UK study: Women cyclists “risk death” by obeying traffic lights!

December 4th, 2009 by hughillustration

Here’s a refrain I have heard from motorists my entire adult life: “I support bicycling, but bicyclists need to start respecting traffic laws — stopping for red lights, stopping for stop signs, etc.” Most recently, the New York Times ran a piece in their new San Francisco section covering a supposed “backlash” against cyclists brought on by all those pedal-powered scofflaws out there.

Now comes a study from the UK that presents evidence that riding your bike according to the law can get you killed. TimesOnline reports that women cyclists have a higher accident rate in the UK not because they ride illegally, but because they obey the law too much!

Women cyclists are far more likely to be killed by a lorry because, unlike men, they tend to obey red lights and wait at junctions in the driver’s blind spot, according to a study.

The report by Transport for London’s road safety unit was completed last July but has been kept secret. It suggests that some cyclists who break the law by jumping red lights may be safer and that cycle feeder lanes may make the problem worse.

The fact is that when you navigate the city by bicycle, you learn that many of the rules of the road are simply not practical, and as the study shows, can be downright dangerous to your health. With more and more people getting around on bikes every day, eventually the law is going to have to change to reflect this new reality.

2 Responses to “UK study: Women cyclists “risk death” by obeying traffic lights!”

  1. Elijah Post says:

    I’m Sorry, but I can’t believe this. This is too far fetched even for me. I’m a bicyclist in SF, and knowing how bad the drivers are here, I find comfort in obeying the laws, no matter how stupid they may appear at first glance. Having tried both ways, I can firmly say that It makes the most sense to just stop at the signal or sign. Granted, not all of the laws make sense, but a good portion of them do.

    If cyclists want to be treated like traffic, they must obey the same laws that other traffic most obey. Sad to say, we are not that far above the law.

  2. Naomi Most says:

    Elijah, you may personally feel comforted in obeying the laws, but that doesn’t mean you are actually any safer. And if this study was well-conducted, your sense of entitled protectedness may actually work against you statistically in the long-run.

    The issue at hand is not whether bicyclists should be able to “get away with” breaking/bending traffic laws. The issue is whether, in practice, having bicyclists actually follow traffic laws results in safer conditions.

    Traffic rules work not because they are correct, and certainly not because we as a society tested their effectiveness in simulated conditions before deploying them on American roads. They work because they establish shared expectations of how others will behave, so that each individual is able to make predictions about what other individuals will most likely do under a certain set of conditions.

    Drivers do not expect bicyclists to follow the same traffic rules as cars. That perspective may be changing in some cities (perhaps in SF, where I too spend a lot of time dodging cars whether or not I follow the car traffic rules), but the fact is that bicycles have different capabilities and safety concerns than cars, and thus will always act differently than cars in various traffic circumstances, and thus will cause all traffic participants to make different assumptions about the behavior of bikes in traffic than for cars in traffic.

    If ladies in Britain are getting run down because they’re not being seen by cars, it’s because cars don’t expect to have to look there. Right or wrong, the bicycling culture has produced a situation in which bikes are expected to jump the light rather than wait like sitting ducks among a mass of cars who can’t see them.

    Traffic laws are guidelines, not declarations of absolute Truth. Many different systems will work in the same situation. The question is what combination of written rule and cultural convention which are closest to the current status quo will maximize safety.

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