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Under bill, cyclists could turn through red lights legally

Published March 6, 2013 6:48 pm

Politics • Measure advances with amendment giving it a one-year trial.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Despite opposition from insurance companies and law enforcement, lawmakers took another step Tuesday toward allowing motorcyclists and bicyclists to turn left through red turn signals that do not detect them — when traffic is clear and after waiting 90 seconds.

But Senate Transportation Committee members also signaled that they will amend it on the Senate floor so that change would expire in a year, so they can see if it is working safely before making it permanent. It then passed HB316 unanimously.

"I hope in a year we don't have to scrape up too many people off the highway," said Committee Chairman Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, explained that some traffic signals cannot detect cyclists waiting to turn left because they are too small. That leaves them sitting indefinitely with no legal option — because shifting out of the lane or dismounting to push pedestrian signals are also technically illegal.

Motorcyclist Jay Brummett said he recently sat for 10 minutes at a light at a T-intersection that did not detect him, mostly because he saw a police officer sitting in an adjacent parking lot. "I finally turned through the intersection, and he pulled me over."

Anderson said cyclists need some legal alternative — and the alternative in his bill is the safest.

But insurance companies and law enforcement said it would create confusion with different rules for different types of vehicles. Harold Petersen, an attorney for insurance companies said, "People are going to get hurt and people are going to get killed."

As Utah Highway Patrol Capt. Barton Blair opposed the bill, the committee asked what he would do as a motorcyclist at such intersections. He said he would turn through them too, and then argue it is a non-functioning light — which is allowed by current law. He said the bill would not improve the situation, and could lead to more running red lights illegally.

Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, said some legal alternative is needed — and suggested the one-year test. Anderson said 14 states have similar laws, and none have moved to repeal them.