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New law for motorcyclists gets green light from legislators

OLYMPIA - No motorist enjoys waiting at a traffic light that won’t turn green.

But the problem is especially vexing for motorcyclists, who often encounter traffic signals with sensors that don’t recognize their bikes.

A bill aimed at resolving the problem got the green light in the state legislature and will become law if it’s not vetoed by the governor, a rare action.

First introduced during last year’s legislative session, Senate Bill 5141 would make it legal for motorcyclists to go through a red traffic signal when the detection device fails to recognize the bike’s presence. The motorcyclist would have to wait through one full cycle of the traffic signal before proceeding.

In February, the Senate approved the bill and passed it onto the House, where it was overwhelmingly approved on March 10. The bill will now be passed onto Gov. Jay Inslee for consideration.

Even though it passed the legislature in its original form, without any amendments, it was not without opposition from the Washington State Patrol.

Capt. Rob Huss testified at the House Transportation Committee public hearing in February against the bill, citing safety concerns and how the bill may not be necessary.

He said at the hearing that there may be increased potential for collisions and confusion from other drivers when a motorcycle goes against a traffic signal. Huss also said there’s no data to show how many traffic signals are defective, and which ones are a problem. Few motorcyclists have complained about the issue, he said.

He said in an interview that he still has those concerns, but ultimately it’s the legislature that makes policy decisions, while his agency has the responsibility to apply them.

“We’ll do our best in the implementation [of it],” Huss said.

Many bicyclists encounter the same problems as motorcyclists - their bikes don’t trigger the detection system at a traffic signal. But the new law only addresses motorcyclists, not bicyclists.

Chris Partridge, spokesperson for Cascade Bicycle Club in Seattle, the largest of its kind in the U.S., said issues with detection signals are very familiar to him and other cyclists around the Puget Sound.

“It certainly is a problem that a lot of cyclists face,” Partridge said.

He also said that this legislation is a good step forward to a road system more inclusive to all users, but that infrastructure upgrades should be next.

“Should this be the final word on traffic signals? No,” Partridge said. “But I think it’s certainly a temporary solution.”

‑ Rebecca Gourley is an intern for the WNPA Olympia News Service.

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