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Should riders run red lights?

red lights

More than a dozen states in the US have introduced laws allowing motorcycle riders to proceed through red lights. And it’s about time we had it in Australia.

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.

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

The laws are 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.

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 lights

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.

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.

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)red lights
  • 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 stop 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)