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Motorcycles and Bicycles and Mopeds, Oh My!

Our View: Law has cyclists seeing red – and driving through
Duluth News Tribune
Published Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Take a drive down a major urban thoroughfare during the wee hours and chances are pretty good the traffic lights will all be green. Smooth sailing ahead, right?

Not necessarily, especially if that road is in Minnesota or Wisconsin and there’s a motorcycle on a cross street.

In the Badger State, a new law that took effect Oct. 1 allows motorcycle, moped and bicycle riders to go through red lights if the signal hasn’t changed after 45 seconds and there’s no traffic coming. A similar law has already been on the books in Minnesota, allowing cyclists to go through red lights after “a reasonable” amount of time. Ditto for Arkansas and Tennessee.

Why? Well, traffic lights on many streets are activated by magnetic or electronic sensors built into the roadway. Lights on major roads usually remain green until a vehicle arrives at the intersection on a cross street.

That works fine for cars, trucks and buses. But motorcycles, and especially bicycles, may not have enough metal to trigger the sensors, meaning a law-abiding cyclist would have to wait forever unless a car or truck comes by.

“I’ve come home late at night,” Milwaukee lawyer and motorcycle rights advocate Tony Sanfelipo told the News Tribune. “You could sit there all night waiting for the thing to trip.”

The solution, then, is the law, which basically allows cyclists to treat red lights as stop signs. While that’s fine in theory, in practice driver behavior such as “rolling stops” suggest not all cyclists will bother counting to 45. And changing the law isn’t the only answer: Oregon inventor Scott Kauffman has come up with a device called the Green Light Trigger that attaches to a motorcycle and allows sensors to recognize their presence.

“It’s not rocket science,” said Kauffman, whose $14.95 ($24.95 for the deluxe model) device is one of a couple on the market.

Sanfelipo likened that to a tax on motorcycles. “Why should we as motorcycle users be subject to having to buy an additional device?” he asked, adding, “I’ve gotten mixed reviews on whether or not those things work.”

They may not even be needed. An online bicyclists’ forum suggests attaching magnets to the bottom of your shoes will do the trick, and the Oregon state bicycle manual says leaning your bike at about a 15 degree angle over the sensors (which are visible as thin lines cut into the pavement) will do the trick.

Whether Wisconsin or Minnesota lawmakers investigated those alternatives fully enough before passing the laws could be debated. But for now, the law is clear: Motorcycles can, after a stop, go through red lights. Remember that and be careful.


Discuss amongst yourselves...


Bikers, cyclists and moped riders put their lives at risk when they ride amongst cars and trucks, much more so than the average driver. It makes sense to allow them to largely police themselves because if they fail to use common sense, it's pretty likely they'll suffer the brunt of any mishap which follows. Hopefully the risk of severe bodily harm is enough to disuade them from running red lights unecessarily.

Let us go beyond the red light rule for bikes and motorcycles. Let's also get rid of speed limits and allow white lining (driving between other vehicles).

As a victim of multiple speeding tickets on my motorcycle, this is long overdue. As a cyclists and a biker, I risk my life daily due to the innattentiveness of other drivers. Why not let us create and control our own risks?

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