Missouri Red Light Law

September 8, 2009

All Posts, News

A new traffic law went into effect in Missouri a week ago and, amazing though this may seem, so far everybody agrees on what the word “reasonable” means.

On August 28th, Missouri became the eighth state to allow motorcyclists to run a red light after a stop if the traffic signal refuses to change. South Carolina, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Idaho, Arkansas, Tennessee and Minnesota have similar laws. Georgia and Oklahoma might pass such laws. The Missouri law was written and sponsored by State Senator William Stauffer.

Mass Sensors

The Missouri law is intended to enhance the original intent of automated traffic controls. Automated traffic controls began to appear after the 1973 oil crisis. The idea was to keep traffic moving efficiently and spare motorists from wasting gas at red lights. The automated systems introduced then detected the number of cars stopped at an intersection with a primitive computer and an input device called a mass sensor.

Mass sensors look like large, geometrical shapes carved into the road surface. When a mass sensor detects the mass of an automobile stopped on top of it, it sends a signal to the nearest traffic light.

Unfortunately, mass sensors are blind to motorcycles. Bikers are really left with no solution except to run the light before your engine catches fire. And, anyone who has ever been stuck at light on a Harley in Las Vegas in the summertime when the pavement reaches 150 degrees knows what an iffy calculation that can be.


The problem is so annoying to bikers that one company even manufactures a device called an “RLC-40 Traffic Light Changer.” Simply put, it is a refrigerator magnet you attach to the bottom of you bike. According to promotional copy, the RLC-40 “sends out a strong magnetic flux field, causing the sensor to ‘see’ your motorcycle as if you were a large steel vehicle, inducing a signal in the pavement sensor loops, thereby triggering the traffic light to turn green.”

Right. And, if the RLC-40 doesn’t work you could also try sprinkling a poultice of rooster blood and hominy on the mass sensor. That usually works just about as well.

Magnetic devices do not work on mass sensors because mass sensors do not detect magnetism. They detect mass. Duh-uh!

What Can Go Wrong

Of course, every common sense idea has its official opponents. The Federal Highway Administration opposes the new Missouri law because, as a spokesman for the Administration named Doug Hecox explained, “We don’t necessarily think that empowering motorists to make up their own rules of the road is the safest or best approach.”

Before the new law passed, a Missouri Representative went on the record to oppose the law because he thought it “would create a double standard not seen in other traffic laws….There is no other law on the books where people can violate traffic laws because certain devices don’t work.”

Still, the most widespread objection to the law has been semantic. Nitpickers have pointed out again and again that the law only requires motorcyclists to stop and wait a “reasonable time” before proceeding. And after all, this argument goes, who among us can say what is reasonable? People cannot be expected to define reasonable for themselves. Lawyers and politicians and policemen must do that for us.

But after a long week including a holiday weekend this radical experiment seems to actually be working. The new law has not resulted in a single reported fatality yet.

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5 Responses to “Missouri Red Light Law”

  1. Rebel Says:

    Dear Bear,

    Nice to hear from you. You crack me up. Yes, I once knew a nice cop once, too. In a little mid-western town long ago. Big tough guy. No bullshit. Rode a Pan. He retired and moved to LA and played a motorcycle outlaw in the movies.

    your pal,

  2. Bear Says:

    Don’t be mistaken, we get most of our pork from the same farm yours comes from. I work an odd shift and leave for home at 2am. I work in a fairly rural area and have a 42 mile commute on rural secondary roads to get home. I have the town police (4 towns), county sheriff (2 counties) and state thugs keep me company. If I see a set of headlights behind me at 2am it’s a very strong possibility that it’s a cruiser. In the past they followed me every night; tagging off to the next guy at various intervals. Since I don’t think the terms “Biker” and “Stupid” are synonyms I make sure not to speed, I signal where appropriate and rest the sole of my left boot on the pavement at every stop. After a while they stopped following me. After a while I learned all their little hiding places. On the night mentioned above after seeing the cop sitting there I took a calculated risk. I knew he’s seen me run the light and figured if he didn’t emmidiately pull me over he’d use it as a reason to follow me. Since I didn’t want to feel his eyes on my back I pulled in next to him; if I was going to get a ticket I’d just as soon take it here and be on my way alone. I’m 6′, 240lbs with a shaved head, 10″ goatee and plenty of ink, I usually don’t get a warm greeting from the home team so I was expecting a “keep your hands on the bars!” (I’ve heard that before), but this dude was mister mellow. Maybe donuts trigger a serotonin release in LEs or maybe he’d just finished off some herbal relaxer? I don’t know; his business, not mine. We only have a couple legit MCs here and everyone generally does their own thing quietly, privately; out of the spotlight so I don’t think the LEOs look quit as hard at a biker as they do elsewhere. I’ve riden in Colorado, central California and Northern Illinois and in those places cut or no cut you’re getting attention, I can only emagine what El Lay is like.

  3. DirtyBruin Says:


    I had cops be nice to me in Toronto….

    I was staying with a friend, went out bar-hopping by foot and was walking back to his place after last call. (Torontonians were horrified, I considered myself safer than in LA.) I looked then pretty much like now – long hair, big beard, leather jacket (just no gray). Cop car pulls up, window rolls down – and what I hear is “Are you all right?” Not a challenge, not a demand for an explanation or ID.

    Now, I knew he was checking to see if I were up to no good – but the approach was so refreshing, I simply volunteered that I was a tourist staying with a friend – and named the building. That seemed to be enough, as he bid me good night and be careful, and drove off.

    Now, I don’t know if that was typical, or if it still happens – and granted, I wasn’t actually ON a bike. But it is possible to encounter the occasional sane, reasonable cop.

    On the other hand, there was the time I was at a parade, stepped one foot off the sidewalk into the gutter trying to get a photo of some friends on a float and had an LA county sheriff curse at me to “get back on the sidewalk.” Way to harsh the buzz, a$$hole….

  4. Rebel Says:

    Dear Bear,

    Obviously they breed your cops in a different laboratory than where they breed my cops. I have to put up with LA Sheriffs and LAPD and shit. I once pulled into a gas station in Torrance to check the air in my front tire and when I looked up I was surrounded by three cruisers. Motherfuckers never said a word. Just sat there and stared at me. That was about the time I cut off my ponytail and started wearing my hair real short.

    I don’t believe some cop was nice to you. You’re making this up, right? C’mon. Admit it.

    your pal,

  5. Bear Says:

    Yee Ha! I live in Missouri and work a night shift. There are two lights on my way home (at 2am) that are controlled by mass sensors. As you stated these lights would not change for me, so I would stop; look left and right and then go. One night after pulling through I noticed a local PD guy sitting in his cruiser beside a gas station (I hadn’t noticed him before I ran the light). I took a chance and pulled in next to him. To my suprise he didn’t automatically assume that I was there to kill him and draw down on me. I told him I had pulled through the red because it wouldn’t change. The nice policeman told me that he saw me every morning and he knew the light wouldn’t change and not to sweet it; just do like I’d been doing and he wouldn’t have a problem with it. Nice to know I have a legal leg to stand on now though; never know when he’ll have a day off.

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