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View Poll Results: How Often Does Scofflaw Behavior Increase Cyclist Safety?
Always 2 2.90%
Very often 9 13.04%
Sometimes 25 36.23%
Very seldom 19 27.54%
Never 14 20.29%
Voters: 69. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 11-21-08, 09:30 PM   #1
AlmostTrick
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How Often Does Scofflaw Behavior Increase Cyclist Safety?

My main concern as a cyclist is keeping myself crash free. Sometimes when defending scofflaw cyclist behavior, the safety card gets played. Some say it is safer for a cyclist to disobey the rules when they deem it to be in their best interest because "the laws were made for motorist safety", "drivers break as many (or more) laws", "bikes can't cause as much damage", etc. These and others are all valid points to some degree, and I have little doubt that technically breaking a law may sometimes result in greater safety for the cyclist in certain cases. My question is, how often would you say this is true for you, in your regular riding area?


Always
Very Often
Sometimes
Very Seldom
Never
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Old 11-22-08, 01:02 AM   #2
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I would argue that law-following and safety are really two separate issues for the bicyclist, and, for safety's sake, should be considered as such. The safest and most conservative riders I know of are messengers who break the law on a regular basis. A bicyclist's safety is dependent on awareness (and a little bit on luck), whether they follow the law or not. I don't have an answer to the poll question but I am open to the possibility that law-breaking could increase a rider's safety, insofar as it increases a rider's awareness.
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Old 11-22-08, 04:01 AM   #3
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^^I concur. I didn't vote either. I think it depends on what law is being broken in a given situation. Some of the current laws can place the cyclist in an unsafe position if followed. Florida doesn't have any that I am aware of (having to stop for a red light or stop sign is not one), but some other states have "must use side path or bike lane" laws. If these are poorly designed or run through an area with a lot of parking lot entrances/exits, driveways, or side streets, they jeopardize cyclist safety.
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Old 11-22-08, 05:38 AM   #4
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Please detail a specific incident where breaking the law increases a cyclists safety, becasue this sounds like the typical justification jingo.
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Old 11-22-08, 06:25 AM   #5
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There is a big difference between "scofflaw" behavior, and breaking a traffic law after making a conscious decision that it will allow the cyclist to avoid harm.



"Scofflaw" cyclists:

-flaunt the law in front of as many people as they can
-tell as many people as they can how cool they are for flaunting the law
-get mad at people who point out that they are acting like sullen, rebellious teenagers when they brag about their exploits, and
-whine when they nearly get hit while riding in an unpredictable manner, and then get mad at the same people who point out yet again that were they riding with some semblance of order and procedure, they would likely have never created that situation.

All of the above behavior serves to feed their monumental egos, which is the real reason they ride that way. Not because it "increases their safety" - that is a sorry justification.
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Old 11-22-08, 06:54 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by dobber View Post
Please detail a specific incident where breaking the law increases a cyclists safety, becasue this sounds like the typical justification jingo.
I tend to agree... especially when it comes to running red lights...

I fail to see the advantages to the cyclist of running red lights, whereas I see the potential disadvantage quite easily. The usual rant about running red lights is that you stay ahead of traffic... this only works in areas where traffic is highly congested or moving at less then the cyclist's average speed.
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Old 11-22-08, 07:49 AM   #7
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I tend to agree... especially when it comes to running red lights...

I fail to see the advantages to the cyclist of running red lights, whereas I see the potential disadvantage quite easily. The usual rant about running red lights is that you stay ahead of traffic... this only works in areas where traffic is highly congested or moving at less then the cyclist's average speed.
Here's one reason why I sometimes run red lights for safety's sake:

Where I ride motorists often take the first few seconds of a red light as a sort of grace period during which they can still proceed through the intersection. Many will even speed up at a yellow or when the light turns red to get through before the cross traffic starts going. Roads are also very narrow with no bike lanes. A car can likely stop safely at a red light without being rear ended because a car registers in the field of vision far greater than a cyclist, and a cars brake lights are a clear signal of braking (hand signals as a cyclist aren't nearly as effective).

I'll almost always run a red light when there's traffic behind me and the cross traffic permits it because I never know if the car behind me is going to continue barreling through the intersection or not.

