Illinois Bill Calls for Special Red Light Exceptions for Motorcycles

Bicyclists and motorcyclists alike can tell you one of the most frustrating things they encounter while riding is getting trapped at a red light that simply will not turn green because the vehicles they are riding are not heavy enough to trip the sensors that change the light cycle. Fortunately, the Illinois state legislature is considering a bill that would allow bicyclists and motorcyclists to treat such unresponsive red traffic lights as if they were stop signs. While many approve of the legislation as helpful, some law enforcement officials are skeptical about the proposed legislation saying that it could potentially lead to more traffic accidents.

The language of the bill states that in cities with less than two million inhabitants, motorcyclists sitting at red lights that fail to change due to a malfunction or the fact that the sensors controlling the light do not recognize the motorcycle’s presence may treat the red light in the same manner as a stop sign after waiting “a reasonable amount of time.” The bill also specifies that those locations that utilize red light cameras may not issue citations to motorcyclists in such instances.

The Illinois House and Senate both approved the bill, sending it to Gov. Pat Quinn for his signature. On August 26, 2011 Gov. Quinn issued an amendatory veto, sending the bill back to the legislature with the suggestion that lawmakers amend the language of the bill to include bicycles and to state that it is an affirmative defense that the driver waited a reasonable amount of time if 120 seconds passed and that the driver yielded the right of way to traffic that had a green traffic signal. The bill is scheduled for an October 19th vote with the proposed amendment.

Illinois is not the first state to consider letting bikes and motorcycles red lights as stop signs. Most states allow motorized vehicles to treat unresponsive red lights as stop signs. In Idaho the law specifically allows bicyclists to treat red lights as stop signs. Other states, such as California and Oregon, have considered such legislation.

Motorcyclists have championed the proposed law as a safety measure. Some argue that it is dangerous for motorcycles to remain sitting in intersections for extended periods of time because drivers of cars often do not see stopped motorcycles and end up hitting the stopped bikers. A change in the law allowing bikers to move out of the intersection after determining the way is clear would reduce accidents.

Not all of those who work in law enforcement agree, however. The Illinois State Police view the bill as “problematic.” Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda reported “serious reservations” about the proposed law. Geneva Police Cmdr. Julie Nash even went so far as to say she would be “stunned” if the bill passed.

Regardless of whether the proposed bill becomes a law, some of Chicago’s motorcycle accident attorneys say that it’s vital for cars, trucks and SUV’s to continue to take extra precaution when sharing the roadways with motorcycles and bicycles.