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Convenience or safety hazard? Massachusetts red light exemption bill examined

As gas prices increase, more and more motorcycles are hitting the roads. However, in some cases, sensors are hindering bikers ability to proceed through intersections.

States are passing laws to mitigate the effects of these malfunctioning sensors on bikers, however, critics say they are likely to increase motorcycle accidents.

What are vehicle sensors?

Roads all across the country have installed sensors, or detection devices, beneath pavements located at intersections with traffic lights. One of the main reasons is to further enhance the flow of traffic. A green light may continuously appear on the more active road, but may turn red when the sensor detects a vehicle on the perpendicular side.

However, the problem with these sensors is that they are equipped to sensor the weight of vehicles, like cars and trucks. When motorcycles stop at an intersection, these sensors fail to detect the motorcycle, leaving the biker to be stuck at the red light seemingly indefinitely.

Many states, including Illinois, Kansas, Idaho, Missouri, Minnesota, have become increasingly aware of this problem and have passed laws allowing motorcyclists to essentially “run the red light” when this occurs.

Massachusetts is likely the next state to implement this law.

Specifics of the law

The Massachusetts House Bill 3140, known as the Malfunctioning Red Light Bill, passed the State Senate earlier this year and is pending approval.

Specifically, the language of the bill stipulates that:

“Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, the driver of a motorcycle approaching an intersection that is controlled by a traffic-control signal utilizing a vehicle detection device that is inoperative due to the size of the motorcycle shall come to a full and complete stop at the intersection and, after exercising due care as provided by law, may proceed with due caution when it is safe to do so.”

Dangers of the bill

Although the law will offer a convenience to motorcyclists perpetually stuck at a red light, but some argue that giving motorcyclists discretion to run red lights only increases the risk of auto accidents.

Many vehicles, due to their large size, already fail to see fail motorcyclists while traveling on the road. Vehicles that see a green light up ahead may simply proceed through the intersection without looking both ways because they feel they have the right of way. Motorcyclists proceeding through a red light may fail to see an oncoming car. Both are recipes for a collision.

Additionally, critics argue that motorcyclists may not fully understand the boundaries of the law. How long do they need to proceed through the red light? How do they know if the light is malfunctioning or simply hasn’t changed yet? These are both plausible questions not addressed in the bill.

It remains to be seen whether the law, if passed, will trigger more accidents or simply provide a convenience to motorcyclists.

The bill is currently under review with the House’s Joint Committee on Transportation.

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