I voted "Sometimes" in the poll.
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Old 11-22-08, 11:22 AM   #8
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I would argue that law-following and safety are really two separate issues for the bicyclist, and, for safety's sake, should be considered as such. The safest and most conservative riders I know of are messengers who break the law on a regular basis. A bicyclist's safety is dependent on awareness (and a little bit on luck), whether they follow the law or not. I don't have an answer to the poll question but I am open to the possibility that law-breaking could increase a rider's safety, insofar as it increases a rider's awareness.
There is no question that awareness is the key to a cyclists safety. But how would law breaking increase a rider's awareness? If one chooses to obey the law, couldn't they be just as aware as the scofflaw? Messengers break the rules to meet their schedules, others do it out of convenience. I readily admit scofflaw riding does prove very safe for some, but safety probably isn't the priority motivation for doing so. I would argue the same riders would have excellent safety records even while following the rules.
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Old 11-22-08, 11:51 AM   #9
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Please detail a specific incident where breaking the law increases a cyclists safety, becasue this sounds like the typical justification jingo.
Here's one:

Classic 4-way, signaled intersection, 1 lane in each direction, good sight lines. There are no left-turn arrows, just a green light, and left turners yield. (pretty common intersection across the country).

A cyclist is in front, waiting towards the left side of the lane to make a left turn. Many cars are behind him (most going straight), and quite a few cars on the opposite side going straight. The light is green for cross traffic, but the cyclist can see well down the road in both directions and there is not a car in sight.

Legally, the cyclist should wait for the green, and yield for all the oncoming traffic before making the left. Meanwhile, the cars behind him are either squeezing by or are forced to wait. There's a good chance that there will be no gap in oncoming traffic until the light turns yellow.

I would suggest that running the red light would probably be the safer move in this case.

(also, this is actually a pretty common scenario)

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Old 11-22-08, 12:20 PM   #10
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Old 11-22-08, 12:40 PM   #11
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How so? And to whom are you referring?
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Old 11-22-08, 01:11 PM   #12
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If someone says, "How often is it safe to break the law for safety reasons?" then, yes it's a logical error. And there's a bit of that in the framing of the original post. And in responses that say "well, my motivation for breaking the law is always my safety, so the law-breaking always makes me safer"

A more direct question might be, "what portion of your illegal actions are primarily motivated by a desire to increase your safety vs. convenience"

For me, when I run stop signs, it's usually for convenience reasons. I'll stop for safety reasons when other traffic is present.

I always stop at red lights, but will (infrequently) run them after stopping. My motivation is usually safety, like in the example I posted. Occasionally (at a deserted intersection), I will run a red light for convenience.

The only other laws that I regularly violate are bike lane regulations. I will frequently leave the bike in situations where the law would probably require me to stay in the bike lane. This is never for convenience; my motivation is safety when I do this.
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Old 11-22-08, 01:49 PM   #13
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There is no question that awareness is the key to a cyclists safety. But how would law breaking increase a rider's awareness? If one chooses to obey the law, couldn't they be just as aware as the scofflaw? Messengers break the rules to meet their schedules, others do it out of convenience. I readily admit scofflaw riding does prove very safe for some, but safety probably isn't the priority motivation for doing so. I would argue the same riders would have excellent safety records even while following the rules.
Agreed. I have often said that the safest rider would be both lawful and aware. The reality is it often doesn't work out that way for some reason, which is obvious looking at accident statistics and hearing all the stories I've heard over the years. I suspect that lawfulness can have a sort of seditive effect on the brain at times, may lead to letting one's guard down, I don't know.
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Old 11-22-08, 11:53 PM   #14
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There are definitely times when breaking a law is safer than following it...in part, because there are some really poor laws on the books in some places. Some states in the U.S. have mandatory bike-lane laws with no exceptions. In many situations, it would be dangerous and irresponsible to obey such a law. Other states require you to give a turn signal continuously for a set distance before a turn or lane change. While communicating clear intentions to other drivers is vital, signaling continuously (leaving only one hand to brake) is often a bad idea.

