Tag Archives: red light

How long must a motorcyclist wait at malfunctioning signal?

The in basket: Bruce Brockett of Poulsbo writes, “I ride a motorcycle early most mornings when traffic is light. I travel north through Poulsbo on Highway 305, and make a left turn onto Bond Road from the left turn lane at the traffic light.

“Many times I am the only one in this lane, or first in line, to turn. The traffic control (either a camera or the pressure sensor – both are there) doesn’t recognize me. I sit through several light changes, then finally have to run the red light.

“Fortunately, the traffic is light. I have tried stopping at different positions in the lane. Eventually, sometimes, someone will line up behind me in an auto, but still won’t trigger the turn signal unless they pull up tight behind me, which most are reluctant to do.

“I know it is legal for me to go through the red in some situations, but would prefer that the light be corrected. Also, sometimes I use this signal at times when it is very busy, and it is not comforting to try to guess where the next car is coming from.”

He said he isn’t clear on the circumstances and/or duration of the signal malfunction that permits passing through the red under a change in the state law (RCW 46.61.184) made a year or two ago.

The out basket: The duration is one complete cycle of the light, in which all movements controlled by the signal would have had an opportunity to turn green. That’s not much help if only one direction stays green and no traffic approaches from a direction where it would be expected to trigger the light.

And the law has a vexing condition that makes use of it chancy. It essentially says if it’s an intersection without vehicle detection, or you conclude the light isn’t working, and you’re wrong, that’s not a defense against a ticket for running the light.

The law applies to bicycles and mopeds as well as motorcycles. It also requires the vehicle come to a complete stop before proceeding.

State Trooper Russ Winger said, “I think following the first segment of the law is most important, waiting a cycle. It then amounts to the rider to make a good decision on when to proceed, yielding properly and safely to traffic with right of way. I don’t think this occurs that commonly ‎but it can be done safely.

“Riders could get into trouble if they start running lights because they get tired of waiting for long duration timing signals during peak traffic time.”

I referred Bruce’s complaint to my state contact and asked that she make the district signal shop aware of it.

Motorcyclists get relief from balky red lights

The in basket: From time to time I hear  from motorcyclists who wonder what they legally can do when traffic is light and they are stuck at a red light because the traffic detection equipment isn’t sensitive enough to react to their presence and no larger vehicles show up to trip the light.

I heard on TV news the other day that a new law has been passed and signed by the governor making it legal for motorcyclists to go through a red light after they have waited one complete cycle of the light that didn’t include a green light for them.

The out basket: It’s true, according to the state Legislature’s Web site, and the law will be effective June 12. The new law requires that the movement be made cautiously.

The bill didn’t get through in 2013 but was reintroduced this year and passed.

I’ve always figured if  I was a motorcyclist caught in such a pickle, I’d make a right turn, being careful to signal, especially if I had to pull out of a left turn pocket, then make a U-turn on the cross street and return to the signal. There I could make either a right on red if that’s the direction they wanted to go, or hope the detection equipment is stronger on that side if the signal isn’t still green for that street.

But come June 12, motorcyclists will have the option of waiting a full cycle of the light and proceeding (cautiously) if other strategies fail them.

Do Bremerton police still use blue lights on stop signals?

The in basket: Jo Clark wrote to say, ” Nearly every time I travel through the stop light on Marine Drive/Kitsap Way I see the blue light come on the back of the signal to indicate someone not getting through the intersection before the light changes to red.  I am wondering if we are paying some company to be allowed to use these, because it has been years since I’ve seen a police car watching for culprits.


“With budget cuts everywhere I can understand that perhaps the police can’t patrol these lights,” Jo said, “but if we are paying for them to operate regardless, I have to wonder how much it might save to cancel the contracts.

“I never see any police cars monitoring them any more,” she said. “I have in the past. And if we don’t have enough police to monitor them, are we wasting money to maintain this ‘trap’?

The out basket: The lights don’t necessarily indicate that someone has run a red light, only that the light has changed to red. The lights allow an officer viewing an intersection from the side to know when the light he can’t see the front of becomes red, and he then can decide if someone blows it.

Lt. Pete Fisher of Bremerton police says, “The lights are a great tool for officers when they observe a red light violation from a different direction than the violator.  It provides solid visual evidence that a violation occurred, when they cannot testify to the fact that they saw the violator’s light turn red.

