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Anyone who has ever waited — and waited and waited — for a sensor-activated red light to turn green can understand the motivation for an escape clause.

Sometimes, they just don’t change. It can happen to anyone, but vehicles without sufficient mass or metal to trigger such sensors are the most frequent “victims.”

An “escape clause” is provided in a bill that would allow motorcyclists and bicyclists to proceed if a steady red signal failed to change after “a reasonable period of time” because of a malfunction or because a sensor was unable to detect the motorcycle or bicycle.

After waiting that “reasonable period,” the motorcyclist or bicyclist would be able to proceed after yielding the right of way to other traffic.

But what is “reasonable”? House Bill 2860 doesn’t say, and that question is too important to leave to unguided interpretation.

Gov. Pat Quinn should not sign this bill without that question being answered.

At least nine states have laws that allow motorcycles to proceed after coming to a stop and yielding when a light fails to change. But not all are as vague as the proposed Illinois law.

In Wisconsin, which has had such a law since 2006, motorcyclists must wait at least 45 seconds before exercising the option.

But we prefer the provisions of a Virginia law that takes effect July 1. It requires cyclists to wait 120 seconds or two cycles of the traffic light.

In effect, HB 2860 would make legal what many people already do out of frustration.

But let’s make sure it is done in the safest way possible.

Just turning right and turning around a few blocks later — as suggested by state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, one of 12 who voted against the bill — isn’t always a viable option. The cyclist may be in the far left lane before knowing the signal is apparently stuck on red or the other road might not have a safe — or legal — place to turn around for quite a distance.

Ideally, technological changes would be the cure. But a magnetic device for bikes touted as a solution doesn’t always work and altering how sensors function would be either expensive or time consuming.

Quinn should use his amendatory veto to add “at least 120 seconds or two cycles of the traffic light” after “a reasonable period of time.” Also make it clear that, if an accident results from a motorcyclist or bicyclist using this option, the burden in on them to yield the right of way and the other vehicle, with the lawful right of way, will not be given a ticket.

Then use caution and common sense before exercising the escape clause.


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