Thing is, I wouldn't think to use the term "scofflaw" to describe a cyclist who breaks these sorts of laws. A traffic law which mandates blatantly unsafe behavior has no legitimacy in the first place. You may still get a ticket, of course...but that's a different issue, and potentially offers a chance to help change a bad law.
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Old 11-23-08, 09:02 AM   #15
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mandatory bike lane use laws with no exceptions? come on....

characterizing messengers as the 'most conservative' riders on the roads? no, most conservative are yellow jackets, foot down at every stopsign, hand waving and head nods, that delusively think they are being seen as 'equal road users' by motorists.

I'm with zeytoun; sometimes traffic and road dynamics call for a 'scofflaw' maneuver that will increase safety.

I think of left turns on four or six lane arterials without a center turn lane at unsignalized intersections, where a rider approaching a turn can see a pod of oncoming traffic that will block the left turn, and a lot of motorist traffic overtaking.

the short left turn may increase safety versus sitting on the middle of a busy road, waiting for oncoming traffic to clear.
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Old 11-23-08, 09:16 AM   #16
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When I break traffic law, it's often motivated not by safety, nor convenience, but to avoid traffic conflicts with cars. I might ride through an intersection during a "barnes dance" sequence instead of waiting for the car light to turn green, for example, since cars here flip a **** here when you take the lane at an intersection.

My general approach to riding has to do with showing respect to other road users when possible, and asserting my rights unyieldingly when I need them. The showing respect part often, but not always, means demonstrating that I'm a law-abiding road user.

Except to the extent that this sort of breaking the law enhances my safety, I don't make a habit of breaking the law for safety. I ride aggressively, often, but not really illegally unless there's some sort of imminent danger forcing me to do so.
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Old 11-23-08, 12:03 PM   #17
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...
characterizing messengers as the 'most conservative' riders on the roads? no, most conservative are yellow jackets, foot down at every stopsign, hand waving and head nods, that delusively think they are being seen as 'equal road users' by motorists....
...
I disagree although I realize it will be hard to make a convincing argument. But here goes. Old, experienced veteran messengers, whether or not they are following the law, studiously avoid putting themselves in positions of dependence on motorist or pedestrian awareness. (To some degree there will still be flashes of dependence that remain unavoidable.) In sharp contrast, the "foot down at every stopsign" types mentioned above happily put themselves in positions of dependence on motorist awareness as part of their schtick. They think they are the most conservative riders on the road, but they're wrong.
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Old 11-23-08, 12:17 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by zeytoun View Post
Here's one:

Classic 4-way, signaled intersection, 1 lane in each direction, good sight lines. There are no left-turn arrows, just a green light, and left turners yield. (pretty common intersection across the country).

A cyclist is in front, waiting towards the left side of the lane to make a left turn. Many cars are behind him (most going straight), and quite a few cars on the opposite side going straight. The light is green for cross traffic, but the cyclist can see well down the road in both directions and there is not a car in sight.

Legally, the cyclist should wait for the green, and yield for all the oncoming traffic before making the left. Meanwhile, the cars behind him are either squeezing by or are forced to wait. There's a good chance that there will be no gap in oncoming traffic until the light turns yellow.

I would suggest that running the red light would probably be the safer move in this case.

(also, this is actually a pretty common scenario)

And the motorist making a right turn on red, that is not looking at the cyclist, T-bones the red light running cyclist. Somehow that does not seem very safe to me.

On the other hand, a two step left turn appears very safe and even legal.
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Old 11-23-08, 12:30 PM   #19
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Please detail a specific incident where breaking the law increases a cyclists safety, becasue this sounds like the typical justification jingo.
We Always Run this Red on a Left turn. It won't change for bicycles and we don't want to be sitting ducks for trucks on a 55 mph highway.

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Old 11-23-08, 12:44 PM   #20
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And the motorist making a right turn on red, that is not looking at the cyclist, T-bones the red light running cyclist. Somehow that does not seem very safe to me.

On the other hand, a two step left turn appears very safe and even legal.
Obviously assuming the intersection is empty, the cyclist can take the left and stick on the double yellow while the right-on-red car passes inside of the biker.

