Motorcycle Red Light Sensor Frustration
Is It OK for Motorcyclists to “Run” Red Lights?
Of course it’s not OK for motorcyclists to speed through traffic, weaving in and out, running red lights, popping wheelies, and generally being a nuisance around town.
That’s not what I’m talking about.
Frustration at the stop light
If you ride a motorcycle, you’ve probably experienced rolling up to a red light only to sit there for up to 15 minutes waiting for it to change. Except it never changes, and you sheepishly roll through the red light after an excessive wait.
Cautiously rolling through a red light is legal in some states. In others it’s not.
It happens because some “traffic actuated signals” don’t pick up on the presence of motorcycles. They’re designed for much heavier and larger cars and trucks.
Myth: motorcycles aren’t heavy enough
Many people think the signal actuators are activated by the weight of the vehicle. That’s a myth. The signal actuators work by emitting a magnetic field. When a large piece of metal drives over the magnetic field, it disrupts the signal and tells the light to change.
Most modern motorcycles are made primarily of aluminum and plastic, which don’t interrupt the magnetic field as effectively as a 3000 pound hunk of steel. It’s not about weight. It’s about the metal.
The law, state-by-state
Although many states have “dead red” laws, some don’t.
The best way to find out if it’s legal to cautiously roll through a stubborn red light in your state is to visit the American Motorcycle Association’s state-by-state breakdown of motorcycle laws. Use the drop-down menu, select your state, and then look for the law concerning “traffic actuated signals.”
The most recent state to pass a “dead red” law is Washington. Senate Bill 5141 gives motorcyclists the ability to legally roll through red lights that refuse to change.
What if it’s not legal in your state?
If it’s not legal to roll through a “dead red” in your state, you’re stuck until a car pulls up behind you unless you want to break the law, strictly speaking.
Fortunately most police officers understand the problem. Even if you get caught, the officer is unlikely to cite you assuming you proceed through the light in a cautious, reasonable manner.
He’ll might write you a warning and tell you about a product called a “red light changer.” These devices retail for between $25 and $40. They work by emitting their own magnetic field. Many police officers use them, and they’re legal in all 50 states.