Safe Riding

Dead Red: A Solution to Stubborn Stoplights

Written by  November 30, 2009

It’s been a nice ride home from work, but now I’m dreading that left turn off Missouri Highway 291 into my neighborhood. The intersection has a left turn lane and a traffic signal, so it should be a safe, easy, protected left turn. Only one problem—the stoplight sensors NEVER detect motorcycles. A biker could sit there staring at a red light indefinitely unless he’s lucky enough to get help from a car also turning left.

The intersection is up ahead, and there’s a car in the left turn lane, but can I get there in time to tag along? I twist the throttle, the light changes, the car turns, and before I can get there, it’s red again. Crap!!! I sit through a cycle of the light. Cross traffic on Mulberry gets green, and so does the car turning left in front of me. I’m still facing DEAD RED. Wait--there’s a car coming up in the turn lane behind me. Cool, I’ll soon be on my way. Oh, no! The driver doesn’t want to crowd me, so he’s stopped back too far for the sensors to detect his car. Now we’re both stuck. I pull ahead a bit, and signal the driver behind me to move forward to trip the signal. He doesn’t get it. He’s now mad, not at the light but at me! He pulls around and continues south on 291. There I sit wondering if any cops are around to ticket me when I run the light and head home.

Fortunately for those of us who ride in Missouri, this nightmare is a thing of the past. As a result of a new state law, a motorcyclist or bicyclist can proceed through a red light after having stopped and waited until it is obvious that the light has remained red for an “unreasonable time.” Missouri joins seven other states having similar laws passed since 2002. Wisconsin, Idaho, Arkansas, Tennessee, Minnesota, North Carolina, and South Carolina are the others. It is important for riders in these states to remember that the long wait in these situations has been eliminated, but the risk has not. First, you must stop. Second, you must wait until you are sure that the light is not going to change for you. Third, you have to be absolutely sure that it is safe before you proceed through the intersection against the red signal.

For those in the other states, I would first encourage you to support your motorcycle rights organizations such as A.B.A.T.E. in order to promote biker-favorable legislation. I have heard that lowering a motorcycle’s kickstand gets metal closer to the sensors buried in the pavement, but I had no luck with this approach. Another suggestion I have heard is to mount magnets on the bottom of the motorcycle’s frame, but I haven’t tried that. From a practical standpoint, I don’t see much choice but to wait at the light until it obviously isn’t going to change and then proceed with extreme caution. However, I’m not paying your fine if you happen to get nailed for running the red light. Sorry.

Article and photos by Stripe