Don’t cross the line? But sometimes a cyclist has to to stay safe

November 4, 2013

By Luke O’Mahony

Alex Paxton was fined when he stopped beyond an advanced stop line. He is challenging the fixed penalty notice in a case that could have important implications for UK cyclists

A cyclist waiting within an advanced stop line for the lights to turn green. Photograph: Gianni Muratore/Alamy

When Alex Paxton was cycling down the road, he came to an advanced stop line (ASL). Even if the words don’t ring a bell, you’ll know an ASL, or cycle box, when you see it: typically an area marked by green tarmac and white lines, set aside to allow cyclists to safely position themselves at the front of a queue at traffic lights.

Paxton claims that because the ASL was already occupied by a car which had stopped illegally inside the area, he was unable to stop within it. As he was on a three-lane road and didn’t want to have to cross several lanes of moving traffic in order to turn right when the light changed to green, he positioned himself ahead of the car and in front of the ASL.

A police officer who noticed what had happened radioed ahead to a colleague further along the road in Fulham, London, who issued Paxton with a fixed penalty notice (FPN). Although Paxton argued at the time that the car that blocked the ASL meant he wouldn’t have been able to obey the law without putting himself in danger, he received an FPN regardless. Paxton claims that because the second police officer didn’t actually see what happened, he was unable to assess the greater risk that Paxton would have faced had he remained behind the ASL.

After receiving advice from the Cyclists’ Defence Fund (CDF), set up by the national cycling charity, CTC, to fight legal cases involving cycling, Paxton decided to contest the fine in court. The CDF hopes the case will set a precedent around the enforcement of ASLs. The CDF set up a fundraising page to assist him with his legal costs, which quickly exceeded its target of £2,000. The case is due to be heard at Lavender Hill magistrates court on Wednesday 16 October.

According to CDF’s Rhia Weston:

“When the first FPNs for cyclists (targeting those who cycled on footways) were first introduced, the CTC sought assurance that fines would only be given out when a cyclist’s actions were reckless and would endanger pedestrians – not, for example, when a cyclist uses an empty pavement to avoid a dangerous section of road. It’s important that the same sensible enforcement is applied to cyclists who don’t use ASLs when it’s unsafe to do so, especially given how frequently ASLs are blocked by illegally positioned vehicles.”

Transport for London (TfL) pledged to enforce rules that prohibit drivers from stopping in ASLs more strictly in April 2013, after Andrew Gilligan, London’s cycling commissioner, announced plans to use CCTV cameras to catch wayward motorists.

Weston continued:

“ASLs are there for a good reason: around 70% of cyclists’ collisions occur at or near junctions. They’re by no means perfect, but when used properly, we do believe that they have the potential to save lives. We understand that the Department for Transport is planning to update regulation around ASLs to overcome the considerable problems with their access, which does give us some hope for the future.”

If successful, the case could have important implications for UK cyclists: it would compel police officers to use their discretion when issuing FPNs to cyclists who, in order to stay safe, must occasionally act contrary to the law, and press the DfT to clarify the law governing what cyclists should do if an ASL is illegally occupied by a vehicle.

Contrary to the belief of some, ASLs are provided for cycles only, and motorcyclists are specifically prohibited from using them (Highway Code rule 178).

It’s worth noting, though, that there is some leeway for drivers: if the light turns red as the driver’s vehicle is already within the ASL, the driver must wait within the ASL until the light turns green.


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