Head to Head: Is it Ever Acceptable for Cyclists to Jump Red Lights?

We look at the for and against arguments of this heated debate

You have probably seen the video below – it has been doing the rounds. I expect we’d all agree that in this case it was a display of complete stupidity on behalf of the rider who jumped the red light.

However, there are plenty of cyclists out there who do occasionally run the odd red light and while you may immediately jump to the defence of the law, condemning light jumping, it may not be as clear cut as it seems. In fact right here in the TWC offices it is a hotly contested topic between two members of staff.

So in order to settle the debate, staff members Heather and Michelle have laid out their arguments below. We’d love to hear which side of the fence you sit on?

No, it’s never ok to jump a red light

I could start with ‘well, it’s illegal’ – but then so is driving without your seatbelt on, texting whilst driving, and smoking in the toilets at your local.  We all know they happen, so let’s not focus on legality.

There are some red lights that it’s blatantly obvious you can’t run – those at a busy crossroads, for example. The grey areas are where the traffic lights are placed on long, straight roads.

The dilemma comes when the cyclist reaches the lights, and no pedestrians are trying to cross. There’s no clear reason why the cyclists needs to wait and no apparent danger in simply riding through it.

I used to think that in these cases it was perfectly acceptable to ride through the red light, but I’ve changed my mind.

The reason being that examples of cyclists jumping red lights very often give ammunition to drivers who, for whatever reason, don’t like cyclists. You only have to check the comments of a Daily Mail article to find the big three:

  • Cyclists don’t pay road tax
  • Cyclists are just too slow and they annoy me
  • Cyclists don’t know the rules of the road and run red lights

Number One is an unfortunate misunderstanding. In fact, nobody pays road tax, it was abolished in 1937, we now may emissions tax for our vehicles and roads are paid for via general taxation.

Number Two is purely subjective and there’s little we can do about this one, other than explain to people that more bums on saddles means fewer traffic jams.

Number Three is something we can all do something about. Running red lights just gives people who don’t like cyclists ammunition against us. So even if the coast is clear, I wait – simply so that the drivers behind me can see that good cyclists, like good drivers, obey the rules of the road. Hopefully if we all do that the vast majority of us will get along just fine.

Yes, sometimes it’s ok to run a red light

I know that many of you will be currently screaming at your computers at the very thought that I am about to condone breaking red lights on a bicycle. And in most parts you are right. It can be dangerous and it certainly does nothing to improve the somewhat controversial views other road users have of cyclists.

One only has to look at the video above which highlights the obvious dangers.

So yes I agree that breaking red lights on a bike is sometimes a sinful act. However, I do not believe it is always wrong.

Every day I break one red light on my way in and out of work. It is located at a crossroads at the entrance to Battersea Park. I come out of the park and dutifully wait until the pedestrian lights go green and cycle my way safely (always with consideration for any pedestrians crossing) through the intersection. There are no traffic lights at this entrance to the park. Yes I could get off my bike and walk it across but my actions are not harmful to any other road user in any other way. In fact with the number of cyclists who use this route in and out of the city I often wonder why a cyclist traffic light hasn’t been placed there.

I also know that I am not alone here in my misdemeanour. My colleague who used to frequent the Vauxhall Roundabout everyday admitted she also cycles the pedestrian green lights to avoid the dangerous gyratory that has been the scene of so many fatalities in recent years. Her argument being that she deemed it far safer to take this route and was willing to pay the price of a ticket should she get caught, after all it seemed like a small price to pay for her personal safety.

I want to stress that I am totally against running red lights for the sake of it or in a dangerous situation but quite often it is a far safer option to cross a busy intersection at the same time as pedestrians. For starters it avoids the situation where cyclists are caught down the side of cars, vans, buses and HGVs who are planning on turning left. Instead it gives cyclists the time they need to safely move away from the line of traffic in a controlled manner.

There can be no denying that cycling culture will play an important part of our city’s future, however our infrastructure is still far behind that of the Netherlands or Copenhagen. Therefore is it really fair for police officers to issue a fine of £55 to those who are not riding recklessly or doing any harm to others but instead choosing to cycle in a safe manner?


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