The Red Light Debate

A lot of cyclists blindly jump red lights and an even larger number ‘ease’ through them. There are some however that don’t do either – we just wait. I know there are a lot of arguments in favour of jumping red lights; it’s quicker; statistics show it might actually save lives, but I still choose not to. I never knowingly jump a red light. Why? Because…

1. I Love Being Right

If I jumped a red I’d be breaking the law. If, as a consequence, I hit someone, or someone hit me, I’d be in the wrong. I hate being wrong. Seriously, I really hate it. I never knowingly commit traffic offences, and that includes running red lights or breaking other highway codes. So far, I have only been in one or two ‘altercations’ (not serious enough to call accidents) with motor vehicles, of which a total of zero were my fault. Could I say the same if I regularly jumped red lights? If you hit me, providing I will still be alive to witness it, it will be your fault. That’s something you’ll have to live with, I wont.

2. It’s not any safer

It’s no good being right if you’re dead. Some people argue that jumping the lights is safer because it puts you out of the path of left turning vehicles. I’m not quite sure how putting yourself into the path of oncoming vehicles helps the situation, but for argument’s sake we’ll accept that this is a safer option. To get round the left-tuning vehicle situation, I employ the ‘first come first serve’ technique. This is how it works: if I arrive at a junction first and a vehicle pulls up beside me with indicators flashing, I go first. If, on the other hand, I arrive at a junction and for whatever reason (no access to bike box because being blocked by motorcyclists for example) I have to remain on the inside of left-tuning cars that were there before me, I wait my turn. I do make exceptions, for example when I’m on the inside of a stupidly large vehicle – in this case, I tend to always wait unless I’m completely sure the driver is giving me the go ahead. For some reason, this system seems to work; maybe it’s the inherent fairness of the it all I don’t know, but I haven’t run into any trouble since I started doing it.

3. It’s not any quicker

I often get overtaken by cyclists at the lights only to overtake them less than a minute after the lights go green. I agree that stopping and starting is annoying and it does take longer than a straight run, but I commute on my bike not only because it’s quicker and cheaper than public transport or going by car, but also for the exercise. I’m quite happy to put in the extra effort for a few miles to make up for any time I might have lost on the lights. If you just put in a bit more effort you wouldn’t need to jump any lights. For the couriers, I guess every second counts and they already put in more effort than I do, so for them it might be quicker (I have no idea, I’ve never been able to keep up with one). But for everyone else? I have my doubts. Even if I did find it marginally quicker, I think that using convenience as an excuse to break the law is too weak an argument and panders to the stereotype of the inconsiderate cyclist.

4. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander

When it comes down to it, although the legal system here is far from perfect, I’m fortunate enough to be protected by quite a few traffic laws. I’m in agreement that this particular law is for the benefit of all road users including myself, which means if it’s compulsory for every other road user, I shouldn’t treat it as an opt-in service for when I feel like I might want to substitute it for my own common sense. I don’t abide by this law because I blindly follow it, but because I agree with it. If I didn’t, I’d be complaining to my MP/the government, or cycling somewhere where such traffic laws don’t exist.

5. I have my own mind

A group of cyclists approach a set of lights on red. The eager ones charge through, fuelled only by their own adrenaline, veering out of the way of cars and weaving in between pedestrians or other road users in a race to get to the other side. Others follow them, but ease through the lights, looking left, then right, then left again before darting across the junction. And then there are the sheep – they see the ‘eagers’ and the ‘easers’ that have made a quick escape and think ‘hell, if they got away with it, I can make it!’. They follow by example, wobbling their way into the chaos. The last to chance it are the stragglers, the ‘should I? shouldn’t I?’s who end up going on amber anyway – let’s face it, if you’ve taken that long to make up your mind then clearly jumping lights isn’t for you. I’ve made up my mind before I reach the lights, so I don’t have to follow anyone’s example but my own.

6. It pisses people off

There is nothing more frustrating, and sometimes dangerous, than when road users who think the rules do not apply to them. As a general rule, I try not to get enjoyment from pissing people off; It’s that sort of low-level satisfaction that is enjoyed only momentarily and followed by a little self-loathing. I agree that we’re all entitled to revel in a bit of schadenfreude every now and again, but I don’t make a habit of pissing people off just for the sake of it. The fact that most cyclists don’t have third-party insurance and none have number plates means that drivers are more infuriated by cyclists than other road users for engaging in this behaviour. I don’t think it’s a great idea to enrage a mind that is in charge of a ton of metal – there are some crazies out there!

7. It reinforces the negative stereotype of cyclists

A lot of people tend to think that cyclists regard the highway code and the law as an ‘optional extra’. In my opinion, the media reinforces this stereotype, which in turn leads to a wider acceptance of the demonisation of cyclists. Every time a driver sees a cyclist jump a red light, it reinforces this negative stereotype and makes them that bit less receptive to our needs. They wont remember all the stationary cyclists patiently waiting for green because it doesn’t fit in with their stereotype. The nature of the stereotype ensures that we are no longer seen as individuals, people just trying to get somewhere, but as a faceless minority of lawless obstacles, and moving targets for their contempt. In essence, jumping red lights just provides motorists with more ‘proof’ to back up the stereotype and gives them an excuse to neglect our concerns as vulnerable road users.

8. I Love Being Right

I know I’ve already used this as an argument, but I love being right so much it’s easily worth two arguments.

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2 responses to “The Red Light Debate

  1. I think I would probably agree with all of it, particularly the satisfaction of being right. Even if I get squashed, at least I was right and will have Heroine type headlines splattered all over the papers. Saying that, if a 10 ton truck, came at me, I may lose my nerve and break my rules ‘for self preservation’. I think in reality I would probably freeze in horror along the Stopline and get squashed 99/100 that’s what would happen.

  2. sometimesangry

    Yes I totally agree, in fact I’m not sure if it was before/after your comment but I have added my take on this. There’s no point in maintaining a dangerous position on the road on the basis that technically you’re in the right. Even I don’t like being right enough to endanger my safety over it – although I have certainly come close a few times!

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