As mentioned, the poll is a little broad for an issue that has a lot of gray area in it. Generally, my view of riding 'scofflaw' style is that if I come close to getting hit or do something stupid at least it's my own fault. I've come a lot closer to getting hit riding on the right hand side of the road and trying to follow rules than by going where I feel safest. Mind you, I do spend most of my time riding on the right anyway, I only take the lane at certain sketchy parts of my commute, but I have no problem riding on the double yellow through city traffic or jumping lights if the situation calls for it. Like I said, I just feel more in control at certain points when I bend the rules and I can make risk assesments as to what I do.
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Old 11-23-08, 01:30 PM   #21
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There are about a half-dozen lights on my commute that I treat like a stop sign. Two lights are of the 'car sensing' variety and my bicycle will not trigger them. They were my 'gateway drug' into red light running.

There are a few lights I run because the low-traffic cross streets are totally clear. I do it for pure speed and convenience. I guess I see it as equivalent to jay walking, which many pedestrians do at the same points. I've done this in front of a cop car, and he did nothing. (Phew!)

There's one light on my route that I run for safety reasons. It's a four lane north/south street that's pretty busy. The east/west street is usually empty. I have to get into the left hand turn lane at the very next block. If I wait until the light turns green, I have to weave inside a huge cluster of traffic to negotiate the lane change. But if I run the light, I get ahead of all the traffic and I can get into the left turn lane very easily and safely. I consider it *much* safer to run the light than wait. But yes, I recognize that it's illegal and that I could get ticketed. If it happens, I'll deal with the consequences.

Oh, and 4 way stops at night... I usually slow down and look very carefully, but I rarely ever stop for them if the coast is clear.

You have to admit, it's a lot easier to see and hear nearby traffic when you are on a bicycle instead of inside a hermetically sealed cage. I'm always more worried about hitting another cyclist than I am a car. Especially those bike ninjas.

I'm getting the sense that I'm trying too hard to justify my illegal actions, so I should stop...
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Old 11-23-08, 03:31 PM   #22
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How Often Does Scofflaw Behavior Increase Cyclist Safety?

There's not enough data available to answer that question with any degree of certainty but my guess is that illegal behavior rarely, if ever, increases cyclist safety.

I can think of lots of ways in which illegal behavior increases bicyclist convenience without adversely affecting safety but, then, that wasn't the question.

I can also think of situations in which relying on legal behavior (i.e. proceeding on green) can be pretty dangerous but, then, that also was not the question.

There's also a big difference between technically illegal behavior and scofflaw behavior. I sometimes engage in technically illegal behavior but I'm anything but a scofflaw.

Last edited by JRA; 11-23-08 at 03:36 PM.
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Old 11-23-08, 03:44 PM   #23
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I don't stop at stop signs. I can better concentrate on traffic coming if I keep some movement. If I put my foot down to check for traffic it's distracting and I either don't check as well or I waste everyone's time.

I don't always signal my lane changes or turns. Sometimes I'm being lazy, but sometimes the road surface doesn't allow me to remove a hand.

Anyway, I put "very seldom."
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Old 11-23-08, 03:47 PM   #24
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Agreed. I have often said that the safest rider would be both lawful and aware. The reality is it often doesn't work out that way for some reason, which is obvious looking at accident statistics and hearing all the stories I've heard over the years. I suspect that lawfulness can have a sort of seditive effect on the brain at times, may lead to letting one's guard down, I don't know.
So conservative would be minimal dependence on other road users?
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Old 11-23-08, 03:57 PM   #25
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And the motorist making a right turn on red, that is not looking at the cyclist, T-bones the red light running cyclist. Somehow that does not seem very safe to me.

On the other hand, a two step left turn appears very safe and even legal.
I'm not sure I agree.

If:
a. 1st inline motorist has no turn signal, and
b. hasn't cut his wheels, and
c. Doesn't immediately turn when you give him a "standing two-count" once traffic clears for the both of you,

it's highly unlikely he's turning right.

I'm not wild about waiting for the green, 'cause there's probably going to be a lot of straight-travelling cars (from the pic) needing to squeeze by--why unneccesarially take that risk?

If a L on red isn't feasible (traffic or other concerns), the bicyclist could back up a good 20' or so from the intersection, time the light so he enters the intersection JUST as it turns green w/10MPH or so momentum, and turn L in front of the opposing traffic, beating lead driver's reaction time.
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