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Bicycle Compliance at Traffic Signals

Joseph Rose (via The Oregonian) reports that some students performed some [admittedly non-scientific] research to shed some light on bicycle compliance with red lights at signalized intersections.

Their findings (PDF): 56 percent of bicycle riders ignored stop signals, compared with 7 percent of motorists.

This is not surprising. The researchers also compiled the following video:

While the video clearly shows cyclists disobeying the signals, it doesn’t exactly demonstrate impending disaster either.

Nate Berg offered the following commentary:

More pedestrians are put in danger when other users of the road ignore the rules. And though bike-person accidents aren’t incredibly widespread, they do happen. Even more concerning should be the increasing potential of car-bike accidents that can occur when stop lights are ignored.

For those of us who ride bikes regularly, it’s pretty obvious that we’re not just blindly speeding through traffic lights with no regard to oncoming traffic. But there’s also a danger that the more comfortable we get going green on a red, the more likely we are to relax our reflexes and de-elevate our senses to the four-wheeled threats that surround us.

Certainly in a theoretical sense, if everybody always did exactly what the signals told them to do, we wouldn’t have any crashes. But some segment of the population (peds, drivers, and cyclists) will be careless regardless of how much effort is expended trying to encourage compliance, and even folks that are usually very careful will have moments where they let their guard down. The real challenge for researchers here is to demonstrate that efforts to increase compliance among cyclists will actually result in fewer bike/ped or bike/car crashes.  It may be the case that the cyclists most likely to be influenced by efforts to increase compliance are the same cyclists that are already exercising much caution  while performing an illegal movement.

As Nate points out – the biggest threat is the very small portion of cyclists who careen through intersections at high speeds while exercising little or no caution. These types of scofflaws will probably be the most difficult to influence.

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