365 Days of Writing – Day 23

Red Light

Just before the New Year I heard someone on the radio mention that among the new laws going into effect in California was one that allowed motorcycles to drive through red lights. Really? I thought I must have mis-heard. What’s next? Are we going to make it legal to cut off a car on the highway? I decided to do a little research into this new law. I went to a website that listed all new laws pass by the California Senate and Assembly. There were more than 800 new laws. Eight hundred – how on earth is anyone supposed to stay current with the laws if each year they add hundreds to the already existing? I couldn’t decide if I was impressed that our elected officials had come up with so many issues that needed addressing or disappointed that they spent time writing laws that dealt with among other things, bleeding disorders. I did eventually find the law I’d heard about. Unfortunately the site didn’t provide details but other websites did.

So here’s the deal, traffic lights are controlled by devices buried under the road. They don’t trigger the light to turn green unless they recognize there is a vehicle present. They are supposed to be sensitive enough to register motorcycles but many don’t detect the motorcycle. This means that the law-abiding cyclist (pre-the new law) could be stuck at that light until a car showed up.

South Carolina, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Idaho, Arkansas, Tennessee and Minnesota all have passed laws in the past six years which legalize driving through red lights. California is not alone in introducing the legislation. Georgia, Missouri and Oklahoma also voted on the legislation. I don’t know if it passed in any of those states.

“We want to emphasize that the riders do this with safety and caution in mind,” Szauter said. “If they truly are trapped at a light, this gives them an opportunity to safely proceed through that signal, because otherwise they don’t really have much of a choice.”

I sympathize with the motorcyclist but I have to agree with Doug Hecox, a spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration. He said the states should try to find a technical solution to the problem.

“We don’t necessarily think that empowering motorists to make up their own rules of the road is the safest or best approach,” he said.

Despite what I and Doug Hecox believe, the law passed. Motorcyclists stuck at a light which doesn’t change are allowed to move through the intersection, when they deem it safe. I Just hope they use good judgement.

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