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Bill to let motorcycles stop at red light, then go

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Motorcycles American Government

Bill to let motorcycles stop at red light, then go

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
May 29, 2011

What about House Bill 2860 in the Illinois legislature? What is it?

It's a bill that would let a motorcyclist "run" a red light. Well, not exactly "run", but it would allow the motorcycle driver to treat a red light as a stop sign - after a while. And it's that "while" that will probably put most tickets in court and result in a Not Guilty for any motorcycle driver (I thought they were called "operators" in Illinois) who challenges a ticket.

I remember a night (ok, so it was a "morning") in Denver when I pulled up on my motorcycle at a red light. It was about 2:30AM, and there was NO traffic. I waited through what I estimated to be the time for three-four light changes and then, with no traffic in sight, drove across the intersection. I figured that my bike (a Harley-Davidson 1200cc) had not "tripped" the sensors in the pavement and, at that hour, who knew how long I'd have to sit there before a car stopped behind me.

About a block up the street I said to my passenger, "Hang on. We're going to get stopped." I had seen a car turn left at the light on the street I had crossed, where I knew it was posted as No Left Turn, so it most likely would be a cop. And it was.

I picked out my stopping place, and when the officer lit up his emergency lights, I pulled over and stopped. He had to slam on his brakes and his first words, when he approached me, were, "Why did you stop so fast?"

"I saw you make your illegal left turn back there, and I figured you thought I had run the red light," I said.

"You did run it," he said.

I said I had waited through the time for three-four light changes, and then I carefully crossed the intersection. He thought about it and then sent me on my way without even a warning.

What are the problems with HB 2860? The first problem I spotted was the word "reasonable" as a waiting time at a red light. The bill reads, in part, "...the driver of a motorcycle, facing any steady red signal which fails to change to a green signal within a reasonable period of time because of a signal malfunction or because the signal has failed to detect the arrival of the motorcycle due to the motorcycle's size or weight, has the right to proceed, after yielding the right of way to oncoming traffic facing a green signal, subject to the rules applicable after making a stop at a stop sign."

The motorcycle operator would have no way of knowing that the light was malfunctioning, so that technically is also a problem. All he knows is that the light is not changing. And what might be "reasonable" for the motorcycle driver might not be reasonable for the cop (or the judge).

The "smart" (demand-actuated) traffic lights are activated by "mass" or the disturbance of an electro-magnetic field, not by size or weight. It's importance to stop within the grid, too.

But that is not always the case. Last Friday I sat on Russel Court at the light at Route 47, by the McHenry County Government Center, for a long time at 4:00PM. The car in front of me was waiting, and its "mass" should have tripped the sensors. When it doesn't, lights have a built-in cycling function that will cause a traffic light to change. Engineers foresaw signals that wouldn't change and, after a long interval, a light will eventually change. You might wish for a Dunkin' Donuts on the corner and a packed lunchbox, but it eventually will change. If you are a motorcyclist and encounter frequent problems with traffic lights that don't change because they don't "read" your bike, you can install a "traffic light activation kit" for the bottom of your bike that a sensor will recognize more quickly.

If a light consistently doesn't change for you, notify your local police department and request that the operation of the signal be checked. It could be that the inductive-loop traffic detector is faulty and needs replacement or adjustment.

What do you think? Is HB 2860 a good bill? Let your Representatives know - right away.

N.B. If this bill passes, it won't apply in Chicago.

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