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Should riders be exempt from red lights?

Should riders be exempt from red lights

Motorcycles in many countries are allowed to ride through red lights after they have come to a stop because of heat and the fact that many lights do not trigger for motorcycles.

Most of these countries only allow riders to turn left or right (depending on whether they drive on the left or right) at a red light after they have come to a complete stop.

However, many American states have now introduced laws allowing motorcycle riders to proceed straight ahead at red lights.

The laws differ with some USA states requiring riders just to stop first, others requiring them to wait a certain amount of time and others requiring them to wait for a complete cycle of the lights.

Bikes not detected at red lights

These laws were designed to solve the problem of some bikes not being detected by the traffic light sensor at “vehicle actuated” intersections.

This can happen because the bike is too light, has too much alloy or is not in the correct position on the road. Click here to read more on this issue.

Cut marks in the road show where the inductor loop is located
Cut marks in the road show where the inductor loop is located

There are varying types of sensors used around the world but the most common is called an inductor loop. It consists of a wire loop placed in the asphalt leaving a telltale rectangular cutting in the centre of the lane road surface to detect the metal in the engine block.

However they often don’t detect small bikes. Also, most riders tend to pull-up in the wheel tracks to avoid the slippery oil spills in the centre of the lane.

When the lights won’t activate, it means riders have to sit for long periods in the sun or rain and hold up traffic behind them. Some riders have been known to become so frustrated, they get off their bike and press the pedestrian button to actuate the lights.

Hot issue

red lights

The American states have not only identified that this is a matter of inconvenience, but also a matter of safety as these vehicles are in a vulnerable position and riders can also suffer heat exhaustion sitting still for a long time on very hot days.

It is something that should be considered for Australia with our extremes of weather.

Sitting at traffic lights on a scorching summer with a hot bike underneath you pouring out even more heat is a serious safety issue.

Currently, only NSW, Queensland, South Australia, the ACT and Northern Territory allow left turns at select intersections with special signs.

However, they are few and far between. For example, there are only six in the whole of South Australia while NSW and Queensland are winding them back after concerns about pedestrian  safety.

Should riders be exempt from red lights

US states with safe-on-red laws:

  • Arkansas – (2005) allows a motorcyclist to proceed with caution, after coming to a full and complete stop, through a red light that fails to detect the bike. (Arkansas Code section 27-52-206)
  • Idaho – (2006) If a signal fails to operate after one cycle of the traffic light that a motorcyclist may proceed, using due caution and care, after coming to a full and complete stop at the intersection.  (Statute 49-802)
  • Illinois – (2012) Permits a driver of a motorcycles or bicycle facing a red light that fails to change within a reasonable period of time of not less than 120 seconds to proceed after yielding the right-of-way to any oncoming traffic. However, this law doesn’t apply to municipalities of over 2,000,000 people – such as Chicago. (625 ILCS 5/11-306)
  • Minnesota – (2002) A person operating a bicycle or motorcycle who runs a red light has an affirmative defense if the driver first came to a complete stop, the traffic light stayed red for an unreasonable amount of time and appeared not to detect the vehicle and no motor vehicles or people were approaching the street. (Statute 169.06)
  • Missouri – (2009) State law tells both motorcyclists and bicyclists that run red lights that they have an affirmative defense if they brought their vehicle to a complete stop, the light was red for an unreasonable time period, and there were no motor vehicle or person approaching.  (Statute 304.285)
  • Nevada – (2013) Those using motorcycles, bicycles, mopeds, and tri-mobiles are allowed to proceed through an intersection with a red light after waiting for two traffic light cycles, and they yield to other vehicle traffic or pedestrians. (Statute 484B.307)
  • North Carolina – (2007) Motorcyclists are permitted to move cautiously through a steady red light after coming to a complete stop and waiting a minimum of three minutes and if no other vehicle or pedestrians are approaching the intersection. (NCGS 20-158)
  • Oklahoma – (2010) Motorcycles can proceed cautiously through a steady red light intersection after a making a complete stored lightsp and if no other motor vehicle or person is approaching the roadway. (Statute 47-11-202)
  • South Carolina – (2008) After making a complete stop and waiting for a minimum of 120 seconds, the driver of a motorcycle, moped, or bicycle may treat a steady red light that doesn’t change as a stop sign and proceed with caution. (S.C. Code 56-5-970)
  • Tennessee – (2003) After coming to a complete stop, motorcyclists and bicyclists may proceed through a steady red light when it is safe to do so. (Tennessee Traffic Control Signals 55-8-110)
  • Virginia – (2011) Drivers of motorcycles, mopeds, and bicycles may move with caution through non-responsive red lights as long as they yield the right-of-way to others approaching the intersection, and have come to a complete stop for two complete light cycles or 120 seconds, whichever is shorter.(Statute 46-2-833)
  • Washington – (2014) Riders must wait for a full cycle of the lights before proceeding safely.Wisconsin – (2006) A motorcycle, moped or bicycle is permitted to run a steady red light after making a complete stop and waiting at least 45 seconds and then yields the right–of-way to any vehicular traffic or pedestrians using the intersection.  (Statute 346.37)


  1. Yes, they should, I’ve used caution & safety when stopping, observing & moving on many times in my 46 years on motorcycles. Too many times in the early years I’ve sat sweltering in heat or dripping wet in the middle of the night waiting for a car to stop behind me to activate the bloody traffic lights!

  2. The problem with pedestrians could be solved with some common sense on the part of drivers and pedestrians and proper education of both.
    An actual course on logic and consequences taught using road usage should be mandatory at all schools and high schools. Currently it is assumed that subjects that include these concepts are getting the message across but often the link to reality is too esoteric for some people especially those who won’t get their noses out of their phones.
    The only problem with allowing riders to drive through red lights is the type of people who will take it as a license to just run them even if they’re in a prime mover carrying explosives unless they have been properly educated about the dangers of such short sighted me too behaviour.
    I was once stuck at a set of malfunctioning lights with a cop car on every corner I had to just sit there until one of the cops pressed the button for me or maybe he just wanted to cross the road I’m not sure but I was thankful and I’d be thankful for some common sense road rules too!

  3. Most states of the USA allow a right turn at red lights (equivalent to left turn here) when it is clear enough to do so. Stopping in the right lane and waiting for a green light in the USA will inevitably result in angry cars banking up and you will hear horns until you move out. The rule is not only for motorcycles; cars also turn right from the right lane at red lights.

  4. I was told by a doctor (who was a rider) years ago that heat is more dangerous than drinking.
    I’ve never checked the truth of that, I just took it at face value. If it’s true then Mark should not be doing a story on this – WH&S should mandate the constant moving of bikes/trikes so that we don’t die or get runover further down the road because our brains have been boiled!
    Why is it so hard to get a bureaucrat with brains?

  5. Should happen! But, won’t happen. Too much of a Nanny state for anything logical . Some drivers are to dumb to move up close to set the lights off. I have had to get off and press the button at times.

  6. I have a number of small vintage trail bikes. I have had to go and push the walk button in order to get the lights to change or wait until a car turns up.

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