If you’ve been riding for any length of time, chances are good that you know the frustration of traffic lights that don’t seem to register that a motorcycle is there. In the Chicago area, where I live, traffic lights in the city are on timers, so it’s less of an issue. However, if I’m riding in plenty of places outside the city, the lights often change based on whether a vehicle—usually a car or truck—is perceived to be waiting at the stop line.
My scooter, with its low steel center stand, can usually trigger these lights—but my motorcycles can’t. Thus, I have a choice: I can wait (possibly forever during off hours) for a car to come up behind me, or else I can run the red light when it’s safe to do so. There’s actually a provision for this in the Illinois state law. It states that, “If a red light fails to turn green after 120 seconds, a motorcycle rider may proceed through the intersection after yielding the right-of-way to oncoming traffic.” This provision may not be perfect, but it’s better than sitting there forever or getting a ticket for no reason.
Other states may have similar measures, and it’s possible that Hawai’i could be next in line. If you ride motorcycles, mopeds, or bicycles in the Aloha State as of March, 2023, there’s a bill that’s currently going through the state legislature that would allow you to move through intersections on red lights under certain circumstances. (Hawai’i already allows shoulder surfing for motorcyclists due to its narrow roads, which is seen as an alternative to lane filtering activity seen in other states.)
Hawaii’s HB 1319 was introduced in January as part of the 2023 legislative session. Its description is simple and straightforward. “Allows operators of bicycles, motorcycles, and mopeds to proceed through an intersection on a steady red signal during certain hours if the traffic signal is controlled by a vehicle detection device that is inoperative due to the size or composition of the bicycle, motorcycle, or moped.”
Digging into the text of the bill, the hours currently spelled out would be between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., which are typically less busy times for traffic. As any rider knows, if you’re the only one out on the road, and you roll to a stop at a traffic signal that doesn’t see you, you’re going to be waiting an awfully long time.
On March 22, 2023, the Hawai’i senate committee on Transport, Culture, and the Arts (TCA) recommended the bill’s passage and has referred it on to the Judiciary committee for further review.
Local news station KHON spoke to Hawai’i Department of Transportation engineering program manager Bryan Kimura, who stated that, “If you don’t have enough metal, sometimes you won’t be detected because the loops work on electromagnetic fields which is broken by metal.”
The Hawai’i Police Department has publicly stated that it is against this measure, and offered unhelpful statements like “There’s got to be a better way than telling them just go ahead and run the red light. By telling them to run the red light, we’ve given them a green light to get killed,” according to KHON.
Here’s a thing that most riders will tell you, and that perhaps people who don’t ride may not realize: We know it’s dangerous. We know that in a crash between a bike and a car, the bike and rider combo is going to end up with more damage. That’s why most of us (obviously, I can’t speak for all of us) usually do everything in our power to avoid that happening. While there will always be exceptions, most riders will look very carefully before they make any sudden moves at a red light, because most riders don’t want to get hit. It’s that simple, and I’m not sure how I could explain that any more clearly.