Did you know that, under certain circumstances, you can drive through a red light?
It’s true. Signed into law in July 2016 and enacted in September of that year, a new law in Pennsylvania went into effect that allows vehicles to go through unresponsive or malfunctioning red lights, provided they do so cautiously and using good sense.
The new law, called the “Ride on Red” law or Act 101, was originally intended for motorcycles and bicycles, which are often too small or too light to be detected by traffic signal weight sensors which are under the pavement. In its final incarnation, the law had been expanded to include all vehicles, even a horse and buggy.
Introduced by Representative Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland), the law came about because an increasing number of Pennsylvania drivers were getting stuck at lights. More people are driving smaller vehicles, and they as well as the motorcycles and horses and buggies already mentioned, are often required to wait up to ten minutes for a light to change and let them through. Representative Bloom was approached by some motorcycle organizations, who asked him about changing the law. Mr. Bloom also noted that the problem is more common than most people realize, especially on rural roads or during the late hours of the night, when fewer heavy vehicles are out. The goal of the law is to solve a practical problem while still ensuring safety. It does not give a driver free rein to blow indiscriminately through lights.
How Does This Work?
If a traffic light or other signal is out of operation, or blinking or otherwise is not working properly—including but not limited to signals that use automated technology like inductive loop sensors to detect the presence of vehicles but fails to—a driver can:
- If the light is green or yellow, proceed with caution.
- If the light is red or completely unlighted, stop as though it was a stop sign. The right to proceed is the same as at any other stop.
The bill does not specify how long a driver must wait for a light to turn. You must come to a complete stop before proceeding, and make sure no one else is coming. You must also give the light a chance to cycle through and give you a green light. If it skips your turn, you can go. Treat the light as you would a stop sign, basically.
The law does not apply to lights on timers that just take longer to turn than others.
Previously, you could go through an inoperable light, this is true. This new bill simply added a paragraph or two that said you could do the same at lights that use technology, like sensors, to detect vehicles. The problem was that the lighter weight vehicles would not trigger that technology, and the light would never change. Now, after a reasonable period of time, they can, with caution, proceed through and continue their travel.
For any of you who would like to read the law in its entirety, it can be found in the Pennsylvania Code, Title 75, Section 3112, linked here.
So, the next time you are out and you run into a traffic signal that is not working, come to a complete stop and use caution, but go ahead on through. Just make sure it really wasn’t working properly before you do. Then, go ahead and report the malfunctioning light to city hall or the police department.