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LANSING, MI We’ve all been stuck at a red light that feels like it’s never going to change, but what should you do in the unlikely event that it never does?

While malfunctioning traffic signals may occasionally hold up an automobile driver, the problem is more prevalent for motorcycle, moped and bicycle operators who fail to trigger sensors designed to recognize their presence and transition the light.

Traffic Talk first tackled the subject last year when a reader asked if he could run a red light in the event that the detection mechanism did not recognize his bicycle or scooter.

The short answer was and still is “no” state law does not make exceptions for vehicle type but that may soon change.

A bill that may soon be considered the Michigan House would allow a bicycle, moped or motorcycle operator stuck at an automated light to run a red after waiting through one full cycle or one full minute, provided the intersection is clear of other traffic.

Vince Consiglio, president of ABATE of Michigan motorcycle group, said 12 other states have already adopted similar laws designed to address the problem.

“This is a national concern among motorcyclists,” he said last week in testimony before the House Transportation committee, which advanced the bill with recommendation to the full chamber.

“The fact is a lot of these lights won’t trip because the bikes aren’t heavy enough,” he continued, noting that his 800 pound Harley Davidson fails to trigger a light at 12 Mile and Groesbeck Highway in Macomb County.

But the Michigan Department of Transportation says vehicle weight is irrelevant.

One type of commonly used traffic detection system involves magnetic coils installed a few inches below the pavement. Paula Corlette, signal operations manager for MDOT, explained that the inductive loops respond to metal not weight and can be re calibrated if they are not effectively recognizing bikes or motorcycles.

Riders may fail to break the loop if they do not stop over the coils, typically visible by a rectangle shaped cut in the pavement. But Corlette said MDOT is considering different markings or signage that would giver drivers a better idea of where they need to be to trigger the light.

MDOT also is moving away from inductive loops toward new vehicle recognition technology, such as camera, radar and microwave detection systems.

“I don’t think it’s really that big of an issue,” Corlett said of traffic signals that fail to cycle,
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suggesting most sensors operate correctly. “I’m sure the motorcyclists are a little concerned, but we’re not hearing the complaints. It might be they’re not sure who to talk to.”

To that end, Corlett advised motorcycle and bicycle operators who get stuck at lights that won’t transition to call their local road agencies to request re calibration, and she even told Consiglio she’d look into the intersection he cited.

Sgt. Dwayne Gill of the Michigan State Police said the agency is “philosophically opposed” to the proposed legislation.

The law would place the burden of proof on an enforcement officer to prove a motorcycle operator had not waited a full cycle or 60 seconds, he said, and may encourage other motorists to mimic their behavior.

“We’re just really concerned about the safety aspect,” Gill said. “If a motorcycle is sitting at a light, the light fails to cycle and a bike goes through it, the car behind it is just going to go right through too.”

An officer should have discretion to ticket the driver of any vehicle who runs a red light, Gill said, explaining that violators can fight the ticket if they believe the traffic signal was malfunctioning.

“If I was sitting at a light for five minutes and it seemed obvious it was broke, I would look both ways and travel through the light cautiously,” he said. “I think that’s common sense, but I just don’t think it should be legislated.

“If I was a citizen who got ticketed, I’d contact MDOT (or other road agency) to get paperwork proving the light was inoperable that day and take it to court.”

There is at least one legal way to advance through a light that won’t change. As my predecessor pointed out, you can make a right turn on red, find a place to safely turn around and return to the intersection for another right.

Bottom line: It’s illegal to run through a red light that won’t cycle, and while that could change for the operators of certain vehicles, the rest of us can make two rights or make our case in court.

Befuddled by a rule of the road,
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frustrated by your fellow motorists or looking to debunk a traffic myth? Post in the comments section below or send an email to Jonathan Oosting with “Traffic Talk” in the subject line.