Jeff Collins of the city signal shop says, “As far as I know, all the blue lights are still in operation and still used by the police department.

“They were installed by city personnel and maintained by city staff. The lights are LED so the only maintenance would be a failure or cleaning on our annual lamp change and cleaning cycle.”

When the red light just won’t change

The in basket: Matt Potter asks, “How do you handle a situation where you’re the only person at a traffic light and it seems not to want to turn green for you?”

The out basket: I told John what I would do, then asked State Trooper Russell Winger what he would recommend.

I said, “1. Make sure you are over the sensor wires just behind the crosswalk or stop bar.

“2. If so, make a right turn, if possible, and proceed to where you can safely make a U-turn (they are legal if done safely).

“3. Go back to the intersection and turn right to proceed.

“If it’s a left turn you originally wanted to make but couldn’t get a green light, I see no option but to make sure no traffic will be imperiled and run it. But you’d better wait at least two minutes first. Very few traffic signals are timed to require a wait longer than that, least of all when traffic is so light you are the only vehicle waiting.

“4. Call 9-1-1 to report a possible malfunctioning signal.”

Trooper Winger had this to say:

“I suggest that a driver, back up (only if no vehicles are behind them, of course) and attempt to trip the light.

“Failing that, wait long enough for other traffic to trip the light. Your suggestion to make a right turn, if possible, is also a possibility.

“If you drive long enough, most drivers will be faced with this occurrence at some time or another (even police officers). Usually the light will eventually cycle.

“However, if the light appears to be in total failure for all drivers, the intersection becomes a four-way stop intersection and non-regulated rules apply.” That means take turns and a car on the right of another has the right of way.

“We sometimes get calls from drivers when they have had such a problem,” Russell said. “Most instances, but not all, the signals are working correctly when we or DOT responds to investigate.

“I would suggest a driver enter an intersection on red ONLY after taking the responses suggested and getting no positive result after several minutes and cycles. Then, after yielding to any traffic with right of way, (you can) proceed through the intersection.”

Left on red from Loxie Eagans to Highway 3 is legal

The in basket: Marilyn Painter wonders if there is anything about the left turn from Bremerton’s Loxie Eagans Boulevard onto the Highway 3 on-ramp to go north that doesn’t qualify it as a place a person can make the turn against a red light, after stopping fully and yielding to other traffic. 

” I often see people stopped (there) unwilling to go against the red light,” she said.

The out basket: There is no sign prohibiting it, so yes, those left turns are legal if done correctly. The fact that a red ball light stops would-be left turn traffic, rather than a red arrow light, makes no difference.

Readers who have missed all the previous Road Warrior columns describing this law probably are shaking their heads saying, “What is he talking about?”

It’s a peculiarity of Washington law that left turns onto a one-way street can be made against a red light, but only after making a complete stop and without endangering any other traffic.

This particular intersection is very close to the state patrol headquarters, so there’s a good chance an officer will see you if you do it, so be sure you do it right, stopping fully and yielding to anyone with the green light. I also noticed that it’s a little harder at that spot than others to be sure the two lanes of oncoming traffic also have a red light, which is cause for an extra measure of caution.

One-way streets are sufficiently rare in Kitsap County that the freeway on-ramps are among the few places it can be done. And I find that if I’m not first in the left-turn line, it might as well not be legal, because no driver ahead of me will do it. 

And as a November column on the subject noted, a police officer new to the state might not be aware of the law and cite you for it. It’s in RCW 46.61.055 if you ever need to look it up. It’s in the state Driver’s Guide too.

I’ve had no success finding out what led to this odd exception to normal driving laws, which has existed for years and probably decades. Do any of you readers know?


Why are photo-enforcement signs not next to the signals?

The in basket: Robert Arper wrote to ask, “Would someone please explain to me why the signs warning us of a photo patrolled intersection are posted on the side of the road before the intersection instead of hanging next to the traffic light?  

“When I am approaching an intersection,” Robert said, “I normally am glancing back and forth between the traffic signal and the intersection rather than looking at the right shoulder for a sign so it makes little sense to me why the warning signs are placed where they are.  

