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Advanced stop zones – how well are they enforced?

22 August 2011
by blondwig

I’ve written before about advanced stop zones – the painted-on boxes at traffic lights which are supposed to be reserved for cyclists.

As I said then, it’s an offence for a motorist to cross the first stop line (at the entrance to the ASZ) when the traffic light is red. But it’s not an offence for a motorist to stop inside the ASZ if they had already crossed the first line when the light went red.

So ASZs can be difficult to enforce – the police need to see the motorist enter the box in order to know whether an offence has been committed.

Recently I’ve been looking into the enforcement of advanced stop zones, for an article for the Guardian’s bike blog. I’ve asked a selection of police forces for statistics showing the number of fixed penalties they have handed out to motorists for advanced stop zone infringements – for crossing the first line on red. I thought I’d post the results, in case you’re interested.

I asked the Metropolitan Police and City of London Police a series of relevant questions. I also put a more limited set of questions to TfL, thinking they might hold statistics for the Cycle Task Force which they fund – but the answers came from the Metropolitan Police again. 

I also asked Avon and Somerset Police – the force responsible for Bristol – and West Midlands Police (responsible for Birmingham). For these forces I had to make formal requests under the Freedom of Information Act before they would answer.

I’ve set out below the information I received from each force. So far I haven’t had a full response from West Midlands Police – they have written back, but their records don’t seem to match up well with the questions I’ve asked, so they’ve requested clarification. I’ll post their answers below when I get them.

I have now had a response from Avon and Somerset Police (although it came in after the statutory deadline, and too late to be included in the Guardian article).

Metropolitan police

The Met Police confirmed that they don’t keep separate statistics showing the number of fixed penalties issued to motorists for advanced stop box infringements (i.e. crossing the first stop line on red). Instead, the Met treat this offence as the same as a normal offence of jumping a red light at a junction without an advanced stop box. When I asked why they don’t keep separate ASZ statistics, I was told that “there is no current operational requirement for it.  If the need arose, we could collect it”.

The Met did however give me statistics for the number of FPNs they had issued at the roadside for red light offences generally, so not limited to lights where there is an ASZ (and excluding lights at roadworks).

For motorists, the numbers of FPNs were as follows:

2008: 2975

2009: 3094

2010: 3587  

As a result of the questions I posed to TfL, the Met also gave me statistics for the period between July 2010 and July 2011. In that period, 3679 FPNs were given to motorists for red light offences.

In the same period, the number of FPNs given to cyclists for red light offences was as follows:

2008: 974

2009: 1731

2010: 3146

The figure for July 2010 to July 2011, which I obtained through questions to TfL, was 3430.

So the number of FPNs which the Met Police gave to cyclists for red light offences nearly doubled in 2010, and appears to be increasing further. When it comes to red light jumping, they now seem to direct as much roadside enforcement activity at cyclists as they do at motorists.

I asked why. The Met explained that the increase in cyclist FPNs was “a result of police attempting to make cycling safer in London. We take the safety of cyclists on the road very seriously and have a whole range of measures designed to help with this – particularly educational alternatives to prosecution.

The “educational alternatives to prosecution” is a reference to the Met’s “scheme which allows cyclists who have been given a fixed penalty notice the opportunity to take part in an online cycle safety course instead of paying the fine.  Although there is a charge for the course it is less than paying the fixed penalty. I did ask how many cyclists are offered this possibility, and how many take it up, but received no answer.    

I also asked questions about the use of ‘safety cameras’ (i.e. red light cameras) to detect red light infringements. These cameras can catch motorists (but not cyclists) jumping red lights. The Met gave me statistics for the numbers of FPNs issued to motorists as a result of camera detection:

2008: 22558

2009: 14370

2010: 8990

So the number of motorists caught jumping red lights by safety cameras is falling quite sharply. The Met explained that “the year on year decline in these figures “can be explained by the reduction of funding from central government for this which is a national trend. However the figure for July 2010 to July 2011 appears to be up again: I was told (as a result of questions I posed to TfL) that “in the FY 2010/11 we proceeded in some 14,000 cases where motor vehicles contravened [a red light signal]”.

