By Danny Rathbun, Capital News Service
RICHMOND--If you ride a motorcycle or bicycle, you probably know the frustration of getting stuck at a red light that just won’t change – because the sensors under the street can’t detect your two-wheeler.
Two-wheel vehicles will be allowed to run those red lights, under certain situations, under a bill signed into law Thursday by Gov. Bob McDonnell.
House Bill 1981 will let motorcyclists, moped riders and bicyclists pass through red lights, as long as there is no oncoming traffic, after waiting 120 seconds or two cycles of the light. The law will take effect July 1.
Champe Burnley, president of the Virginia Bicycling Federation, said riders of two-wheel vehicles often end up trapped at red lights, with no safe, legal option about what to do, because motorcycles and bikes aren’t heavy enough or don’t have enough metal to trip the sensor.
“Most of the traffic signals today have a wire in the road – so it’s an induction loop. And frequently there’s just not enough metallic mass for the induction loop to pick up a cycle that goes over there,” Burnley said.
“If you’re on a bike and you get to a stoplight – and I stop for stoplights religiously – it puts me into a difficult position. Because if the light doesn’t change, I’ve either got to wait for a car to come up behind me to trip the stoplight, or I’ve got to break the law – and I don’t like to do that.”
Delegate Thomas “Tag” Greason, who sponsored HB 1981, said the legislation will make things much safer for riders.
“The bill is designed to increase the safety for those riders who ride motorcycles, mopeds or bicycles,” Greason said. “When they approach and are stranded at an intersection, and the weight of their vehicle is not great enough to trigger the light, and so they’re stranded at a red light, and they really don’t have any legal options available to them under today’s code.”
Greason, a Republican from Potomac Falls, said some people raised questions about who would be at fault if a motorcycle runs a red light and causes an accident. But those questions have been addressed in the bill, he said.
“Imagine that the red light is a stop sign: If the motorcyclist pulls out into oncoming traffic and causes an accident, he would have the same liability if he was at a red light or if he was at a stop sign,” Greason said.
Under his measure, motorcycles and bicycles must come to a complete stop at a red light and wait for 120 seconds or two cycles of the light.
“Then they proceed with caution, as if they were at a stop sign, and they must maintain all the liability, and give way to oncoming traffic, from either direction,” Greason said. “So there is no transfer of liability.”
Delegate Bill Janis, R-Glen Allen, introduced a similar measure – HB 1991. His proposal was folded into Greason’s bill.
HB 1981 passed the House on a 75-24 vote in January. The Senate then unanimously approved the bill – with an amendment emphasizing that bicyclists and motorcyclists who proceed through a red light must yield to oncoming traffic. The House then voted 87-11 in favor of the amended bill.