Advanced Stop Lines - what are they and can I get fined for entering one?

Advanced Stop Lines - what are they and can I get fined for entering one?
Bike boxes - or as they're officially known, Advanced Stop Lines (ASLs) - are one of many causes for confusion among drivers and cyclists sharing the road.

Exacerbated by grey areas in the law, differences of opinion and seemingly steep fines, do ASLs fuel unnecessary tension and confusion between users of the road?

We ask are they right measure to have in place and should they be policed differently?

What are Advanced Stop Lines (ASLs)?

Advanced Stop Lines

ASLs (also referred to as bike boxes) are common at UK traffic lights and are put into place to give cyclists a safe place to stop at busy crossings and allow them to be positioned ahead of other traffic so they have more time to pull off as the lights change.

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Is it illegal to enter an ASL?

Motorists could receive three penalty points and a £100 fine for stopping inside the Advanced Stop Lines (ASL) when pulling up to a red light.

Rule 178 of the Highway Code states: "Motorists, including motorcyclists, MUST stop at the first white line reached if the lights are amber or red and should avoid blocking the way or encroaching on the marked area at other times, e.g. if the junction ahead is blocked.

"If your vehicle has proceeded over the first white line at the time that the signal goes red, you MUST stop at the second white line, even if your vehicle is in the marked area.

"Allow cyclists time and space to move off when the green signal shows."

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What causes the confusion?

Although the Highway Code states you must stop at the first white line, it offers an exception to the rule, saying that if the lights change and the driver is forced to brake quickly, if it’s safer for motorists to stop in the box, rather than risk braking too suddenly.

Also, if a vehicle enters the box while the lights are on green but is unable to clear the area before they turn to red – no offence has been committed.

Furthermore, this makes prosecuting offenders difficult.

PC James Aveling, a city bike patrol officer for more than 15 years, said in a Guardian article on the same subject: "Booking cars which enter the zone is tricky as it's not illegal if they stop in one if a light turns red and they're part-way in. Officers thus have to watch a driver creep in on an already red light." 

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Common issues with ASLs

As with most similar issues, there are contributing factors on both sides. 

For example, there are occasions when motorists ignore the rules and drive straight up to the second solid white line at traffic lights. There are also incidences of cyclists putting themselves in danger by a lack of understanding of ASLs. 

It was previously only legal for a cyclist to enter an ASL from the break in the solid white line, usually found as a small gap on the kerb-side edge, however, this changed in 2016, so now a cyclist can enter from any point.

This creates confusion in itself, not only, because it has not been a well-publicised change, but also because it could be argued that, while there are safety benefits of a cyclist entering from any point - for instance to avoid a left hook - it could be seen to encourage cyclists to put themselves in danger by weaving in and out of traffic to get into the ASL by any means.

The Cycling Embassy acknowledges the negatives of ASLs, stating there are "many disadvantages" including the fact that they may encourage people to filter past traffic when it may not be always safe, and to position themselves in dangerous positions in front of HGVs and other vehicles with poor visibility.

With the many contentions and confusions around Advanced Stop Lines, how they are used and whether they are being enforced by the police, we ask should they be used at all? Please let us know where you sit in the comments below.

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