Can a Motorcycle Run a Red Light? Know Your Rights

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Have you ever pulled up on your motorcycle to a traffic light and noticed that it cycled through the other cars several times without ever letting you go? Have you ever maybe felt the need to run a red light? Is this okay on a motorcycle? Are there different laws that govern how motorcycles can act at a traffic light as compared to a car?

So, can you run a red light on a motorcycle? Yes, under certain circumstances a motorcycle can run a red light if the lights have cycled through or they aren’t changing at all to let you through the intersection. But you have to do it safely, quickly, and once the intersection is fully cleared of other vehicles.

In this article, we will dive into the specific conditions that allow you to run a red light so that you can an informed rider. With this knowledge you can help keep yourself and those around you safe as you ride around. So, keep on reading and we will dive into this some more.

Legality Of A Motorcycle Running A Red Light

I grew up in a small town in the midwest United States and we only had 4 stop lights in the whole town. One of those was infamous for never turning green for the East-West traffic once it got dark outside. So anyone riding a motorcycle would just have to wait until the intersection was cleared and then go through the light, which always made me wonder if they were breaking the law or not.

Most people learn to drive by driving one of their parent’s cars. From there they learn all about the different traffic laws that apply to cars. Many of these same laws apply to motorcycles but there also are some differences.

This is why when taking the test for a motorcycle driver permit, the exam is entirely different from the regular drivers test. There are enough differences in regard to safety and the law that states require an entirely separate exam.

So, when can a motorcycle run a red light? The truth is that there is a law often referred to as the “dead red law”. This law particularly allows for you to run a red light under certain circumstances. This is specific to when you are waiting at a red light. If the light cycles through all of the different drivers but still is not letting you go, then you are now legally able to “run the red light”.

It is important that you are aware that this law only applies if you have been waiting at the light and it keeps skipping you. This cannot be used as an argument just to run every red light without having to wait at it at all. If a police officer sees you doing this, you will receive a ticket. This will only apply when the light does not seem to realize that you are there and keeps allowing all of the different lanes of traffic to go while skipping yours.

Once you have waited long enough and are now capable to run by the “dead red law”, you can go through the intersection when it is safe. It is important that you remember that the cars that have a green light through the intersection will not be yielding to you and that they are also not expecting someone to come from your direction. Pull out into the intersection only when it is safe to do so.

How To Safely Proceed Through A Red Light When Legal

So, now that you have been stuck at the light and are ready to pull out, how do you know when it is safe? What are the best practices as you go to run a red light? The very most important thing that you can do is to be very aware of your surroundings. Make sure that you are focused and not thinking about other things. Focus on riding and carefully scan the area for cars before proceeding.

The first thing that you will do is look. While looking at the intersection the first thing to check is the traffic that would reach you first. If you are going straight through an intersection, this would be the lane of traffic that you are going to first cross. Once you have verified that it is clear to pass through this lane, you now can check the traffic coming the opposite direction.

Likewise, once you have verified that it is clear for you, you want to look back where you originally looked first. Make sure that even after looking away that it is still clear. If so, then you are safe to pull out into the intersection. 

As you are passing through the intersection, you want to remain focused and aware of your surroundings. Keep your head on a swivel to be sure that no one quickly or unexpectedly approaches. Remain focused like this until you have successfully crossed the whole intersection.

If you follow these steps every time that you go through an intersection, you will ensure your own safety as you pass through the intersection. Always keep in mind that other drivers are not expecting to see someone run the red light so they are not actively looking for you at all.

Why Traffic Lights Stay Red For Motorcycles

So why do traffic lights sometimes stay red for motorcycles when this does not really seem to happen to other vehicles? This is explained by the way in which traffic lights were designed. Older traffic light designs use the weight of the vehicle on top of it to determine if there is a car present or not. Many of these systems also use inductive loops in order to detect when metals are present.

As motorcycles are significantly lighter than cars, they sometimes will not weigh enough for the sensor to think that a vehicle is there. They also have less metal than a vehicle and may not produce enough voltage in the inductive loop. As a result, you sit and wait at the light indefinitely. 

Newer traffic light designs have improved significantly to where this will not be an issue anymore. The newer designs use heat sensors and motion sensors to determine when a vehicle is there.

While your motorcycle may not weigh enough to set off a weight sensor, it will be capable of setting off a motion sensor. As optics technology continues to advance, the functionality of traffic lights will continue to improve and increase efficiency. 

While you may not ever experience this issue with newer traffic lights, the older versions still do exist and are sprinkled around everywhere. This is why it is important to be aware of the laws surrounding these lights. You likely will not ever know if the light that you are at will work for you or not until it does not. Being informed will help keep you and those around you safe.

Is There A Way To Trigger Traffic Lights If They Do Not Change?

If you are stuck at a light and want to try to force the light to turn green, is there a way to do that? Depending on the type of traffic light, that may be possible. If the traffic light uses an inductive loop in order to sense when a vehicle is present, there is a trick for activating that. This will require you to purchase two Neodymium magnets.

You will want to purchase some with decent strength. You will also want some tape to mount them with. You will want to mount these magnets perpendicular to the road. Now as you pull up to these traffic lights, the magnets will produce a strong magnetic field that will trigger these sensors. This way you will not have to worry about ever not triggering these types of sensors.

Depending on the type of light, this may not always be possible. Newer traffic light technologies use more technology and sensors that actually prevent this from ever being an issue. As you approach these types of lights, you should not have to deal with these same problems. Newer technology continues to come out and it will continue to improve your experience at traffic lights.

Lastly, if you ever are at a red light and cannot seem to get it to change, remember that you legally can run the red light. If you ever cannot seem to get a light to change, the law is on your side and you can proceed through when safe. Remember to always be cautious as you do this.

This article has been reviewed in accordance with our editorial policy.

Kyle Cannon

Kyle currently works as a mechanical engineer and graduated with a minor in automotive engineering. He loves restoring motorcycles, has a vast knowledge of how they work, and has sold his restoration projects to customers from all over the United States.

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