Traffic vehicle detection devices are scattered throughout Washington. Their purpose: Give streets green lights when they need them and reds when they do not. The devices, which come in the form of cameras or underground sensors , register vehicles stopped at intersections and cue traffic lights accordingly.
But to some people, the technology represents the opposite of traffic efficiency. Motorcyclists have said for years that the devices often fail to register their bikes, creating inconvenient and sometimes dangerous moments at busy intersections.
The motorcycle community’s longstanding wish for a solution was granted on March 31 when Gov. Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5141, giving motorcyclists the option of running red lights that rely on ineffective vehicle detection devices.
When motorcyclists encounter devices that fail to notice their presence, they will be allowed to proceed through the light with “due caution” after one complete cycle.
“There was no safe and legal way to get through until this legislation passed,” said Larry Walker, the Government Relations Specialist for the Washington Road Riders Association.
Motorcycle detection issues are a problem at traffic lights throughout the state in both rural and urban areas, Walker said. Walker testified in support of the bill on behalf of the riders association at multiple legislative committee hearings this year.
But the new law has its critics. Capt. Rob Huss of the Washington State Patrol said he has public safety concerns with the legislation and that individual counties and cities have clear ways to report faulty traffic lights.
“We’re not seeing supporting information that would necessitate this type of dramatic change,” Huss said. “We’re basing this decision on anecdotal stories from around the state.”
Brittany Sill, a Government Relations Analyst for the Washington Association of Cities, said weight-bearing traffic signal devices were developed in the 1920s. However, Sills said, most of those devices have been phased out over the years in favor of induction loop signals which are buried in the road and triggered by ferrous metal.
Sill said she did not know of any traffic intersection in Washington still using weight as a trigger for detection. She said many of the newer detection devices were cameras that controlled traffic lights based on sight or timing.
Washington statute already requires all traffic control signals be sensitive enough to detect motorcycles and bicycles. Sill said often traffic detection failure is due to motorist error, such as being stopped too far forward into the intersection.
According to the American Motorcyclist Association, 14 other states have passed similar legislation. Imre F. Szauter, the On-Highway Government Affairs Manager for the AMA, said his organization generally supports those types of bills.
Oregon does not have any policy allowing motorcyclists to run red lights. Sally Ridenour, a public information officer for the Oregon Department of Transportation, said the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety has not discussed the issue in years. The committee generally meets every month, and their next meeting is scheduled for April 17.
Senate Bill 5141 takes effect June 12.
©2014 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)