Myths: Law breaking

NOTE: For all of those who read between the lines and see what’s not there, please note: Nothing in this article condones law breaking by anybody. Discussing disproportionality as done below does not equal supporting an ‘they do it, so we can do it’ justification.

There’s a perception that cyclists break the law disproportionately compared to other road users, but any regular cyclist will often encounter motorists breaking the law by blocking (solid white lined) cycle lanes, clearways and advance stop lines at junctions.

But we don’t have to rely on cyclists’ experiences, survey after survey shows that it’s a myth cyclists break the law while only few motorists do the same. For example, the RSA’s 2011 speed survey, Free Speed Survey 2011, shows that:

  • 82% of car drivers surveyed exceeded the 50km/h limit on urban national roads, a marginal decrease of one percentage point on 2009 figures; 53% of these drivers exceeded the speed limit by 10km/h or more;
  • The percentage of cars exceeding the speed limit on urban arterial roads (in 50km/h zones) increased from 68% in 2009 to 77% in 2011.
  • 62% of all articulated trucks observed on rural roads were speeding (ie driving at a speed greater than 80km/h). Articulated vehicles are subject to an 80 km/h speed limit on rural roads;
  • 66% of all single deck buses observed on rural roads were speeding (ie driving at a speed greater than 80km/h); On the motorways and dual carriageways the average free speed was higher than the 80 km/h permitted for such a vehicle.

One survey found 90% of motorists were breaking the 30km/h zone in Dublin City Centre. reported last year that “A Continental Tyres traffic speeding survey along Dublin’s city centre quays, found that less than 10% of motorists were obeying the 30km/h speed limit.” The Sunday Tribune put that even higher. It reported: ”Almost 97% of motorists in Dublin city are breaking the controversial new 30kmph speed limits.”

According to an AA survey last year 53.8% of motorists surveyed “admitted to using a handheld mobile phone at least occasionally while driving.” Another survey by the AA found that “almost half (45%) of drivers [surveyed] have stopped on the hard shoulder of a motorway to make or receive a call.”

Elsewhere, Google Street View shows countless cars parked on footpaths on streets and in housing estates around Dublin and the rest of Ireland.


  1. Everything you say here is true.

    I really cant understand why nothing is done about cars parked in cycle lanes it really is absurd and some of the driving on Dublins roads is the worst you would see in any European country.

    However, you cant post up a page like this and just concentrate on the motorists like that.

    I never drive round the city centre, but I am fortunate enough to only live a couple of kilometres outside of it, so I often walk in and out of town. I am in at least as much danger from cyclists riding on the footpath and going through red lights. I have even been forced into verbal confrontations with cyclists going through pedestrian crossings on red and nearly hitting my babys pram on numerous occasions.

    I am all for making cycling safer on Dublins roads and would love to see a reduction in motor vehicles, but lets not be so one sided about this, cyclists need to step up and be counted too, cycling safely and showing respect for the rules of the road and for other road users and pedestrians would go a long way to furthering the cause.

    • “cant post up a page like this”

      Yes, I can. And I have.

      Nothing on this page makes out that cyclists are angels. It tackles the myth that cyclists are breaking the law while motorists are angels.

      Pedestrians are no angels too — and maybe that need to be added to the page?

  2. “Yes, I can. And I have.”

    Well, course you can, anyone can stick up a blog and say pretty much want they want.

    Its not exactly the point though is it ?

    Just because car drivers break the law doesnt mean its ok for cyclists to break the law.

    You are right about pedestrians also, you see some crazy risks taken. I just think it would be great to get more people cycling and walking round the city centre, the less cars on the roads the better.

    However, cyclists need to obey the rules of the road the same as car drivers do, and this page is pretty paramount to saying that just because car drivers break the rules its ok for cyclists to.

    It doesnt matter who breaks the rules the most, the fact of the matter is no-one should be breaking the rules at all !!!!!!!

  3. So whats the point in this page ?

    What is the point in saying its a myth that cyclists break the law more than motorists ? What is the point, what does it prove ?

    The stats themselves mean nothing anyway, you concentrated on speeding, what percentage of cyclists do you think run red lights and what percentage of cars run red lights ?

    How often do you go through red lights on your bike ?

