Do motorcycles have to wait for red lights that don’t change to green?

Have you ever been stuck at a traffic light and, after what seems like an eternity, wondered if the light is broken? Should you go anyway? There aren’t any other cars around, so what’s the point of waiting for a broken red light? Should you keep waiting in case a police officer is waiting nearby, eager to write you a ticket?

This is a routine dilemma for motorcyclists because the sensors at many intersections don’t recognize the relatively light weight of a motorcycle – leaving the motorcyclist left with the option of sitting there indefinitely, sometimes with cars waiting behind them, or running the red light and risking a traffic ticket…

SC Has a Red Light Law for Motorcycles

SC solved this problem in 2008 by passing a red light law for motorcycles, also called a “dead red law” or a “safe on red law” (although there are still other nonsensical and potentially dangerous laws that affect motorcyclists in SC).

SC Code Section 56-5-970(C)(5) now contains an exception to the requirement that a vehicle must stop at a red light and remain in place until the light changes:

(5) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, if a driver of a motorcycle or moped, or a bicycle rider, approaches an intersection that is controlled by a traffic-control device, the driver may proceed through the intersection on a steady red light only if the driver or rider, as the case may be:

(a) comes to a full and complete stop at the intersection for one hundred twenty seconds; and

(b) exercises due care as provided by law, otherwise treats the traffic control device as a stop sign, and determines it is safe to proceed.

Why is the “Safe on Red Law” for Motorcycles Necessary?

Red light laws for motorcycles are necessary because the light doesn’t always change to green when a motorcycle is in the intersection.

There are sensors in the roadway that detect when a vehicle comes to a stop at a red light. The sensors send a signal to the traffic light that there is a vehicle there waiting; therefore, the light should turn green.

The problem is that some of these sensors do not detect vehicles that are under a certain weight – I don’t know what the weight requirement is that triggers most red lights, but I can tell you from experience that, at many intersections, it is more than the weight of a motorcycle…

And that doesn’t leave any good options for a motorcyclist who is sitting at an intersection waiting for the light to turn. If there are cars behind you, you can move forward or to the side and motion for them to drive over the sensors.

You could also get off your motorcycle, leave it in the intersection, and press a pedestrian crosswalk button if there is one. Or you could just run the red light – none of these are safe or practical solutions.

“Safe red laws” provide a safe and common-sense solution for motorcyclists who are stuck at a red light that just won’t change for them.

SC’s Red Light Law for Motorcycles Also Applies to Mopeds and Bicyclists

SC’s red light law doesn’t just apply to motorcycles – it also applies to mopeds and bicyclists who experience the same problem even more frequently than motorcyclists.

Other States that Have Passed “Dead Red Laws”

SC is not alone in passing a red light law for motorcycles, but more than half of the states still make it a crime for a motorcycle to run a red light no matter how long it takes for the light to change.

Other states that have passed safe harbor red light laws include:

  • Arkansas,
  • Colorado,
  • Idaho,
  • Illinois,
  • Indiana,
  • Kansas,
  • Minnesota,
  • Missouri,
  • Nevada,
  • North Carolina,
  • Oklahoma,
  • Oregon (limited),
  • Tennessee,
  • Utah,
  • Virginia,
  • Washington, and
  • Wisconsin.

That’s 18 states total (although I may have missed some – it’s a moving target), leaving motorcyclists, bicyclists, and moped riders in 32 states and the District of Columbia with no dead red laws.

How Does SC’s Motorcycle Law for Red Lights Affect Your Case?

A violation of a traffic law in SC is usually found to be negligence per se at trial. If there is no red light law for motorcycles and you run a red light, even if the light has been stuck on red for ten minutes, that’s negligence per se. If there is a crash, you are either at fault or partially at fault under SC’s comparative negligence rules.

With SC’s motorcycle red light law, you are not negligent per se if you follow the rules:

  • Come to a complete stop at the red light,
  • Wait at least 120 seconds before moving forward, and then
  • Exercise due care as you proceed through the intersection.

After the 120 second waiting period, you can treat the red light as if it were a stop sign, and you can proceed if it is safe to do so.

If you pull out in front of an oncoming vehicle, you may be at fault in the collision just as you would if you had pulled out from a stop sign in front of an oncoming vehicle.

On the other hand, if you follow the rules and exercise due care, but you are still struck by another vehicle that was driving recklessly, they are at fault in the crash. You are not negligent per se based on running the red light, because you followed the law.

Check out this YouTube video that contains a detailed explanation of how red light sensors work, the different types of red light sensors, and instructions for how to comply with the dead red laws in different states:

Questions About SC’s Red Light Law for Motorcycles?

The motorcycle crash attorneys at the Boles Law Firm can help you to investigate your crash, gather the evidence you will need in court, negotiate with the insurance companies, and recover the maximum compensation that you are entitled to for your injuries.

Call us at 843-576-5775 to schedule an appointment for a free consultation at our North Charleston or Walterboro offices or send us a message through our website.

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