 Finally, I asked whether it was possible that safety cameras could be used to detect ASZ infringements by motorists. My question was as follows:

I understand that the MPS’s red light cameras function by using triggers positioned at the stop line, which activate the camera when a vehicle is detected as passing the stop line while the light is red. It should therefore be possible to position the triggers at the first stop line at a junction where there is an advanced stop box, and thus use the red light camera to detect vehicles committing an advanced stop box infringement (i.e. crossing the first stop line on red). Would you be able to confirm whether this is correct?

The Met responded: Yes this is correct.

City of London Police

City of London police do separately record ASZ infringements by motorists (i.e. the offence of crossing the first line on red). The statistics they gave me for FPNs issued for this offence were as follows:  

2008 – 1 notice was issued

2009 – 3 notices were issued

2010 – 8 notices were issued

I asked whether they had given any FPNs in the same period to cyclists for ASZ infringements – i.e. for crossing the first white line on red, when cyclists are (strictly speaking) required to enter the box from the ‘feeder lane’. City Police confirmed that “there were no notices recorded for cyclist offences relating to advanced stop boxes in the time period specified

I also asked how many fixed penalties City Police gave to cyclists for jumping red lights in the same period. The answers were as follows:

2008 – 1,281 notices were issued

2009 – 2,365 notices were issued

2010 – 2,387 notices were issued 

So City Police’s roadside officers are focussing far more on cyclists jumping red lights than they are on motorists stopping in ASZs. In fact the numbers of FPNs issued by City Police to cyclists for jumping red lights are close to the numbers for the Met Police. And the City Police are responsible for the Square Mile, whereas the Met Police cover an area of 620 square miles.  

Finally, I asked City Police about possible detection of ASZ infringements using safety cameras, and was told that “current camera technology in use in the City of London Police area does not facilitate the detection of advanced stop box offences”.

Avon and Somerset Police

Avon and Somerset Police confirmed that, like the Metropolitan Police, they don’t keep separate statistics for ASZ infringements.

The only relevant information I obtained from Avon and Somerset Police was the numbers of FPNs issued to non-motor vehicles for failing to comply with red traffic lights. They pointed out that non-motor vehicles could include things like pony-and-traps, but “it is more than likely that all the tickets were issued to cyclists”.

Their numbers were as follows:

  • 2008 – 1 FPN
  • 2009 – 13 FPNs
  • 2010 – 18 FPNs

That perhaps gives an indication of the likelihood of getting a fixed penalty notice for jumping a red light in Bristol.

Generally, though, you can draw your own conclusions. I’ll post other responses as I get them.

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Photo by andymatthewsphotography.com from here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ginja_andy/4539768645/

12 Comments leave one →
  1. blondwig permalink*
    24 August 2011 08:17

    post updated on 24/08/11 to link to the article on the Guardian’s bike blog.

  2. Azza permalink
    24 August 2011 10:50

    I’d say it’s right for Police Forces to focus more on (any road user) jumping red lights than cars advancing into ASZs. Jumping a red light is one of the few black and white offences (‘cos you either jumped it or you didn’t) and as you said yourself ASZs offences are harder to enforce.

    So I’d say if City Police, for example, are focusing more on people jumping red lights then it’s rightly so.

    Mind you, I’d be interested to see the number of fixed penalties City Police gave to other road users for jumping red lights as your report does make it seem like Police are unfairly targeting cyclists.

    You’ve also got to remember that in the City a locally identified issue (by the residents, however few there is, and businesses) is cyclists flaunting road traffic laws. The Police are compelled because of this to be very proactive.