    The ironic thing is that everything you mention in your blog post annoys me just as much as it annoys you.

    Cant criticise the cyclists though ?

    • What is the point? Simple: To tackle the myth that cyclists break the law more than motorists on some kind of grand scale. That’s a fairly harmful myth, and one which is often to be found online, in print and in broadcasts. That’s the one and only point – to debase the myth.

      I have no problem attacking law breaking cyclists, but there is no myth that cyclists don’t break the law and this is the myths section of this website.

  4. Everyone is BAD!
    Cyclist riding at random, everywhere. They don’t see anything.
    MANY drivers don’t use an INDICATOR – things made TO INFORM other people that you changing your driving direction, not for your satisfaction !!!
    Taxi drivers? Their have their own rules on the road. They the most dangerous “drivers” in the city!
    Why is like that?
    Because nobody pays attention to anyone: “I am the most important person now. I have to go now. My car … my street …” Egoists or half-brains ?
    I’m asking: where is the lazy Police ? They looking for dog’s sh**s on the lawns ?
    I’m a cyclist and driver, I know what I see everyday.

  5. Let’s talk reality here. The car v’s bike who’s worse that the other battle is pointless. This myth busting blog post is another pot shot in this battle. I’m a cyclist and I think it is fair comment that cyclists break the law in large numbers. I see it every day and in such numbers that I think the cycling community deserves the law breaking tag – whether it’s breaking lights, no lights etc. In general, people are right to tar us with that brush. Yes, drivers also break the law frequently and there specific examples given in this blog post.

    However, the reality is that the standard of road use by both motorists and cyclists is pretty bad in Ireland. Yet both sides continue to engage in a petty battle over who breaks the law the most or the least rather than addressing the real problems. You can’t justify a cyclist breaking a red light by saying motorists do it too. That is no justification or excuse. So instead of spending time exploding “myths” and finger pointing, all of us would be better off concentrating on sharing the road instead of myth busting.

  6. Surely the issue is not so much which group breaks most traffic laws but why the same laws apply to two very different groups of road users. In some more advanced countries and states, cycle-friendly laws allow cyclists treat red lights as yield signs. Provided you are not endangering yourself or anyone else, it is quite legal to proceed. I can think of a number of occasions such as having to cross multiple lanes where this is also a lot safer.

  7. Hi I’m a cyclist (for the record I have also ridden motorcycle and still drive a car). Cycling is where my heart is.

    What I didn’t like about your article was that it could be misinterpreted as a bit of a rant against motorists. It also could be interpreted that you are suggesting that it is OK for cyclists to break the law because all these other road users break the law too. (I know that is not what you are saying but you are leaving yourself open to that criticism)

    Confrontational articles rarely help the cause. The true cause being road safety and correct and considerate use of the road by ALL users.

    We will get more progress if we encourage and promote cyclists to adhere to the laws and especially be considerate to pedestrians. should never appear to be condoning bad behaviour by cyclists.

    Les us as cyclists lead the way in the road safety debate and promote safe and considerate road use by ALL users.

  8. @Joe: Re: “It also could be interpreted that you are suggesting that it is OK for cyclists to break the law because all these other road users break the law too”

    I’m afraid if people can’t tell the difference between talking about disproportionality and supporting an eye for an eye, they can’t be helped and can’t limit what we publish to suit unreasonable people who will infer meaning which is not there..

    It’s amazing that a page which does little more than list facts brings up such reactions. In the words of CP Scott: “Comment is free, but facts are sacred”. Facts also seem to get to people a lot when those facts get in the way of their arguments — that’s what we usually find when we look at incoming links to this page.

  9. The comment of “However, the reality is that the standard of road use by both motorists and cyclists is pretty bad in Ireland.” deserves a response because it is utterly untrue. I think we have, relatively speaking, a decent standard from both motorists and cyclists.

