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RAC suggests cyclist left-turn on red traffic light trials

Move may reduce number of cyclists killed by lorries, claim

The RAC Foundation has suggested there may be a case for allowing cyclists to turn left when traffic lights are red.

The recommendation that the Department for Transport should trial the idea is one of a number made on the back of a report the Foundation commissioned into the operation of traffic lights and their impact on congestion and safety.

Entitled Every Second Counts, and authored by Irving Yass, the report reveals that the number of sets of traffic lights in Britain rose by 30 per cent between 2000 and 2008, to more than 25,000.

During the same period in London, the numbers rose by about a quarter to more than 6,000 sets of lights.

The RAC Foundation report says that unpublished figures from the Department for Transport also show that by the end of 2008, 8,500 sets of lights were programmed to give priority to buses - 3,200 of them in the capital.

The report says traffic lights deliver economic and safety benefits, but not at every location and not all of the time. As for cyclists, it notes that:

"Collisions with heavy lorries account for more than half of cycling fatalities each year, many of them due to lorries turning left at traffic lights whose drivers are unaware of cyclists alongside them. This problem should not occur where there are advanced cycle stop lines that allow cyclists to wait ahead of lorries.

"Allowing cyclists to turn left through red traffic lights might help to prevent some of these accidents – though not in cases where the cyclist is going straight ahead.

"There are however concerns that there would be risks for both cyclists and pedestrians. Cyclists could be turning left into the path of traffic going through a green light, which would be particularly dangerous on high speed roads or where there are parked vehicles. And it is a fixed principle in the UK that no other traffic movements are allowed during a pedestrian stage.

"TfL says that recent trials of an equivalent measure in Bordeaux and Strasbourg are reported not to have created any problems however.

"DfT is planning a study of how junctions can be made safer and more convenient for cyclists, which will take account of overseas experience. Whatever the outcome however current traffic regulations would not permit a trial of allowing cyclists to turn left on red in the UK.

"DfT should amend the current regulations to allow highway authorities to trial innovative measures of this kind."

Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said:

“Depending when and where you are, traffic lights can ease your journey or be a source of frustration. It is plain that lights have an important role to play but with ever more congested streets they need to be very finely tuned to ensure they are not doing more harm than good - and that means they must react to changing traffic conditions.

“The Department for Transport is nervous of introducing flashing amber signals on the grounds of safety, but they do seem to work in other countries. It is time for the DfT to think again.”

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CotterPin | 13 years ago

We don't need exceptions to the law - we just need the existing laws to be properly enforced. I would also suggest we don't need segregation - but that's a whole other can of worms

Chuffy | 13 years ago

Surely to take advantage of this a cyclist will have to filter up the pavement side of stationary traffic, precisely the sort of dangerous practice that ends in tragedy.

wildnorthlands | 13 years ago

"This problem should not occur where there are advanced cycle stop lines that allow cyclists to wait ahead of lorries." - if the drivers could be persuaded to keep out of them that is!

bikeandy61 | 13 years ago

I have to say that as a cyclist I am really NOT in favour of this idea. We in this country seem barely able to correctly use the rules and regulations of the road as they exist. Introducing new ones of this type just seem to have a massive potential for disaster.

Motorists can barely stand to have us on the road as it is. Can you imagine what some drivers will do when riders come up the inside at a red light and turn left without having to stop? Plus - how many drivers actually respect the advance cycle boxes at junctions that exist in places now?

IMHO the solution is to get as much information out to bike riders that where there is stationary traffic at a junction with a left turn, that the cyclist stops in a position that allows maximum visibility to other traffic. Do not go up the inside of a stopped vehicle unless you can DEFINITELY get to the front of the queue where you can be seen.

Jezzamk | 13 years ago

This would need a lot of thought and probably cost (it always costs a fortune). I can forsee problems with cyclists turning left and pedestrians crossing. I have had a couple of near misses, as a pedestrian, and got a lot of abuse for crossing when it appeared safe and the green man was lit.

I cycle, walk and drive so I am not anti any of these groups. When driving I always give cyclists plenty of room. One I don't like it when cars come close to me and secondly, if I am in a collision with a cyclist it will make a mess of my car. Why don't other drivers think or realise this.

robbieC | 13 years ago

I think that this happens in London already.

I think that T junctions are where it would work best - when traffic from side road is crossing a line of stationary vehicles, to head in the direction that the cyclist has just come from (if you see what I mean). A simple "except cyclists" sign or an orange cycle filter on the lights would work)

worry about it when there are pedestrian crossings on side roads at X roads though - not so much for cyclists mowing down pedestrians but vice versa if the lights begin to change (based on bitter experience from the turn onto the road between KX and StP from Euston road, when people cross even when you have lights in you favour if there are no taxis to "back you up")

giff77 | 13 years ago

The report also suggests other tinkering in order to keep traffic flowing and apparently 'reducing' pollution!! A lot of it seems to be geared up in the motorists favour and not much thought given over to vunerable roadusers!!

OldRidgeback | 13 years ago

Actually it can be very confusing in the US regarding right turns at red lights. This is only allowed in some states, not all. And even where it is allowed, it is not permitted at all junctions. I drive in the US regularly.

But if it is to be introduced for left turns for cyclists only in the UK, it wouldn't be such a bad thing. Stephen Glaister is a smart guy as it happens. I wish more people amongst the motoring lobby had his foresight.

ekynoxe | 13 years ago

It always makes me jump hearing about allowing left turns at red lights and other law by-passes like this. It's a free pass for tragedies, all undercover of "it's done elsewhere without a problem".
Well, people behave differently elsewhere where cycling is much more accepted than here!

I'm a cyclist, not a motorist, but we're on the road, respect the rules, and have them enforced for cyclists as well. Full stop. And that includes rising as a whole group a behaving ourselves too, not just claiming we should be able to do so and so...

John_the_Monkey | 13 years ago

I'd like the laws we have enforced a bit more before we start buggering about with them, DfT, please.

Marky Legs | 13 years ago

As always, COMMON SENSE should prevail in these cases.
The USA allow right turns at red lights (equivalent to our left turn) and have no problems.

If a cyclist wants to go up the inside of a big truck, or bus, when that vehicle is indicating to turn left, then they must be absolutely clear in their own mind that they will be visible when it matters.

Yes, it's up to other road users to ensure it is safe to maneuver but it is more important for those road users not to put themselves (and others) in danger!!

spaceyjase | 13 years ago

The article mentions trails in Bordeaux and Strasbourg not creating any problems... but did it ease them and prevent accident or did any resulting data remain unchanged? Driver (and cyclists) attitudes are different here and I can see the 'get there quick' mindset kicking in as a cyclists charges up the inside of a truck as the lights are still red and then change, meaning the truck will go with a cyclist (or two!) alongside. Ouch.

Segregation still seems like the correct answer to the problem.

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