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Should cyclists be allowed to ride through red lights? Campaigners split on safety benefits

Gregory Kinsman-Chauvet, the founder of Bike for Good, thinks road safety could be improved by letting those on bikes continue through red lights after giving way to pedestrians

Leading cycling campaigners in Scotland have been discussing the potential road safety implications of allowing cyclists to ride through red lights.

Speaking to Scotland on Sunday figures from campaign groups such as Bike for Good, Cycling Scotland and Spokes shared differing opinions on the matter, with disagreements over whether such changes were necessary and what safety improvements they would have.

As per the Highway Code, informed by the Road Traffic Act 1988 section 36, cyclists 'must obey all traffic signs and traffic light signals' and 'must not cross the stop line when the traffic lights are red'.

This differs from road laws in other parts of the world, notably in some parts of the United States and France where cyclists are permitted to proceed at red lights in certain circumstances, something Gregory Kinsman-Chauvet of Bike for Good believes should be implemented closer to home.

"After reading various studies proving that removing the obligation for cyclists to stop at red lights increased safety, I decided to test it myself," he told the Scotsman's Sunday sister paper, arguing a change of road rules could allow those on bicycles to travel through red lights at specially marked junctions after giving way to pedestrians.

Copenhagen cyclists at red light (Heb, Wikimedia Commons)

"In Paris and Lyon last summer I had the opportunity to experience this and quickly felt much safer on the road. At junctions motorists knew they had to prioritise cyclists and were more cautious — it's time to change mindsets."

However, not everyone agrees, Cycling Scotland's cycling safety manager Simon Bradshaw suggested Scotland's road laws are too different to France's to be compared and questioned if such action should even be a priority.

"There are many actions needed to improve safety for people cycling and we don't believe that permitting people to cycle through red lights is one of them," he said.

"Red lights — and green figures — ensure people can cross roads more safely and confidently. Scotland also has very different rules of the road to France, making it complex to replicate. The recent updates to the Highway Code, if followed, make our roads safer for everyone."

Likewise, Ian Maxwell of the Lothian cycling campaign group Spokes, told the Sunday newspaper he does not believe the matter is "necessary".

red light CitizenM_Glasgow_Hotel_02

"I would like to see all motorists respecting advance stop lines before we try this approach," he explained.

"There is also the question of why this particular priority is necessary. Cycling is already a fast and reliable way of getting through city centres, even if you have to wait at a few red lights."

Just last year Colorado approved a bill to let cyclists ride through red lights with the aim of cutting collision numbers by reducing interactions at junctions between drivers and people on bikes.

The rule change does still require riders to briefly stop at red lights to give way to any vehicles or pedestrians before continuing on their way.

Elsewhere, in Paris, since 2015 cyclists are permitted to travel straight or make right turns through reds when at specially signed junctions, a law change that followed a successful pilot scheme.

> Cyclists in Paris allowed to ignore red traffic lights

"They [red lights] were installed so that car drivers would let pedestrians cross the road, to regulate the flow of traffic and to moderate the speed," Christine Lambert of the campaign group Mieux Se Déplacer à Bicyclette (MDB) said at the time.

"But bicycles don't go fast and don't make any noise. It's idiotic to stop for nothing. You waste energy and it slows you down. The best safety assets for cyclists are your eyes and your brain."

Coverage of cyclists and red lights here in the UK is often a divisive topic, with headlines such as 'Red light Rats!' appearing in the Mail on Sunday after the paper accused 26 "rogue cyclists" of jumping lights outside Buckingham Palace.

The story of last August led to accusations of the article being "manufactured" and "dehumanising" after it was discovered the road was closed to motor traffic and police officers had urged bicycle riders to continue through the lights.

Earlier this month a Deliveroo food delivery cyclist based in Edinburgh spoke out about the pressures of the job and said the struggle to make ends meet leads many couriers to break traffic laws, such as jumping red lights.

> Most delivery cyclists jump red lights and ride on pavement to avoid losing income, says Deliveroo rider

"I do not have any issue with laws, and as a recreational club cyclist, I feel some obligation to not give cyclists a bad name and fuel anti-cyclist attitudes held by many motorists. Riding for Deliveroo, I have the opposite mindset," he said.

"If every road law was to be followed, it could easily add five minutes to a delivery, which would cut my income by 20 per cent.

"My normal 'Roo' daytime income averages £10-12 per hour. To reduce that by 20 per cent is therefore not realistic. Most Roo cyclists will, like me, not follow all road laws."

What do you think? Should cyclists be allowed to ride through red lights in certain circumstances? Would a change in the rules improve road safety for everyone? Is a change even necessary?

Dan joined in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.

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