Tennessee Motorcyclists Get Green Light to Go on Red

Motorcyclists will no longer have to starve to death while waiting for the green at intersections in the Volunteer State where sensors do not detect their bikes.

Riders in Tennessee can now ride through red lights if the traffic sensors do not recognize and respond to their motorcycles, under a billed signed into law June 4. It goes into effect July 1, 2003 (too late, unfortunately, for riders attending the Honda Hoot, which ends on June 21).

Although details have not been specified, the bill has predictably drawn comments of concern and criticism from those who fear safety or enforcement problems. It is unclear what constitutes the "due care" that the law requires motorcyclists to exercise before they can ride through a red light. Certainly riders will be expected to come to a full stop before they continue through the red, and presumably they will be considered in violation if they violate the right-of-way of a driver who has a green light. But will they be expected to wait the three minutes that some lights require to make a full cycle? If a light is on a rider's regular route and he knows it won't respond to his bike, can he go as soon it is safe to do so? And if a rider can't tell if it's safe to ride through the signal-controlled area, can he do so anyway? If the light is on a timer instead of a sensor, can a motorcyclist be cited for riding through it?

Our editor has experienced the problem first hand, when she waited for over five minutes at a light one night in Knoxville when there was no traffic, then finally rode through, only to be cited for it. Our entire editorial staff has run into lights that would not change for motorcyclists in Knoxville.

In some cases, traffic signals do not change because the rider does not understand how to position their bikes over the sensors set in grooves carved in the pavement. We are told that most sensor systems can be calibrated and adjusted to recognize motorcycles if they are properly positioned, though not all agencies responsible for them take the time and effort to do so. Motorcyclists should complain to traffic departments and their local representatives where lights consistently do not change for waiting motorcyclists. In other areas where the problem exists, motorcyclists learn to turn right on red and then circle back or to push the pedestrian buttons to make the light change.

Minnesota has a law similar to Tennessee's, and that law was the model for this bill. The Tennessee bill was passed by the state senate with a vote of 28-1 in May and signed by Governor Phil Bredesen on June 4.

For other news stories on the Tennessee law, see:
The Knox News article
The Tennessean story