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Education or Enforcement


There are two ways to apply cycling laws, education or enforcement.

Going to school in the UK at least twice a year there would be a special lesson on the Highway Code.

A little Highway Code book would be given to us to take home and keep.

It not only had all the rules and laws as applied to driving a car, it laid out those that applied to riding a bicycle and pedestrians.

It was drummed into us, when you cross the street, stop, look right, look left, look right again, (Traffic came from the right in the UK.) if the road is clear then cross.

This was war time Britain of the 1940s and due to petrol rationing there were few cars on the road, especially in the rural area I lived at the time. Never-the-less when we crossed the street we went through this ritual of look right, look left.

There were cycling proficiency tests too, where we would bring our bikes to school and the local police constable would come in and instruct us on how to ride our bike both safely and in compliance with the law.

The result was when I started cycling seriously in the 1950s, I never rode on the pavement, (Sidewalk.) I never rode through red lights, and my bike always had a front and rear light when riding after dark. As for riding a bike on the wrong side of the road, toward traffic, that would be so crazy it would not even be considered.

It was somewhat of a culture shock when I came to the US in 1979 and went for a ride with the local club. The first red light we came to I stopped and everyone else kept going.

It would not be unusual to find a cyclist riding towards me on my side of the road. This led to the quandary, do I pull out in the traffic lane and let him pass on the inside, or hold my course and hope he goes around me? I usually took the initiative and went for the first option.

I remember reading of a case in New Jersey where two cyclists riding at night without lights hit head on because one was on the wrong side. Their heads hit, neither was wearing a helmet. One died instantly, the other had serious head injuries.

Young kids on BMX bikes would jump from the sidewalk to the center of the road, and then wait for a gap in opposing traffic before hopping over to the opposite sidewalk. It was a free for all, with no rules being observed or enforced. Today, from what I read, it is no better in the UK, it seems the Highway Code is no longer taught in schools.

Stuff drummed into me as a kid has stayed with me to this day, so believe me I understand why some cyclists ride through red lights. It is what they have always done since they were a kid, no one said they shouldn't do it.

“If I stop for a red light, even if there is no other traffic in sight, it is not because I am somehow better than the cyclist who just rides on through. It is because not to stop feels uncomfortable, and goes against a lifetime habit.”

Habits, even lifetime habits can be changed with a little conscious effort. Getting in the habit of obeying traffic laws while riding a bike would be a good thing for all cyclists to do right now. I am reading of a ticket writing blitz going on in New York, it will not surprise me if this happens in other cities in the US as cycling becomes more popular and more and more cyclists take to the streets.

Recently a cyclist was killed by a hit and run driver in NY City. As usual the culprit was never found, but as a result, police started issuing more tickets to cyclists. Critics are saying it is unfair to clamp down on cyclists in this manner. I am inclined to agree to a certain extent. It is unfair that a cyclist should pay the same fine for running a red light that a motorist has to pay.

However, it is quite simple to avoid getting one of these tickets, don't run red lights. Also, whoever said life is fair? It is unfair that I am forced to take my shoes off at the airport, because one idiot tried to blow up a plane with a bomb in his shoe.

One Brooklyn cyclist got three tickets. One for riding his bike on the sidewalk, another riding against the flow of traffic, and a third for mouthing off to the cop who was giving him the ticket. All three of these tickets could have been avoided, had this particular cyclist not become accustomed to riding his bike where ever and however he please.

Laws regarding cyclists running red lights and other infractions are in place everywhere right now, so too are fines set. Because the police have not enforced these laws in the past, it may seem unfair when they suddenly start issuing tickets.

There are ways to get people to follow the rules. You educate, preferably at an early age as happened with me, it then becomes a lifetime habit. Or you start fining people as a deterrent. 

I find obeying the law as I ride my bike, does not affect my cycling pleasure, it does not slow me down all that much either. And if my local law enforcement starts issuing tickets to cyclists, it will not affect me.

Those who get tickets will no doubt continue to say how unfair it is, and how they’ve always ridden on the sidewalk or went through red lights. I may sympathize, but I doubt I will be offering to pay their fine.


