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Red lights

June 13, 2005

Geoff posted this about Cyclists in Massachusetts jumping Red lights.

This one comes up all the time in the UK. It is a classic case of bundling all cyclists into one group just because a few misbehave. I doubt it is any different in Massachusetts.

Here in the UK 85% of motorists admit to speeding yet for some reason they are not lambasted but are treated as the "oppressed" motorist when they get caught.

Yet a small number of people on bikes jump red lights and suddenly it is “cyclists”.

The vast majority of vehicles jumping lights are cars, amber gamblers as they are known, which cost lives yet drivers always hark on about cyclists who cause a statistically insignificant number of accidents by jumping lights. (Which is one of the things that make them unique as it is a much more obvious deliberate act. I bet your cyclists checked that there was no other traffic going to mow them down before jumping the lights). Yet no one says all motorists do it, but a lot do.

As to excuses for jumping the lights. I have just one. I occasionally jump the amber light phase on traffic lights. Why? If I can hear a motor vehicle behind that I don’t believe will stop if I do. This only really happens when I’m moving fast relative to the speed of other vehicles, ie over 20mph in a 30 zone. I do it for my own safety since I will only dent the vehicle, the vehicle will hurt and possibly kill me.

Finally I leave you with this quote from a research paper from the Transport Research laboratory titled “Drivers Perceptions of Cyclists”:

TRL 549:

"A key finding which should be noted was that, when commenting on the scenarios it was usually the behaviour of the cyclist that was criticised – no matter how small the misdemeanour. Few links were made between the cyclist’s behaviour and any external influences that could be affecting their choice of behaviour; i.e. the respondents’ comments indicated that they thought the cyclist’s actions were inherent and dispositional behaviours. In contrast, the motorists’ misdemeanours were excused or justified in terms of the situational influences. As this tendency seemed to continue across the groups and the individual depth interviews and was unprompted, it is unlikely that group dynamics had any significant effect on this finding. […] This aligns with the psychological prediction of targeting of members of an ‘out group’"

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From → Cycling

3 Comments
  1. Just to be clear: I am not talking about jumping red lights, i.e. stopping, and then setting off just before the light changes. Nor am I talking about going through late, just as the light is changing to red. What I’m talking about is the situation where the light is red, has been for some 10s of seconds, will be for some time yet, a string of cars are waiting for the light, and the cyclist(s) shoot past the cars and straight through the intersection without stopping or even slowing. Most cyclists do this; I’ve only seen one car do it in the last five years.The Massbike site that I linked to emphasizes that this is illegal, and that the police should ticket cyclists just as they would ticket motorists for the same offence. Yet many (most?) cyclists seem to defend this behaviour. I don’t understand it. I wouldn’t defend correspondingly dangerous actions by drivers….And just to be clear: the speed limit on that road is mostly 30 MPH with a stretch of 25MPH. Everybody (including the cyclists) was speeding.

  2. Luckily here in the UK the cyclists can’t be speeding unless you are in a Royal Park.

  3. I think part of the problem is that car drivers tend not to see anything that doesn’t have four wheels, unless it does something to draw attention to itself. Witness the most frequent car/bike accident for adult cyclists – car turns left (right in the UK) in front of oncoming cyclist. Pretty scary to think about for us regular two-wheelers.

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