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GREEN MEANS GO. RED MEANS STOP. (or does it?)

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A new law now in effect allows PA motorists to treat a red light as if it were a stop sign if the traffic-control signal is out of operation or is not functioning properly.

In some cases, smaller vehicles such as motorcycles, small cars and horse and buggies, will not activate the automatic traffic-signal change devices located at many intersections.  The new law was sponsored by PA State Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland) so that someone operating such a vehicle could proceed safely through the intersection without waiting for the signal to change to green.

“It’s a common sense piece of legislation to solve a practical problem when a signal doesn’t detect a small vehicle, motorcycle, or even a horse and buggy,” Bloom told FOX43 last October, when his bill passed through the state House. “This allows them to proceed safely as if they were at a stop sign. They can’t do anything dangerous, but it allows a practical solution for a problem many Pennsylvanians are running into.”

Although it was originally designed for smaller vehicles, the legislation was amended to include all vehicles before it was passed into law. Specifically, the new law states that “if a traffic-control signal is out of operation or is not functioning properly, including, but not limited to, a signal that uses inductive loop sensors or other automated technology to detect the presence of vehicles that fails to detect a vehicle, vehicular traffic facing a …[r]ed or completely unlighted signal shall stop in the same manner as at a stop sign, and the right to proceed shall be subject to the [same rules applying at stop signs].”

Those of us who have been stuck at a malfunctioning signal or who operate vehicles that cannot be detected by the automatic sensors understand the frustration caused by a light that will not change and the accompanying anxiety in deciding whether or not to safely proceed through a red signal. Prior to the new legislation, we made the choice to proceed at the risk of receiving a citation. This new law apparently has remedied that problem.

However, as with much legislation designed to remedy one problem, it can often create others. For example, it remains to be seen if the number of intersection-related accidents increases due to poor judgment being exercised by drivers deciding to proceed on a red signal. And, enforceability could also be problematic since the statute actually fails to define what it means for a traffic-control signal to be “not functioning properly.”

Lastly, we should all take note that the statute does not permit a driver to proceed safely when the driver concludes the red light is “annoyingly long.” That said, it does not take too much imagination to envision that an impatient driver facing a steady red signal may very well opt to proceed through the red signal because it is, in their view, “not functioning properly.”

It seems like this “common sense piece of legislation” will rely on the common sense of each and every driver on PA roadways. To that, Will Rogers would say “common sense ain’t common” so, we will just have to see if it is truly a “practical solution for a problem many Pennsylvanians are running into” or, a solution that might cause many Pennsylvanians to run into one another.

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