Wednesday 11 January 2012

Red Light Jumping vs Speeding Cars

I'm not for cyclists doing Red Light Jumping, it's not a good idea. But think we should be doing more of other things to save more lifes of pedestrians and all other traffic.

General Ignorance

There's a lot of prejudice about red light jumping by cyclists around. From the camera junkie pundit on the One Show (at 4:41) that claims to know what all cyclists do, and including the BBC that puts this point of view against factual evidence, raising it to that status without reason. Combine that with the Cambridge resident who sent a letter to the Cambridge News and Crier stating in mock shock she'd just witnessed a cyclist stopping at a red light. And again, the newspaper printed it, albeit without any more substantial context thus leaving the reader to make their own mind up about the writer.

I used the word "prejudice" above which for many people would seem harsh. After all, cyclists are a menace and deserve what they get on the roads and the poor motorist has to suffer the consequence of the "war" on them with spiralling costs and charges and fines, yada yada (please do check the notes at the bottom for why this is a sarcastic statement).

The Facts

So let's have a look at some facts. First, from 2007 there's the TfL Study of Cyclists Jumping Red Lights which looks at several junctions in London. The summary conclusion is that watching 7,502 cyclists,
  • 84% of them obey red light signals (in section 7.3 on page 29/30).
So, in other words, the opinion offered by the pundits above is a long way from the reality. This is brilliantly displayed in this infographic from Smells Like Glue.

It can also be noted from this report that a quarter of cyclists (so 4% of the overall total) who did jump the lights were turning left. This is something that the RAC and Boris Johnson are seeking to legalise on safety grounds. If that would be the case, then 88% of cyclists obey red lights.

Now, here's a summary of the Cambridge Police Speed Surveys done in February to July 2011. It shows that the slightly smaller figure of 82% of drivers obey the speed limit. So, more drivers speed than cyclists break red lights. Additionally, as this article points out drivers often react to seeing luminous jackets, so it certainly could be argued that this figure is a low figure. As opposed to the Red Light Jumping Survey which, even if luminous jackets were worn, isn't likely to affect behaviour.

Anyway, it would seem that 158,219 drivers were seen speeding in 17 locations which even makes the 4000 caught speeding on three roads in Cambridge seem a low value.

This 82% figure being described as a high is borne out by another survey done by the police in South Cambridge and reported by Richard Taylor. In this survey, the highlight value is that watching in the region of 43,000 vehicles
  • only 25% drive in a way that would avoid prosecution for speeding.
The Outcome

What's the outcome? This is a crucial question as the difference between cyclists and drivers misbehaving is quite different.

Ironwit, in his ironically titled blog, quotes from Transport for London statistics that shows the following.
  • In a study of the figures from 1998 to 2007, precisely 0 deaths of pedestrians were caused by cyclists jumping red lights. In the shorter period of 2001 to 2005, 7 deaths of pedestrians were caused by car drivers jumping red lights.
The CTC on page 4 of their Cyclists’ behaviour and the Law document gives considerably more damning generic statistics about pedestrian casualties for 2001-2010.
  • Pedestrians killed by CAR 3722 and by CYCLE 22
  • Pedestrians seriously injured by CAR 50179 and by CYCLE 510
So, 100 times more serious injuries are caused by drivers than cyclists and 170 times more death.

Whilst we are here, we might as well look at that hoary chestnut of the danger of cyclists on pavements. On page 8 of the same report, the injury statistics for London pavements for 2001-05 are as follows.
  • Pedestrians killed by CAR 17 and by CYCLE 0
  • Pedestrians seriously injured by CAR 387 and by CYCLE 40
  • Pedestrians slightly injured by CAR 1793 and by CYCLE 52
So, even on the pavement pedestrians are over 40 times more likely to be injured or killed by a driver than a cyclist.

Finally from this document, on page 10 one study found that red light jumping is not even in the top ten of causes of death or injury to cyclists. But then from the other side of the coin.
  • in London (2001-05), 3 cyclists & 7 motor vehicle occupants were killed when a motorist jumped a red light.
  • in London 2006, over 130 drivers were caught jumping red lights every day, according to the Mayor
Also, there is growing evidence that cyclists staying behind the line next to traffic is a major cause of death (as Ironwit talks about in his blog).
  • In fact, there are rumours of an unpublished Transport for London report that shows it is riskier to cyclists to wait alongside traffic at a junction than it is to break the law and jump through the red light.
I've been asking Caroline Pidgeon (Lib Dem Leader on the London Assembly) about where this report has got to and she's promised to follow it up with the Mayor of London.


So, when I see headlines like Cambridge Police are to get tough on anti-social Cyclists I do have a certain gladness that something is done to stop the way cycling's image is tarnished by a small minority. However, I do think about the waste of resource that is going into this being based on ignorance. It will actually end up costing more lives than if the same resource was put into targetting poor driving.

Some Final Notes

Actually, most cyclists (that's the 84% mentioned above) dislike other cyclist's Red Light Jumping as well. Here's a nice anecdotal clip of a policemen catching one and being roundly applauded by other cyclists.

As for the "war on the motorist", it's utter pith. Driving a car is still subsidised in this country based on the revenue raised from motorists and looking at the costs of maintaining the road network (even without including details such as the £200-300m costs of mending pavements damaged by cars).

To answer Griff Rhys Jones who thinks cyclists should use cycle lanes (on the One Show at 6:00). That's all very well, but some are designed as death traps (by people who clearly haven't ridden bikes in their lifes) and should be avoided at all costs. Second, I pay for the roads (and I pay a lot), why should I not be able to use them?

I'll end by saying this is a very poor comparison based on different bases for either set of statistics. I wish there were stats for Cambridge cycling, as that is likely to be the biggest factor causing any kind of difference in these figures. Having said that, I can't see why or what other criteria should be used to tie these two sets of statistics together. I'm very sorry Ben Goldacre, I know this is a poor excuse but there it is.


  1. Wow! Thank you! I always wanted to write on my blog something like that. Can I implement a portion of your post to my site?
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    1. Yes, of course. I'd like a link (from your blog showing my original) in return of course, which is not uncommon or very difficult!

      BTW, which is the blog you'd use? You seem to have hundreds of them!