Ignoring the question of whether or not cyclists should or should not break the law by running red lights, should the law be changed such that cyclists are somehow exempt from stopping and waiting? For example, the Idaho Stop Law provides that cyclists may effectively treat stop signs as yields and red lights as stop signs.

Has this question been discussed before? Has there been evidence presented that suggests that this is a good or bad idea?

Is this sort of legal change in cyclists' favor? Is it something we should fight for, or will it cause more harm than good? What are the arguments in favor and against such a change?

  • 1
    @moz - Making questions into wiki can result in an unholy mess, as we've seen. It can also result in very useful reference pages, but there's no such potential here. Is it possible to edit this into a more objective form? At the moment, all people can do is state their opinions. Commented May 13, 2011 at 2:47
  • 1
    A question I find myself asking now is 'Why do we want to go through red lights?'. Commented May 19, 2011 at 15:47
  • 1
    Personally, because I feel like an idiot waiting for three minutes at a residential intersection with zero cross traffic and clear visibility. :) Commented May 19, 2011 at 19:12
  • 3
    This isn't an answer, but a general statement; In Ohio, cyclists are supposed to follow motor vehicle laws. However you can convert yourself to a pedestrian at-will by walking your bike. If you REALLY don't want to wait for a red light, hop off your bike and jog across the street. If you get busted, it is a (relatively inexpensive and minor) jaywalking ticket, and not a $120-$180-ish ticket for running a red light.
    – rally25rs
    Commented Sep 6, 2011 at 20:11
  • 1
    Some people may be confused by the wording of the question. To most people, "running" a red light means to ignore the light entirely as if there were no signal. If you mean to proceed while the light is still red, that is sometimes legal provided that you first come to a complete stop.
    – EvilSnack
    Commented Sep 30, 2018 at 0:05

6 Answers 6


Maybe (or not), at some stop signs: but not at stop lights

This sounds like an opinion question so I'll answer it that way.

I think it would be okay to allow bicycles to roll through stop signs on residential side streets. After all, a slowly rolling cyclist is likely more aware of their surroundings than a fully stopped motorist.

Busy multi-way stop intersections? Probably not a good idea. Here in Ohio at least, motorists have no idea how 4-way stops work. We cyclists would be killed within a week.

Stop lights, no way. Stop lights are usually reserved for higher volume roads and treating them as a stop sign would be dangerous.

That's all from a safety standpoint. From a public image standpoint, I think cyclists should obey all traffic regulations to the letter. I have seen far too many kamikaze cyclists cutting in front of cars, riding on sidewalks and not signalling turns. That kind of behavior just fuels anti-cycling sentiment.

Cyclists should share the road, not expect special treatment that could promote motorist backlash.

  • 1
    I mostly agree, when there is waiting traffic at lights then it's difficult to predict which vehicles will receive the green-light--and therefore when it's actually safe to proceed without having to disrupt traffic. However, I have no issues with running any form of Stop if there is no traffic present, or if the only traffic present is the same lane as myself.
    – STW
    Commented May 13, 2011 at 14:29
  • Unless your local city's ordinance prohibits it, riding on sidewalks is legal in Ohio. (ORC 4511.711)
    – lantius
    Commented May 13, 2011 at 21:11
  • The specific provisions in the Idaho Stop Law require cyclists to treat red lights as stop signs. So essentially a busy multi-way intersection would never have traffic let up enough to allow a cyclist an opportunity to legally proceed. The situation where this kind of law would have an effect is primarily in residential areas with clear visibility and low traffic volumes. The rationale is that a cyclist has more visibility into the intersection, better situational awareness, and mistakes of judgement are easier to recover from and have lesser consequences. Commented May 19, 2011 at 19:16
  • +1 for "Here in Ohio at least, motorists have no idea how 4-way stops work." I'm in OH too, and having cars actually stop at a 4-way stopsign is practically unheard of. Usually if a driver sees you rolling up tot he stop sign, they make even less of an effort to stop, and quickly get through the intersection just to "beat you to it" so they don't have to wait for you to cross. On the other hand, I hear non-cyclists complain all the time about bikes riding in the road (at all). I think the consensus among non-cyclists is that cyclists are annoying pedestrians, and should be on sidewalks. :(
    – rally25rs
    Commented Sep 6, 2011 at 20:05
  • +1 As a biker and a driver, I almost killed a biker who ran through a red light while I was approaching by car from a perpendicular direction. This is on a 5 lane highway in a busy city! I slammed on the brakes and narrowly missed him. Obviously, pedestrians "run" red lights, too, except that pedestrians are moving more slowly (more time to anticipate) and pedestrians can reverse more quickly. Commented Sep 4, 2012 at 3:37

Redesign road intersections instead of making new laws

In most situations where the discussion centres around "there are some examples where cyclists can safely jump a red light" rather than changing the law, often it is an easier to discuss redesigning the road layout, e.g. with slip roads and paths which are not red light controlled, amending a junction to be pedestrian controlled, building a roundabout.

Changing a law, even at a US state level, to allow for special provisions for certain user groups is quite hard, expensive and open to all other groups to pressure for other changes.

