This article was published in 2012, in Newsletter 104.
The problem of the minority of cyclists who travel without lights is one that needs tackling in Cambridge, just as the range of irresponsible and dangerous driving is also an issue which threatens cordial and safe road behaviour. The police have launched a new initiative to deal with the cycle lighting problem. Named LIT – Lights Instead of Tickets – it aims to create a low-bureaucracy means for the police to enforce the problem on a routine basis rather than the few-days-only-in-October exercise. The idea is to ticket people without cycle lights on the same basis as the existing Vehicle Defect Rectification Scheme. Someone caught without lights is given a ticket, but if they can prove that they have resolved the problem within 30 days, the ticket is not processed. A police officer would be able to issue a ticket and require a cyclist to come to the police station with a valid receipt for cycle lights dated either before or after the offence. The receipt would be stamped, and the ticket destroyed.
Cambridge Cycling Campaign is very pleased to support the LIT campaign. We met with the police during the planning of the scheme and suggested improvements, and we are glad it is now being launched. We think it is a good idea that has much potential because of its simplicity and lack of paperwork, meaning that levels of enforcement against cycling without lights can increase.
The benefits of this scheme are:
- The cyclist actually resolves the problem, i.e. ends up with lights, and thus the scheme has a more educational effect.
- It is fair, in that the same principle is applied to both cyclists and motorists.
- It is much less bureaucratic – when the ticket is destroyed it becomes as if it had never been issued.
- Many more tickets can thus be issued, and it becomes a routine enforcement activity rather than a week-only operation which is devalued because people know they probably won’t be caught at other times of the year.
- There is a financial incentive for cyclists to get lights, because a £15 set of lights is less than a £30 ticket.
- Police officers generally tend to be reluctant to give out tickets of any kind, as any kind of ticketing/arrest is not a nice thing to do. Under VDRS, officers are less disinclined.
- Officers would still have the discretion to issue a full normal ticket in cases when it is clearly appropriate.
- It gets the public on-side – unlike the idea of cyclists getting free lights when they break the law as was tried last year (and which requires ongoing public funding, so is not sustainable).
- It makes it 100% clear that the police are not making any money by issuing tickets.
- Enforcement will be more geographically widespread, i.e. in outer areas of the city also, where streets are darker, rather than the ‘easy pickings’ of the relatively well-lit town centre outside Sainsbury’s.
Of course we remain of the view that the police should be doing much more on road traffic policing generally, with the most serious offences, e.g. aggressive driving, speeding, dangerous blocking of cycle lanes, and so on, receiving more attention. We continue to argue that the balance between policing of different types of offence should reflect the danger to others. Nonetheless, cycling without lights is clearly dangerous, and undermines support for cycling generally and is something that needs to be tackled.