“Are they concerned with extra weight on the cables or posts holding the traffic light?  Or is there concern of the warning signs catching the wind and causing problems that way?”

The out basket: Larry Matel, street engineer for the city of Bremerton, which has several photo-enforced intersections, replied, “Warning signs are customarily placed on the right side of the road in the direction of travel as a standard location  where drivers expect to find them. Sometimes signs are placed over travel lanes to augment traffic signal indications.”

Examples I can think of advise when left turns are legal and what kind of yielding is required, when right turns on red are forbidden, and what kind of turns are allowed from what lanes. 

Larry continued, “Yes, wind concerns can also come into play when placing a sign.  If a sign is supported overhead by a cable, (as those at photo-enforced 11th and Warren in Bremerton, are, for example) most likely two cables would be needed in some locations for sign stability.”

A tale of two cities

The out basket: The Road Warrior has been able to help two of my readers who were incorrectly ticketed by city police for infractions where the officer didn’t know the law. 

Both men had read in this column that they could legally do what they did, only to have officers unaware of the applicable law cite them. 

First came Nicholas Sveslosky, who was ticketed last spring by an officer in Lynnwood in Snohomish County for driving past a school bus that was facing in the opposite direction with its sign out and red lights flashing, with a turn lane between his car and the bus. 

Though even the state public instruction office issues literature saying no stop is required in that situation, he not only was stopped and cited, but convicted in municipal court. He e-mailed to ask me what I thought. 

Then Doug Lemon relied on my description of an odd law that permits a left turn against a red light if turning onto a one-way street, providing a full stop is made and no other traffic is imperiled. 

A Port Orchard officer ticketed him for running a red light after he did just that at the Sedgwick Road on-ramp to northbound Highway 16  on Oct. 22. 

Like Nicholas, Doug asked me where he’d gone wrong.

The out basket: I advised Nicholas to appeal to superior court, as the municipal judge’s ruling, that the middle turning lane was not a traffic lane because it is not a regular driving lane where cars move in a single file, was clearly in error.

“The prosecuting attorney for the city called me the week of the case to let me know that I was right, and that they were dropping their case,” Nicholas wrote me on Oct. 3.

‘The judge at the superior court court looked surprised that the city dropped the case,” he said. “Great vindication! I did not pay any of the $400 fine, and I received a full refund of my $240 appeal filing fee.”

It didn’t take Doug nearly as long. Port Orchard Police Commander Geoff Marti, when I asked him about the case, invited Doug to call him, and he personally arranged for dismissal of the ticket. 

Still, Doug said, “I’m not sure if I have the confidence to practice this left turn on red again.” Which may be the sad lesson from these two cases. Even when a person is right and the officer is wrong, it can be quite a hassle and take months to prevail. 

Having a copy in one’s car of RCW 46.61.055, the red light law, and RCW 46.61.370, the school bus law, probably would be a good idea for those willing to do it.


Driver not seeing flashes from the red light cameras


The in basket: Dave DuBois wonders if all of Bremerton’s red light cameras are working.

“I haven’t seen any of them flash in quite some time,’ he said, “and while I can’t say for the other cameras, the one at Marine Drive and Kitsap Way has not been functional for several weeks. 

“I observed that first hand on Friday (July 17) as we sat at the signal, waiting to turn left onto Kitsap Way. Due to the first driver in line being asleep, the left-turn light changed right after he finally went through and the two cars in front of me went through after the light turned red and there was no flash from the camera. 

“I have to wonder if Bremerton  turned them off due to the lawsuit pending about the amount being charged – like they did the first time someone challenged them after being ticketed when the tattle-tale lights were installed.”

And Willa Dean Howell phoned to ask, “What nine intersections have cameras?”

The out basket: Willa has the number of intersections confused with the number of cameras. There are nine cameras, two each at 11th and Warren, 16th and Warren (at the college), Sylvan and Wheaton and Kitsap Way and Marine Drive, and one at 11th and Callow.

For some reason, the state law permitting camera enforcement limits use of the cameras to only two directions per intersection., 

Lt. Pete Fisher, the city police traffic lieutenant, without getting into detail, says “All of the cameras are working.  My guess is that this occurred while the system was being checked and/or maintained.”

Dave’s eyes must be better than mine (Whose aren’t?) I’ve never seen one of the cameras flash.