Bill seeks to allow cyclists to run red lights
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Bill seeks to allow cyclists to run red lights

Date: March 12, 2009
By: Michael Bushnell
State Capitol Bureau
Links: SB 368, HB 254

JEFFERSON CITY - With no opposition, the Missouri Senate gave approval this week to a measure which would allow motorcyclists to run red lights if they spend an "unreasonable" amount of time waiting for the signal to change. Proponents say many motorcycles are not large enough to trip the sensors on many left-turn arrows, which in turn creates never-ending backups for cars.

Both Sen. William Stouffer, R-Napton, and Rep. Cynthia Davis, R-O'Fallon, introduced similar legislation, but the Senate Transportation Committee, which Stouffer leads, passed his bill by consent last month. A hearing was held in the House of Representatives for Davis' bill, but it didn't make it out of committee before the General Assembly left Thursday for its spring recess.

Stouffer's bill, as written, would provide an "affirmative defense" if a motorcyclist is pulled over by a police officer after running a red light after waiting for a green signal that would not come because the bike was not large enough to be read by the light's sensors. Even small cars have enough metal to trip a sensor, Stouffer said, adding that some motorcycles and bicycles are not big enough to be read.

Davis said she fully supported Stouffer's bill and called this legislation a "safety matter," adding that a motorcycle being stuck at a red light would disrupt the flow of traffic behind it.

"Red lights are supposed to promote safety," she said. "But by our very laws, we have created a dangerous situation where cars could back up forever if the motorcycle in front cant trip the switch."

Multiple supporters of the measure said that this bill would not excuse accidents or cause them because it excludes cases where an accident is caused or a police officer feels the motorcyclist made an unsafe entry into the intersection. Rep. Gary Dusenberg, R-Blue Springs, said police officers wouldn't pull motorcyclists over for running red lights, and motorcyclists wouldn't abuse this law.

"Every law is abused or ignored to some extent, but motorcyclists are very safety conscious," he said. "I was a state trooper for 27 years and I can tell you that police officers will use common sense and sound judgment when it comes to ticketing motorcyclists who enter the intersection on a red light."

At a hearing last week for Davis' bill, O'Fallon motorcyclist Tony Shepard said it was unreasonable to think that motorcyclists would willingly put themselves in harms way when entering an intersection against a red light. He said the average rider has patience and would only clear an intersection when it is completely clear and safe to do so.

"Crashing sucks and none of us like to crash," he said. "We're not trying to put ourselves in harms way, nor do we think that this law would encourage that."

While the bill had no opposition in the Senate -- passing out of committee and on the floor by consent -- some representatives said they have reservations with the bill. Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Arnold, said Stouffer's legislation would create a double standard not seen in any other traffic laws.

"There is no other law on the book where people can violate traffic laws because certain devices don't work," he said. "There are problems here for certain that will need to be addressed if this bill is to get all the way through."

Roorda also said he was worried that the word "unreasonable" was ripe for abuse, because it is a subjective term.  However, both Davis and Stouffer said the Missouri State Highway Patrol asked them not to put in specific guidelines for when it would be permissible to run a red light. 

Davis said vagueness in the bill was not a concern, as it would be clear to a police officer who would stop a cyclist for running a red light whether they waited multiple traffic light cycles or not. She said this legislation was common sense, adding that it addresses a concern that mostly occurs late at night when roads are nearly empty.

"You won't be able to say you waited an 'unreasonable' amount of time if you just pulled up and then ran the light," she said. "If it's theoretically 4 a.m. and you're sitting there for hours waiting for a turn signal that won't ever come, does it really cause a problem if you go through the light because of the physical disadvantages of the motorcycle?"


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