Campaigning for redesigning road layouts to be more sympathetic to the different demands of cyclists and to encouraging other less motor-centric forms of transport is still hard, but has some history of success - e.g. search Google for 'copenhagenisation'.


Ensure that semi-actuated traffic lights detect bikes

Many of the under-the-road sensors which detect waiting traffic and control traffic lights have had their sensitivity adjusted in order to detect bikes: at least on bike routes.

On my commute there are I think only two or three intersections where those sensors don't notice me and consequently I might wait 'forever' (or until a car comes along behind/beside me). During the day this doesn't matter (there's enough other traffic to keep tripping the sensors): so I only notice it when I'm on the road alone, at night.

I could get off and press the pedestrian crossing button; but instead I stop (completely), wait until it's safe (no cars within 100m), and then cycle across against the light.

This type of traffic light happens where a minor residential street crosses a main road. I don't see how that intersection could be redesigned: without a traffic light, in daytime where there's nearly continuous traffic on the main road, the occasional cars on the smaller road would never be able to cross the main road. And it wouldn't be worth putting roundabouts there IMO.

  • There's an intersection like this on a ride that we do occasionally, but the main road is a high-speed road (45 mph, I think), there's no pedestrian crossing, and the intersection is pretty long. Changing the sensitivity seems the only good option: there are already construction projects all over the city, so I'm not sure there's money to redesign this even if they wanted to. A roundabout would be an improvement, but those aren't really used in the city yet (a couple of suburbs have quite a few). Commented May 13, 2011 at 15:05
  • The common types of vehicle detection systems can be adjusted to detect a bicycle. When an in-road induction coil is set up very sensitive, however, it will pick up water on the road, so they'll often err on the side of not sensitive enough to pick up a bike. I've contacted the local government (via my local bicycle coalition who has a program for this) and they've fixed a couple intersections (adjusted the sensitivity, tested, and marked the spot your wheels should be at). It's a major safety issue so they should prioritize it.
    – freiheit
    Commented May 13, 2011 at 16:49
  • That's a fairly common problem, but passing a light that isn't working properly after stopping is bit different from "run red lights" etatrust.org.uk/2013/09/…
    – armb
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 16:18
  • @armb Yes I figure I have the right to treat it as a "broken" stop light.
    – ChrisW
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 22:28

Whether or not it is "legal", the fact is cyclists DO run red-lights. There are solid pragmatic reasons for doing this in certain circumstances and there are situations for which this is NOT a good idea.

The problem is that laws traffic laws have trouble handling nuance, so not all jurisdictions can hope to get away with specific laws/exceptions to accommodate cyclists.

I think it is OK for the laws to not be changed even though it means that on rare occasions a cop who is feeling persnickety might decide to enforce the "letter of the law" on a cyclist who proceeds through a red-light at a clear intersection.


No, they should not be allowed to run red lights.

Many fatalities in London are caused by cyclists being squeezed between railings and large vehicles that are turning left where the cyclist tried to get in front of the vehicle which was at a red light, and as the light turned green the driver couldn't see the cyclist as the cyclist was in the driver's blind sopt. Allowing cyclists to go through red lights would increase the occurrence of this as they would be more likely to try and squeeze past vehicles to then go through the red light.

What is really needed, as Unsliced mentioned, is better designed road intersections.

  • 1
    Actually this is one place that cyclists passing a red light can save lives. Cyclist stops at a red light. Truck comes up behind/beside cyclist, puts cyclist in blind spot, and driver forgets cyclist is there. Lights turn green, both vehicles set off, driver swings left crushing cyclist against railings. If the cyclist sets off before the light changes, they can get clear.
    – armb
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 16:26
  • movingtargetzine.com/article/… was a particularly bad example, the driver admitted looking for paperwork in his cab while turning.
    – armb
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 16:28
  • You can avoid both the sample in the question and that in the first comment by having good cycle lanes with separate red/green light circles.
    – Willeke
    Commented Dec 9, 2020 at 18:22

In Britain all vehicles are required by Law to be MOT'd (an annual safety check cost £35-£50) Taxed (a variable amount dependant emissions average car £130) and Insured (after maximum discounts for no claims £300 or more) and to drive a car a full licence is required which is much harder to pass than when Itook it over 30 years ago. Cyclist pay none of this and are being provided in major towns with bike lanes or the right to use bus-lanes. In London (not an easy place to drive) there is a presumption that a driver is to blame for any accident involving a cyclist. With heavy congestion any cyclist can easily average a higher speed than a car and yet they DO NOT obey the rules of the road and are very unlikely to be stopped by the Police even when they ride through red lights. Needless to say the average car and van driver tend to consider cyclists as vermin.(Exageration).. The problem cyclists really started when supermarkets started selling bikes and they started to be viewed as toys.This was when BMX and Mountain Bikes became popular and car ownership increased. In my opinion Cyclists need to be seen as responsible citizens The easiest way being to act in a considerate and law abiding way..Then car drivers will start to realise that every cyclist is one less idiot car driver in the way and welcome changes to the road layout that encorage more cyclists.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.