Lawmakers advance bill to allow drivers to run red lights — if no other cars are present

City of Erie traffic engineering employee Chuck Carnes Jr. uses compressed air to clear snow from a traffic signal in Erie, Pa., Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017. Carnes was part of a two-man crew clearing signals after a record-setting snowfall. (Greg Wohlford/Erie Times-News via AP)

Lawmakers are considering giving Utah drivers a green light to run red lights — at times of extremely low travel when no other cars are present, and after coming to a full stop.

The House Transportation Committee voted 5-2 to advance HB416, which now goes to the full House.

“This is a safe-on-red bill. It’s not a run-a-red-light bill,” said its sponsor, Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan.

He wrote it after a complaint from Brian Tenney of South Jordan. Tenney said he was waiting at an intersection where a red light would not change — probably because traffic had been shifted because of construction, so the sensor did not detect his car.

“I decided to run the red light,” but a police officer saw him and gave him a ticket. He fought it in court, but the judge told him, “’There is no common-sense measure to this law. You ran the red light, so you get the ticket and pay the fine.’ He said, ‘If you don’t like it, I suggest you get with your representative’” — so he did.

Ivory said most people he talks to have been in a similar situation. He said the bill would still require drivers to come to a full stop, but allows them to proceed if no other vehicles, bicycles or pedestrians are nearby. It would essentially convert a red light into a stop sign.

The Utah Department of Transportation vigorously opposed the bill.

“We’re concerned about telling people it’s OK to go through a red light,” said Linda Hull, legislative services director for UDOT. She added that about half of all urban crashes occur at intersections — including 36 percent of all fatalities.

Utah has one of the most advanced systems of traffic signals in America, and all signals on state roads have some method to detect vehicles, she said. Most are connected to a central control room where UDOT employees can change signals if needed.

UDOT is updating signals to automatically report problems, Hull said, and she urged lawmakers to solve the problem with improving technology, not by allowing running red lights.

The House, meanwhile, has already approved HB58 to allow bicyclists to run red lights — and treat stop signs as yield signs — in small intersections not involving multilane roads. The Senate is now considering that.

“There is a very big difference between a 15-pound bicycle that goes through a red light and a 4,000-pound car,” Hull said. “If on a bicycle you go through a red light, you are really only endangering yourself,” but a car “endangers the other person who had a green light to go through that intersection.”