Are Red Light Jumping Cyclists The Problem?

I see it all the time online. People always posting about dangerous cyclists riding through red lights. Be it as fact or as whataboutism.

Just two examples from the morning of the 22nd of December 2019. Whilst we all know as fact, some people on cycles go through some red lights. We also know the same for other road users, some motorists go through red lights, some motorists speed and some motorists use their phones whilst driving.

Less motorists do it than cyclists

Whilst theoretically that is true at some junctions. We need to be statistically fair to compare the two transport methods. As cyclists are allowed to filter, more of them have an opportunity at each traffic light to go through on red. Where as motorists only the ones at the front have the opportunity to go through the red light (unless people go around them, which is unlikely but is possible). As such, at each red light, more cyclists have an opportunity to go through red lights than motorists.

A study by TFL in 2007 looked into the hypothesis that the majority of cyclists do ride through red lights. Proportion of Cyclists Who Violate Red Lights in London.
The study looked at 5 different junctions in London where more than 7,500 cyclists where witnessed either stopping or not stopping at red traffic lights.
The study concluded that 84% of cyclists stopped at red traffic lights!

As far as I am aware, a similar study is not available for motor vehicles. Given my own experiences of what I have witnessed with over 100,000 miles traveled by bicycle and by car in London. Motorists tend to go through red lights just as they have turned red, and at speed. They are less likely to go through in the middle of the phase and are less likely to do it at slower speeds. Given this, motorists going through red lights is not as visible as cyclists doing so.

How many are caught going through red lights

I must apologies for my source on this, it is the Daily Mail: More than 11,000 cyclists caught running through red lights and riding on pavements in just one year.
In that article, the Mail breaks down cyclists getting tickets for going through red lights from 5 police forces in 2013.

Police ForceCount of red light offences
London3,508
Cambridgeshire337
Avon and Somerset117
Greater Manchester102
Hampshire57

A total of 4,121 cyclists recorded going through red lights over a year from 5 police forces.

The Daily Mail didn’t think to include motorists in that FOI. Or they didn’t publish those figures. However I did find that in 2015 184 motorists per day were caught going through red lights in the UK by red light cameras. That equates to 67,160 motorists a year!
On one road in Macclesfield their were more than 2,500 motorists caught in a single year!

NOTE: There are 43 police forces in the UK. The cycling data is from 5 police forces. The motoring data is from 33 forces. If we presume this data is representative we can suggest that for all forces it would be around:

  • Cyclists: 35,441 offences per year
  • Motorists: 87,512 offences per year

However that might be slightly unfair given the the huge sway of London. Take that out and the figures are more like 6,590.
It’s also worth nothing that the cycling offences are from stops by police officers. And the motoring offences are by automated cameras on the road. So these numbers for motorists will likely be even higher when factoring in stops by police officers. The same argument could be said if cyclists had number plates. However I would suggest that given the TFL study showing that at dangerous junctions / turnings it is done less, and that traffic light cameras are mostly put at dangerous junctions, it is unlikely this number would rise much.

Cyclists do it dangerously

Whilst I have no doubt that some people have been nearly hit by cyclists at red lights, I’ve seen it and experienced it. I also have no doubt that motorists doing it is far more dangerous given the speeds and the mass of the vehicle.

But what do the statistics say? A Freedom of Information request was put it for data on pedestrian causalities and injuries for 2015 – 2016.

KilledSeriously InjuredSlightly InjuredTotal
Pedal cycle072835
Motorcycle182635
Car766217290
Bus/Coach0358
Taxi022022
Van261018
HGV0033
Total1092309411

So in a 2 year period cyclists killed 0 pedestrians, seriously injured 7 and slightly injured 28 because they failed to stop at a traffic light .
In that same two year period, car drivers killed 7 pedestrians, seriously injured 66 and slightly injured 217 because they failed to stop at a red light.
Group all motorists together, motorists killed 10 pedestrians, 85 seriously injured and 281 slightly injured because motorists failed to stop at red lights.

This data tends to suggest that motorists do it more dangerously than cyclists. As previously mentioned, motorists are more likely to do it at speed and just as the lights have changed to red. Where as cyclists are more likely to do it slower and in the middle of the phase.

The same FOI also shows data for deaths and serious / slight injuries for pedestrians when the vehicle was on the pavement. The numbers show the same thing, cyclists kill no pedestrians on the pavement, injure a small percentage of the total. Where as motorists killed 73 people on the pavement in 2015-2016!

Now of course there are many more motorists than there are cyclists. Some statistics show around 2.3-2.8 million cyclists in the UK. There are around 38 million registered motor vehicles in the UK. Measuring how many people drive those cars is quite difficult.
The stats above are also only for when a police office attends the scene and attributes failing to stop at an automated traffic signal as a factor in the collision. There may be more cases of cyclists failing to stop at a collision at a red traffic light and police not being informed of it, the same could be said for motorists.

Summary

What has all this shown? That people break the rules no matter what transport method they use. However because of the speeds, mass and protection of some vehicles, motorists kill and injure many more pedestrians than cyclists do at red traffic lights.

We know that cyclists are more visible going through traffic lights as they do it through all aspects of the light phase and not just as soon as it turns to red like motorists mostly do. Given that cyclists have little protection in collisions, it is likely that they do it in a safer fashion than motorists do.

Ultimately this highlights the lack of ability of motorists do point blame on them selves as being dangerous, they choose to do so on cyclists. This is reflected in media, be it social or traditional news publications with the huge amounts of reporting about anything a cyclist does against the law but very little about the 5 people a day killed in the UK by motorists.

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