When can a motorcycle go through a red light?

Published 8:45 am Thursday, April 22, 2010

Question: Can a motorcycle really go through a red light if they have been waiting for over a minute?

Answer: There is a little more to the law than that, and let’s just throw out the minute thing right away and start from scratch.

I believe this defense in MSS169.06 Subdivision 9 Signs and Signals was created for the light weight of motorcycles and when at times they are unable to trigger the signal change at certain semaphores. I did not keep up with all the arguments when this bill went to the Legislature so there may be more to the law’s background, but we can go through the elements of the law.

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MSS169.06 Subdivision 9 states, “A person operating a motorcycle … who violates … by entering or crossing an intersection controlled by a traffic control signal against a red light has an affirmative defense against that charge …” if they can establish:

The motorcycle was brought to a complete stop (no rolling balancing thing).

The red light has shown for a reasonable time.

The signal is malfunctioning, or signal is designed to detect motor vehicle and failed to detect the motorcycle.

And if when they crossed no one was entering or crossing the intersection that could constitute a hazard.

I would like to discuss the word reasonable.

If the motorcycle is sitting at the red light, likely alone as a heavier motor vehicle and traffic would trigger the change, they must wait a reasonable amount of time before proceeding through the red light.

To help us try to understand reasonableness in this case, imagine you are articulating your reasonableness, you judging that the red light has shown for a reasonable amount of time. When you are in front of a judge — is our judge hearing a self-serving person and their schedule is what this is all about — can you say that you sat there fully expecting the light to turn green and didn’t have an early launch on your mind even before getting to the intersection? If you had 10 responsible adults who saw you at the light, would they think you waited long enough?

You get my drift.

I honestly believe that this is a good exemption/defense because I know motorcycles can get stuck at a red light, but I also believe most of the time motorcycle drivers know when it is OK to go through the red and when it is not.

Jacalyn Sticha is a sergeant with the Minnesota State Patrol’s Mankato district.