By Bob Mionske
When I come to a lighted intersection while riding my bicycle my presencedoes not “trigger” the light. What are my options under the law? Do I havethe right to break the law by running the light or do I have to get offthe bike and hit the pedestrian walk button?
You are not alone in the problem of traffic sensors failing to recognizethe presence of your bicycle. This very same problem faces thousands ofcyclists across the country every day. Coincidentally, Pennsylvania, thePennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) issued a press releasejust four weeks ago regarding traffic sensor technology.
The technology used at most intersection is called an inductive loopsensor. The sensor functions as a type of metal detector for cars, trucks,and even bicycles. An electrical field is created around the wire underthe ground, which detects the metal material of the vehicle causing a changein the electrical field. Once the change is sensed a message is sent tothe traffic signal controller and soon after changes the light to green.Of course, the system is not foolproof, as you no doubt have experienced.So, what does a cyclist do when faced with the problem of a sensor notrecognizing a bicycle?
As you may already know, bicyclists are required by law to abide bythe “rules of the road” when operating a bicycle (Section 3501 of thePennsylvania Laws Relating to Bicycling — Applicability of traffic lawsto pedalcycles). Included within the rules of the road is the requirementthat all vehicles stop at red lights and remain stopped until the lightchanges to green.
Although there is not a law or statute speaking specifically on theproblem of traffic sensors failing to recognize bicycles, Penn DOT providesinformation regarding the situation. If you come to a red light on yourbicycle and run into this problem perform the following. First and foremost,stop at red lights and wait for the light to turn green. If your bicycledoes not have enough metal to trigger the sensor (which you probably willnot know) look on the ground for a square or octagonal pattern of thinlines in the pavement. These lines represent slots that were cut for thesensors. The cut line in the road is the ideal spot to ride your bike overbecause of the placement of the wires within these lines.
Once you have located the cut lines in the road and positioned yourbicycle above the lines what happens if the light is still not triggered?Should you run the red? Should you wait for a car to come behind you? Shouldyou get off your bike and push the pedestrian walk button (if one exists)?According to PennDOT, if you attempt to trigger the sensor and it doesnot react you are within your rights to run the red light. The reason forthis is that the sensor is defective, thus running the red isn’t againstthe law. If you were to receive a ticket for running the red or get intoan accident as a result, fault will (at least should) be placed on theperson who installed the sensor. However, if you are cited by the policefor running the light, you will be required to defend your case in courtand you will do more waiting in that process than 10 years of riding.For more information on difficult traffic situations facing cyclistsvisit www.dot.state.pa.us.Finally, you may run into the problem of a light that has outdated sensors.According to PennDOT, there are federal guidelines that exist for trafficsensors. As such, it might be in your best interest to contact your localcity government and determine which lights have not met up to these standardsand put pressure on them to abide by the guidelines.
(Research and drafting assistance provided by Justin Reiner-lawstudent-Willamette University School of Law)
Now read the fine print:
Bob Mionske is a former competitive cyclist who representedthe U.S. at the 1988 Olympic games (where he finished fourth in the roadrace), the 1992 Olympics, as well as winning the 1990 national championshiproad race.After retiring from racing in 1993, he coached theSaturn Professional Cycling team for one year before heading off to lawschool. Mionske’s practice is now split between personal-injury work, representing professional athletes as an agent and other legal issues facing endurance athletes (traffic violations, contract, criminal charges, intellectual property, etc).If you have a cycling-related legal question, please send it to email@example.comBob will answer as many of these questions privately as he can. He willalso select a few questions each week to answer in this column. Generalbicycle-accident advice can be found at www.bicyclelaw.com.Important notice:
The information provided in the “Legally speaking”column is not legal advice. The information provided on this publicweb site is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors tothis web site. The information contained in the column applies to generalprinciples of American jurisprudence and may not reflect current legaldevelopments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and thereforeshould not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Understand thatreading the information contained in this column does not mean youhave established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Bob Mionske.Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained inthe web site without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.