The number of cyclists fined by the Metropolitan Police for riding through red lights has nearly doubled in each of the two years to March 2010, but pales into insignificance compared to the number of motorists sanctioned for committing a similar offence.
The data, obtained under a Freedom of Information request by London cyclist and road.cc user Tim Lennon, show that in the year to 31 March 2008, some 536 cyclists in the Metropolitan Police area – in other words, all London boroughs other than the City of London – were given a fixed penalty notice for going through a red traffic light.
That rose to 1,085 in 2008/09, a 102 per cent year-on-year increase, and by 73 per cent to 1,872 in the 12 months ended 31 March 2010. That latter figure is equivalent to just 2.3 per cent of the number of motorists fined for running a red light during the same period, however.
Police revealed that in 2007/08 and 2008/09, a similar number of drivers – 89,833 and 89,495 respectively – received a fixed penalty notice for failure to stop at a traffic signal. The year to 31 March 2010 saw an 11 per cent drop, with 79,851 motorists fined.
It should be pointed out that motorists who go through a red light are more likely than cyclists committing the same offence to receive a fine in the first place; the police say that the information relating to fixed penalty notices issued to motorists “includes those issued by officers on the street and those initiated by speed safety camera activations.” We suspect the latter accounts for most cases, it would be interesting to see a breakdown of the split between those motorists caught by cameras and those caught by police officers.
Since there is no similar way of being able to establish the keeper of a bicycle, those cyclists ticketed will have been issued with the ticket by a police officer who witnessed the offence taking place, either because they happened to be at the location when it took place, or as part of an operation specifically targeting those who jump red lights.
It’s not clear whether those big increases year on year are a reflection of the police taking the offence more seriously when committed by a cyclist, or whether it partly reflects the growing number of cyclists on the capital’s roads; in 2009/10, or indeed both; however, only around five tickets a day were issued, and it’s easy for a single habitual red light jumpers may go through that many signals on one journey alone.
While some cyclists do seek to justify riding through a red light – the two most common excuses being that it was safe to do so or because it gets them ahead of traffic at a junction, it is though breaking the law.
Not only does it help reinforce negative perceptions against cyclists generally, but more importantly it puts the rider doing it in a highly vulnerable situation, sometimes with tragic consequences, and can also put at risk members of the one group of road users more vulnerable than cyclists, pedestrians.
That said, the potential effects of a motor vehicle being driven through a red light are of course far worse and put not only the driver, but all other road users too, at risk of death or serious injury.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.