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Why Do Cyclists Run Red Lights?


At Phillips & Associates, we frequently encounter questions about road safety, particularly concerning cyclists in Southern California's bustling urban areas like Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego. A topic that often arises in our discussions is the tendency of some cyclists to run red lights. This behavior, while not unique to Southern California, presents distinct challenges in these densely populated regions. So, why do cyclists run red lights, and what can we do about it?

Reasons Why Cyclists May Run Red Lights

  1. Perception of Safety: Some cyclists believe that proceeding through a red light can be safer than waiting, especially if there are no vehicles present. This is often based on the cyclist's ability to assess the road more quickly than waiting for the signal change.

  2. Efficiency of Travel: Cycling is a physically demanding mode of transportation. Stopping and starting again at red lights can be tiring and reduce momentum, leading some cyclists to run red lights to maintain their pace.

  3. Infrastructure Issues: In some cases, the design of the road or the traffic light sensors may not be cyclist-friendly. Cyclists might run red lights if they feel the infrastructure doesn’t acknowledge their presence.

  4. Lack of Awareness or Disregard for Laws: Some cyclists may not be fully aware of traffic laws or choose to ignore them, mistakenly believing that traffic rules do not apply to bicycles in the same way as motor vehicles.

Legal Obligations of Cyclists at Stop Lights

In California, cyclists are legally required to follow the same rules as motor vehicles, which includes obeying traffic signals such as red lights. This is outlined in the California Vehicle Code (CVC). The CVC clearly stipulates that all rules of the road, including those governing stop lights, apply equally to cyclists and drivers of motor vehicles.

Running a red light on a bicycle is not only illegal but also significantly increases the risk of accidents, particularly collisions with vehicles that have the right of way. Such accidents can result in severe injuries or even fatalities.

Implications and Solutions

Understanding the reasons why cyclists might run red lights can inform better urban planning and traffic management, leading to safer roads for all users. Solutions might include:

  • Improved Infrastructure: Developing bike lanes with sensors and signals specifically designed for cyclists can encourage adherence to traffic laws.

  • Education and Awareness Campaigns: Public information campaigns can help educate cyclists about the risks of running red lights and the importance of complying with traffic laws.

  • Enforcement of Traffic Laws: Increased enforcement of traffic laws for cyclists can deter the running of red lights and improve overall road safety.

In conclusion, while the reasons for cyclists running red lights are varied, the importance of adhering to traffic laws cannot be overstated. Understanding these reasons and addressing them through education, improved infrastructure, and enforcement can lead to safer roads for both cyclists and motorists.


If you or a loved one has been injured in a cycling accident, contact Phillips & Associates for a free consultation today. You will immediately be put in touch with John Phillips or Patrick DiFilippo, who can help determine whether you have a case and advise you on the best course of action moving forward.

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