Wisconsin Law Lets Motorcyclists Ignore Some Red Lights

August 29, 2013

When John Glass of West Allis, Wis., rides his motorcycle, he carries a copy of the state statute that allows motorcyclists to drive through a red light under certain circumstances.

Some motorcycles are too small to trigger the traffic sensors at intersections, so lawmakers passed a law in 2006 allowing those riders to ignore the red light as long as they’ve waited at least 45 seconds and the intersection is clear, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Motorcycle enthusiasts hope police remember that law this week, as thousands of Harley riders arrive in Milwaukee for Harley-Davidson’s 110th anniversary celebration. Glass says officers don’t always seem to know the law exists, which is why the 56-year-old carries a copy of it in his wallet.

Dean Bartosh of ABATE of Wisconsin, a motorcycle-rights group, agreed the law isn’t widely known.

“It’s a pretty big secret to a lot of people,” he said. “There’s a lot of motorcyclists that haven’t heard of it. I’ve heard of instances where police don’t know that, they’ve pulled people over, and they had to be informed themselves.”

Most state-operated traffic signals, including meters at highway on-ramps, are triggered when a vehicle interrupts an electrical field at the intersections. The sensors don’t always detect motorcycles and bicycles – not because they’re lighter but because they have less metal.

Joanna Bush, a state traffic-signal engineer, said workers can fine-tune a signal that doesn’t detect motorcyclists.

“If they could notify us that there’s a problem, we’d much rather create a situation where they’re going through a green,” Bush said.

Most sensors consist of a 20-foot-by-6-foot loop beneath the pavement that has an electrical current running through it. Motorcyclists and bicyclists have a better chance of triggering a green light if they’re right above the loop.

Over the past three years, the state has begun moving toward signals that use video detection. Cameras “memorize” a background and trigger the signal to change when the background changes. The technology, which is more common across southern Wisconsin, is better at catching motorcycles and bicycles, Bush said.

Latest Comments

  • October 7, 2013 at 7:42 pm
    Guadalupe says:
    What statute exactly is this? Does anybody know? I want to print off a copy of this so I can carry it with me!
  • September 4, 2013 at 11:26 am
    Water Bug says:
    Hi Fair Playing Field, Thank you for the compliment.In my 50+years of driving I have owned 113 cars (not all at once!) including Alfa Romeos. BTW I will be driving my Frogeye ... read more
  • August 30, 2013 at 10:17 am
    InsGuy says:
    That is, until the traffic cop shows up and screws things up again.
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