    Decent article here from last year which very much covers this:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/apr/16/police-cyclists-red-lights

  3. Rose Ades permalink
    24 August 2011 17:57

    I’d like to think that attitudes are changing and that there is now growing support for a campaign in London to raise public (ie cyclists and motorists) awareness of lawful and safe use (and the risks and penalties of misuse) of red lights, advance stop lines/zones and cycle lanes. It may be necessary to make some changes first to ensure that behaviours that are safe are lawful and that enforcement has a supporting role. Up til now it’s been impossible to assess the safety benefits at individual junctions with advance stop zones because the legal/regulatory context in the UK makes the ‘messaging’ convoluted and confusing, and the difficulties compounded by the politics of financing enforcement.

    London’s cycling super highways provide an opportunity to do this, as well as targeting resources where they’ll have an impact.

    Starting with the advance stop zones – How about launching a petition?
    good luck

  4. Gus permalink
    26 August 2011 17:41

    I’ve just cycled home from Hull, whilst stopped in an ASZ a police car pulled up along side of me, when I politely pointed out this was an offence I was threatened by the PCSO in the passenger seat. If this is the general attitude of out police forces what chance is there of the ordinary driver upholding the law and respecting ASZ’s?

    • blondwig permalink*
      26 August 2011 19:17

      Hi Gus

      Very sorry to hear about this. I’m sure your local police force has a complaints procedure for this kind of thing.

    • Amoeba permalink
      2 September 2011 10:15

      That’s just the time when a head mounted camcorder would have been ever so slightly useful.

  5. 3 September 2011 12:26

    Great post (as usual). One of the problems with Advanced Stop Zones is that they are a relatively new concept. ASZ’s did not exist the last time I *had* to look at the Highway Code, when I took my driving test 24 years ago. The same will apply to millions of motorists who probably don’t know the rules. I suspect the same goes for @Gus’ police car driver.

    Not an excuse of course – just an observation.

  6. blondwig permalink*
    5 September 2011 16:11

    post updated on 5/9/11 to include information from Avon and Somerset Police

  7. Mark S permalink
    16 September 2011 11:51

    ASZ’s in London are normally filled with loads of other traffic asides from cyclists. Typically motorcyclist/scooter riders as they share our filtering advantage however I often find drivers who just plain stop at the forward most line or stop at the rear line then creep forward at about 0.1mph whilst the light is red! Maybe it is a technical problem with their cars and they just need to get the brakes tested ;-)

    Personally I’d prefer to see ASZ’s treated (in theory) the same way that yellow box junctions are: you don’t enter UNLESS you can get out the other side – if done properly it should avoid the problem with motorists being “stranded” in one when the lights go red. I can still remember being advised by my driving instructor to hang back if trying to cross traffic at traffic lights IF there are 2 cars in the junction already, otherwise depending on the junction layout you could block people wanting to turn from the other side or cause issues when the lights do change.

  8. Alun Gifford permalink
    19 September 2011 21:27

    I feel that ASZ’s are totally futile. As a few of the comments show they are totally ignored. And all and sundry will creep into them. I’ve been threatened before when highlighting this and have given up as I do not want to be sideswiped by a wound up motorist in a ton of metal. Like Mark S. I was also taught by my instructor not to progress into the junction until you were confident you could do so without bringing the place to a standstill. It does seem that the fines are disproportional. If the police are able to ticket a cyclist for jumping the lights can they not also stand at the ASZ and ticket drivers who enter? Probably a waste of police time though.

  9. Jon permalink
    21 September 2012 15:01

    I feel that the ASZs have a picture of a cycle in it for a reason. It should be for cycles and only cycles. If this were enforced then there wouldn’t be any need to fine cyclists with red light infringements because there would not be any reason for a cyclist to run a red light. Fining cyclists is not the way to ensure cycle safety. Full stop. If the police have acknowledged that they have the technology to place the traffic cameras at the front line of the ASZ then it’s a no-brainer. Do it. Everyone will be safer.

Trackbacks

  1. How can safety at advanced stop zones be improved for cyclists? | Joren Knibbe | Environment | guardian.co.uk

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