Ignoring red lights? Not the cyclists, but the researchers


The Guardian this week featured an informative article on their Bike Blog, running with the headline:

"Lies, damn lies, and statistics about red light jumping

Do 57% of UK cyclists jump red lights? One motoring organisation claims so – on very flimsy evidence"

It was in response to a poll featured by the Press Association and conducted by the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM). The headline claim is, as the Guardian cites:

"57% of cyclists 'jump red lights'"

The IAM claim on their website that this figure comes from an online poll conducted with 1600 participants. However, as the Guardian points out, this was simply a self-selecting sample of visitors to the website who chose to participate in a poll via the Survey Monkey online tool.

If this is indeed the case, that means that not only could any visitor to the website - cyclist or otherwise - have influenced the headline result, but also there would have been no weighting to account for participant attributes such as age, gender or location.

Full Fact got in touch with the IAM for their own take on this criticism and we are waiting for a response.

However the problems don't end there. The Guardian also posted this photo of the survey's findings (which may or may not be complete) to illustrate that a smaller proportion of cyclists confessed to 'regularly' jumping red lights than the headline would suggest:

This suggests that rather than referring specifically to those that 'frequently' ignore red lights, the 57 per cent used in the headline actually refers to all those who have ever confessed to jumping a red. In fact, around 2 per cent "frequently" jump red lights and around 11 per cent "sometimes" do so.

The Guardian concludes:

"Right. So not only is an unscientific, self-selected survey being presented as a poll, the headline figure is utterly misleading. And yet that's what will doubtless be reported tomorrow."

We look forward to the IAM providing us with further details about the poll, and while it would be disappointing to see poll findings misrepresented in this way if the Guardian's concerns prove well-founded, it is nevertheless pleasing to see the paper thoroughly investigate the basis of a press release before it gets into print.

UPDATE (15/05/2012)

Now the Daily Mail and [yesterday] the Times have picked up on the IAM press release via the Press Association and ran stories about its findings.

The Times report avoided emphasising the 57 per cent figure and opted to focus on the reasons given by the 2 per cent who admitted to 'regularly' breaching red lights. It did, however, go on to cite the criticism the poll had received from, among others, the CTC cycling charity.

The Daily Mail did not report any of the caveats to the poll, and again the same problems that we highlighted yesterday remain. They ran with the headline:

"More than half of cyclists have jumped red lights to get ahead of other road users"

Full Fact continues to seek the detailed figures behind the study, although the Guardian kindly provided the percentages for each answer to the 'red light' question:

As a cyclist, do you ever jump red lights?

Yes, frequently 1.9%

Yes, sometimes 11.8%

Rarely 24.6%

Once or twice 19.1%

No, I have never jumped a red light 42.7%