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Reader Comments (8)

Dave, I have a similar history to you, having grown up in Bristol, only a few years behind you. My own take on your post is that there is a general disregard for rules and regulations today,
The club I ride with starts each ride with the admonition that "we observe traffic rules, and if you can't do that, please ride with some other group".

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTony Taylor

Dave, having started cycling in England, I have a similar story to Tony above. Cyclists were acutely aware of the laws, which were strictly enforced. I even remember being hassled by the police for mounting my taillight to the saddlebag instead of the seatstay to avoid scratching the paint. Seeing how kids ride their bikes here in North America is appalling. The other night I saw one riding no hands down the main street while texting. This meme I often see showing kids on bikes at night disgusts me.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

Any club in which riders roll through red lights and stops signs is not a club to which I want to belong. The only times in which I roll through a "traffic control device" is when I'm waved through at the direction of a police office. That happened most recently last year when I was on a charity ride. The office had stopped the cross traffic to allow the large group of cyclists to roll through the light. All other times - even on that ride, through there were few traffic lights along the route - I stopped for reds or stop signs. It really isn't that hard to stop for red lights. I don't think I'll ever understand the reasoning of cyclists who insist on rolling through reds.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMike M

I have talked about this before, I live now and have done since 1962 in Colorado USA WE are fortunate to have MILES of bike paths to ride on. At my age 85 I am loosing my reflexes a bit, so group riding and riding on the roads is no longer an option. BUT during my years riding and racing in England from the 1940s on, OUR club rides very organized and we all rode by the laws in effect. Every day driving my car around Parker, Colorado I am often dismayed and disgusted at the chances that cyclist take,Often NO regard for the laws at all. It seems sometimes that cyclist consider themselves above the law and expect to be treated as special in some way. Very sad to see

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Crump

Look around when you're driving your car. People aren't following the rules of the road in their cars either. Stop when they want to. Turn when they want to. Cut across lanes of traffic when they want to. ...and all with no signalling!

In other words: It isn't just cyclists not following the rules of the road.

Cyclists seem to be more visible because we aren't cars, but overall cyclist behavior reflects the behavior of society as a whole.

The annoying thing to me is that all the other cars on the road not following the rules of the road get a pass, while cyclists are seen as rule breakers, entitled, and all the other adjectives we've all heard.

March 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGummee!

Hi Dave,
I disagree with you on the fine for running a red light. Here in Communist California I believe it's still stated in the DMV handbook that a cyclist must follow the rules of the road the same as motorists. You also stated the fix... don't run red lights !!!!!! The problem is even though people may know the laws, they just plain don't give a shit. The big problem I have now is the "electric scooter" riders. They also DON"T follow the rules and literally come out of nowhere. It's really an issue when you drive as most people are "poor" at best drivers that are more interested in looking at their phones then paying attention to driving, riding scooters, riding bikes etc..... There are not enough police officers to enforce the laws here as we have a Vagrant / drunk /druggie problem ( 55K plus in LA) and this takes up the officers time. Very rarely do ANY cyclist in my area actually obey the traffic laws. There are some, but I would bet it's less than .05%

March 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Ncyclopedia is one of its kind cycle shop in whole of Central India. Located in the city of Nagpur, it is the best bicycle rental, repair and service shop. Being the promoters of cycling, we at Ncyclopedia organize bicycling tours and events. Our range of bikes includes top international and Indian bicycle brands.

March 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNcyclopedia

With you on this one, Dave.

But I drank the Forester Flavor Aid and found it reduced conflicts with motorists considerably as well as placed me in a better legal position should there be witnesses in a crash.

He also had the British training of yore.

Starting from a stop makes me stronger.
Other than awareness and handling skills, proper road behavior helps a lot.
Alas, in an environment of ignorance of proper cyclist behavior on thevroadways, it can reduce predictability for motorists and other cyclists who expect the clueless operation of cyclists.

May 7, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterArt I Fice

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