Are Cyclists Supposed To Stop At Red Lights?

Last Updated on January 12, 2020

This guide has been written by cycling review expert Alex Bristol

Last Updated on January 12, 2020

Bicycles are vehicles

Cyclists are protected by many laws, and other vehicle drivers have to respect them to ensure bikers’ safety on the road. In the same way and for the same reason, there are as many rules that cyclists are obligated to adhere to. While pedestrians must always be yielded the right of way, bicycles are considered vehicles, so they’re subject to the same rules as other drivers. When turning left at an intersection, they must yield to oncoming traffic. When merging into traffic, they can’t merge unless the driver behind them slows down to let them in. They must, of course, give the right of way to emergency vehicles and construction vehicles, as well as to school buses.

What about red lights?

Since they have to respect the same rules as other vehicle drivers, one would think that they’re not, in any case, allowed to run the red light. This is not entirely true. In some U.S. States, if you approach an intersection with a red traffic light on, you are required by law to come to a complete stop and don’t go anywhere until the light is green, just like vehicles. More and more States, instead, are changing the rules following Idaho example. Idaho Bike Laws dictate that cyclists must stop at the red light and then yield to all other traffic. If safe, the cyclist may proceed through the intersection.

The statute in Missouri states that a person riding their bicycle is allowed to run through a red traffic light in the case that no motor vehicle or person is approaching on the street or highway to be crossed or entered or is so far away from the intersection that it does not constitute an immediate hazard.

Today this is the rule in most of the U.S.State, so if you’re riding a bike you’re somehow allowed to anticipate the traffic at intersections.

Why is that so?

Rules are changing for three main reasons:

  1. Many stoplights are motion-activated (or even weight-activated) with sensors designed for cars. Cyclists often can’t trigger them, and it becomes both legal and necessary to safely run the light after a period of waiting.
  2. It’s safer for a bicyclist to anticipate the traffic at intersections. If you’re on a busy street waiting at a light with traffic, it feels much safer to pull forward and at least get a head start. That way the moving traffic will not edge you into parked cars as you try to get going. Some studies have shown that allowing cyclists to move more quickly through intersections actually reduces the incidence of collisions.
  3. To prevent the common occurrence of the “right hook” collision, wherein the cyclist occupies a blind spot of the car to its left and is struck when that car goes to make a right turn.

1. Bike laws you may not know about – Post on Active

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