This article was written for CTC, the national cycling charity’s website by CDF’s coordinator and CTC’s road safety campaigner, Rhia Weston.
A few weeks ago, Alex Paxton was issued with a fixed penalty notice (FPN) for failing to stop at a red light, yet all he was doing was positioning himself in front of a car which had blocked the cycle box by positioning itself beyond the advanced stop line (ASL).
Alex had intended to position himself in the cyclists’ box in order to turn right, but found that the box had been occupied by a motorist. With concern for his own safety were he to stay in the inside lane and then have to cross three lanes of moving traffic in order to turn right, he decided to position himself ahead of the traffic and ahead of the final stop line, outside of the box.
A police officer witnessed the alleged offence and radioed a colleague, who stopped Alex along the road he had turned into and gave him the FPN. Having not seen the incident, the officer that issued the FPN could not assess the greater risk Alex would have been in had he positioned himself behind the white line. Alex was unaware whether the driver of the vehicle positioned in the cycle box had also been given a FPN.
Unlike many cyclists who begrudgingly pay FPNs, Alex decided to contest it in court after receiving advice from CDF. CDF agreed to support his legal challenge on the basis that it could set a legal precedent around the enforcement of ASLs and cycle boxes. CDF set up a fundraising appeal to raise the £2,000 that the case is estimated to cost. Over just 4 days, 169 individual donors helped the CDF reach its fundraising target.
Alex has said that he’s immensely grateful for the CDF’s support and to all those who donated.
The purpose of ASLs, or cycle boxes, is to give cyclists priority at junctions, where around 70% of cyclists’ collisions occur. ASLs help cyclists control their own safety as they prepare to manoeuvre through a junction by enabling them to position themselves where they are clearly visible to the drivers behind them and allowing them to move off in front of other traffic without being cut up by turning vehicles.
Being cheap and cost-effective ASLs are popular cycle safety measures in the UK, but they are in no way perfect. For instance, the law states that cyclists can only legally enter cycle boxes via a feeder lane. This is problematic for two reasons, 1) cyclists cannot enter ASLs legally where the boxes have been designed without a dashed road marking or feeder lane (these kinds of ASLs do exist); 2) where there is a central feeder lane between two lanes of traffic, left-turning cyclists are required to use that lane even if there is space for them to filter past traffic in the nearside lane, with obvious dangers if the lights change before they get there.
Presently, the law governing ASLs means cyclists are damned if they do and damned if they don’t – either risk your life by obeying the law or break the law and save your life. The Government should clarify and amend the legislation covering cyclists’ access to and use of ASLs, including amending the Highway Code, to avoid forcing cyclists into this quandary.
The Department for Transport plans to make amendments to the regulation governing ASLs to overcome the problems of accessing ASLs. Changes will be incorporated into the revised edition on Traffic Signs and Regulations General Directions in 2014. The fact that such changes are in the pipeline gives hope that the DfT will also clarify the law governing what a cyclist should do if an ASL is illegally occupied by a vehicle.
CTC also wants to see better enforcement of the first stop line – if this was enforced (preferably by camera) vehicles would not enter the boxes, and people wouldn’t have to pull ahead of the further stop line to remain safe.
When FPNs for footway cycling were introduced in England and Wales, several cycling organisations, CTC included, asked for assurance from the Government that the penalty would be applied fairly and only be used when cyclists’ behaviour put pedestrians at risk.
The then Home Office Minister, Paul Boateng MP, confirmed in writing in a now well-known quote: “The introduction of the fixed penalty is not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of the traffic, and who show consideration to other pavement users when doing so. This is not a clamp down on responsible cycling, and I know the police service too do not see it in that way.”
The same discretion that the police are expected to use when issuing FPNs for pavement cycling should also be applied when issuing FPNs to cyclists who fail to stop at ASLs and this should be reflected in ACPO guidance to police officers.