Ride Boldly!

Bikes, bicycling, and road safety.

Special Rights at Red Lights?

Two state legislators (who happen to be cyclists) have proposed a new statute that would permit bicyclists to roll stop signs and red lights when traffic conditions permit.

The proposal is based in the idea that without traffic, a rolled stop sign is no big deal, and that bikes do not always trip the pressure plates to get a red light to change in the absence of a car. In the latter instance, I know many bicyclists who apply Minnesota Statute 169.06, Subd. 9:

Affirmative defense relating to unchanging traffic-control signal. (a) A person
operating a motorcycle who violates subdivision 4 by entering or crossing an intersection
controlled by a traffic-control signal against a red light has an affirmative defense to that charge if
the person establishes all of the following conditions:
(1) the motorcycle has been brought to a complete stop;
(2) the traffic-control signal continues to show a red light for an unreasonable time;
(3) the traffic-control signal is apparently malfunctioning or, if programmed or engineered
to change to a green light only after detecting the approach of a motor vehicle, the signal has
apparently failed to detect the arrival of the motorcycle; and
(4) no motor vehicle or person is approaching on the street or highway to be crossed or
entered or is so far away from the intersection that it does not constitute an immediate hazard.
(b) The affirmative defense in this subdivision applies only to a violation for entering or
crossing an intersection controlled by a traffic-control signal against a red light and does not
provide a defense to any other civil or criminal action.

I have not seen this statute tested in terms of law enforcement, ticketing, or any sense of legality. The new statute would be bicycle-specific, so it wouldn’t have the doubt factor of trying to apply the motorcycle statute on a vehicular basis (ie: a motorcycle is a vehicle, a bicycle is a vehicle, and if a motorcycle can’t trip the sensor, a bicycle surely can’t, eh?).

The chief worry I have about allowing rolling stops in certain circumstances – which is presently permitted in Idaho – is that it relies on the cyclist’s awareness of surroundings. I worry that misuse of the statute could simply continue the perception of cyclists as traffic scofflaws. However, the people who will roll stops and blow reds in the presence of traffic really don’t care about statute and are already doing this.

The full text of the proposed statute can be found on the Minnesota House of Representatives site. To express your support (or opposition) to this proposal, contact your Representative.

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Author: julie

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005. She is a past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association. She has 2 children and 4 bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations.

One Comment

  1. I’m a motorcyclist and I frequent an area that has several lights with maladjusted sensors that don’t “see” my lightweight machine. I’m quite familiar with the exemption that 169.06 provides, and the text above makes it quite clear: You’re required to a) stop, and b) wait an “unreasonable” amount of time. This doesn’t excuse rolling through a controlled intersection without stopping, which is what most human-powered two wheelers do with reckless abandon (seen almost daily in downtown Mpls).