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.
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.