though a green light when an idiot driver ran their red. so instead, what'll keep bicyclists out of accidents is something called "defensive riding". i ride though a green light exactly as i would through a red light.

as for you, something called "defensive driving" might well have kept you from killing a 15 yr old
jibbles
not rated yet Apr 01, 2013
if bicyclists ruled the world all intersections would be roundabouts.

also, dear moderator, would you please delete my first unedited comment?
antigoracle
1.3 / 5 (10) Apr 01, 2013
it is pure Comedy to see Libertarian/Randite mouthpieces like RyggTard demanding respect when they continuously show that they have no respect or consideration for the welfare of others.

"its not the freedom drivers despise, its the arrogance of bicyclists who have no respect for others." - RyggTard

I have never encountered a Libertarian/Randite who wasn't a congenital liar.
-- VendicarTurd
Wow. Everytime this Turd floats up from the darkness this is what it brings with it.

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