Bike Boxes – what are the rules?31 Jan 2020
I read a post recently on a London cycling forum in relation to some confusion surrounding the rules relating to advanced stop lines, or bike boxes, at traffic light controlled junctions. The cyclist who posted had asked whether buses and taxis were allowed to use them as they had seen so many being used.
After speaking with the other cyclists here at the office about their commutes, people feel like they are seeing every bike box they arrive at with a vehicle stopped in it. They are also seeing mopeds and motorbikes stopping in the bike box after filtering down the side of traffic.
So can cars, buses, vans, motorbikes and mopeds use the boxes? The answer is no but also yes in certain circumstances, so I thought I would put together a short blog post to provide an explainer and hopefully clear things up for fellow cyclists.
What are the rules?
Bike boxes are essentially two stop lines. The first stop line applies to all motorised traffic but not cyclists, and the second stop line applies to both cyclists and motorised traffic.
The ‘bike box’ is created by the space in between the stop lines and is often painted.
The Highway Code states that the boxes are there to allow bikes to be ‘positioned ahead of other traffic’. This makes sense, as we are vulnerable road users we should be afforded more time to be able to move off ahead of motorised traffic.
The Highway Code also mentions that both motorists and motorcyclists must stop at the first white line ahead of the box if the lights are Red or Amber. They are also required to leave the box free at other times, such as if they are in traffic and the junction is blocked.
Are there times when motorists are allowed to stop in the box?
There are two specific occasions when a motorist is allowed to stop in the box, however they are intended to be exceptions as opposed to the norm.
- If a motorised vehicle has crossed the first white line on a green light, i.e. entered the box, and the traffic lights then turn red, they must stop before they cross the second white line i.e. before they leave the box.
- If the vehicle is so close to the first stop line when the lights turn amber or red that it would be unsafe for the motorist to stop ahead of the line then they are permitted to cross the line and stop before the second line.
Even with these exceptions the motorist is still required to give a cyclist extra time and space to be able to move off ahead of them.
A motoring offence is only committed where the traffic lights are clearly on red and a motorist then crosses the first stop line and enters the box. The motorist can be given a fixed penalty fine and points on their licence.
Although there is a potential motoring offence here I can see that in practice the Police are likely to find it difficult to enforce the rule. An officer would need to see a motorist clearly drive into a bike box while a traffic light was on red and unless they are there on the spot it seems unlikely that they would be able to gather sufficient evidence for them to pull a driver over.