    I’ve had only brief exposure to road behaviour in Paris and Rome, where drivers were aggressive, not specifically towards cyclists but to each other, tailgating and cutting each other up while changing lanes. This was worst in Rome, where buses would drive right up the backside of the car in front, even when approaching red lights, then stamp on the brake and stop inches away from the car.
    A few weeks in Fujian, southeast China, offered a very different experience where road users just do whatever they want at any time — pulling out of random places with no warning, no indicating, frequently travelling on the wrong side of the road with no lights after dark, going clockwise on roundabouts when they shouldn’t, etc. This wasn’t limited to drivers — cyclists also rode as if they owned the road for the most part, which was kind of liberating. Drivers would give them massive berths, as if their mental model was primed to expect all sorts of last minute shenanigans.

    Let’s try to look at this constructively. There is nothing to be gained by ranting, but we can encourage better standards and sensible expectations from all road users. I don’t think the attitude of “treat cyclists exactly the same as car drivers” when it comes to traffic laws is constructive in this regard, and I’d agree with Liam Egan’s comment about the modern policies which try to protect cyclists AND keep traffic moving safely and freely, like the red-light-yield rule for bikes. They are not driving cars. They are vulnerable, they are relatively slow and small. It is easy to marginalise them and yet mostly avoidable with a little bit of consideration.

  10. You say it is illegal for an article truck to exceed 80 kms per hour on rural roads,it is also illegal on every other road in the state including motorways.You will be hard pressed to find a truck that obeys the speed limit.

  11. This is really just one aspect of the law. Yes car’s speed, but I would be very surprised to see cyclists breaking a 50km/h speed limit (maybe a very fit person might break the new 30km/h).

    On the flip side, – anecdotally –

    more cyclists

    * break red lights (even dedicated bicycle lights)
    * do not indicate their turns
    * use a footpath to circumnavigate a light
    * stop beyond an advance stop line

    Yes their actions are less likely to injure or kill somebody, but they also need to be highlighted if your argument that cars are the evil sector of the road is to be taken as anything but a bitter rant.

  12. @Platypus Re: “anecdotally”. Do you have any hard facts to back your statement up?
    Thought not, just an anti-cyclist “bitter rant”.

    • Piaras you need to find a mature way of expression. Nothing will ever be resolved unless all road users respect each other.

  13. @all
    It’s not illegal in Ireland to cycle on a footpath. Because there is no joined up segregated cycling infrastructure, a Garda can’t legally stop a cyclist cycling on the footpath. Think of situations where the road is very busy and the cyclist eg a young child may risk their life if they go out onto the road.
    Traffic lights were originally designed to stop people who are driving very large very powerful machines from seriously injuring or killing vulnerable human bodies.
    Paris has recently brought in Turn right on Red for cyclists which allows cyclists to move on a red light. Without a decent amount of time for cyclists to go first on a shared light with motorists, it is often safer for cyclists to cross with pedestrians on green, particularly if a right turn is coming up after the lights. But for cyclists to officially share pedestrian, as opposed to motorist, lights, priority would need to be clearly encoded in a Rules of the Road, so that in any situation where a cyclist shares a crossing or route with a pedestrian, the pedestrian must be given priority. This works well in Leuven, Belgium.
    Most of the problems arise because motorists and pedestrians have seperate purpose-built infrastructure with clear delineations and very clear rules/codes of behaviour. Cyclists are on the other hand expected to obey rules for motorists without having any of the rights given to pedestrians.
    Speed is also a structural problem. If roads are designed straight and wide with multi-lanes, drivers are going to go as fast as they ‘feel’ they should. Again, the NL and Belgium have worked out structural solutions (indenting roads, narrowing them, making them ‘feel’ dangerous to speed on).
    Time to focus on the system and the structure.

  14. In terms of pedestrianised places and footpaths, there seem to be some who even think you shouldn’t be allowed to dismount and wheel a bike on a footpath. I was recently pleased to discover some bike racks inside the Dundrum town centre car park at level 2m. They can be accessed via a pedestrian and wheelchair entrance to the centre on the Dundrum bypass. Yesterday I dismounted my bike to walk through this entrance to gain access to these racks when a car driver roared “no bikes through the pedestrian entrance” from his car. I’m unaware of any other option to access these racks safely. No doubt there would be a lot of abuse if I tried to use the vehicular entrance to the car park. When is a pedestrian not a pedestrian? Do they need to be completely unencumbered by any equipment that they are transporting on foot? Can’t win and finding it hard to predict day to day what will next put me a in position of being shouted at by strangers in public.


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