Law allows motorcycles to go through red lights

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   A new state law giving motorcycle riders the option of running a red light if the traffic signal sensor does not detect their motorcycle takes effect July 1.
   At least one local law enforcement officer is far from sold on the idea.
   "That doesn't make good sense to me," said Sheriff John Henson, of the law.
   Passed by the Tennessee General Assembly this session, motorcycle riders must stop at a red light to determine if the traffic-control signal detects the bike's presence. If the traffic-control signal does not detect the motorcycle, and the light does not change, the cyclist may proceed with due caution through the red light if he or she deems it safe to proceed.
   Bill sponsors reasoned that the low metal content in motorcycles is often not enough to set off the signalization sensor to make the light change.
   "We determined it would not necessarily present a safety risk," said Beth Tucker Womack spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Safety in Nashville. "We think it is mostly going to affect lower traffic areas or be in affect in more off hours of traffic."
   The department did not take an official position on the bill, she said. Womack said when motorcycle riders were traveling along cities roadways, there would usually be enough vehicle traffic to set off signals.
   When a motorcycle rider finds him or herself at a traffic light in the wee hours of night, discretion allows the rider to go through if there is no oncoming traffic, she added.
   The bill passed the Senate 28-to-1, while the House passed its version 60-to-30 with six members voting present.
   The sheriff pointed out that motorcycle operators already face more hazards on the road than automobile drivers. Permitting a motorcycle to go through a red light if the other streets were clear presented a new set of highway safety problems, he said.
   "Under no means is it going to make it safer," said Henson. "In my opinion, if anything, it is going to make it more dangerous because it is a lot more dangerous riding a motorcycle on the road than in a car."
   Preliminary reports found 73 motorcyclists were killed in traffic accidents on Tennessee highways last year. Of the state's motorist fatalities this year, 27 motorcyclists had been reported killed by the department through June 10.
   "I don't understand that, for safety reasons," said Henson. "I really hope somebody prevents this thing before the law goes in effect."