Introduced just weeks after the enactment of the law it is intended to fix, members of an Ohio House of Representatives committee have moved swiftly on House Bill 9 to curb motorists from driving through red lights on traffic signals believed to be malfunctioning.
The bill’s author, Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, admitted to missing a “small but significant provision” in the 131st General Assembly’s lame-duck passage of the bicycle safety bill, House Bill 154.
“The problem I have with the legislation is that the language states, ‘or the signals are otherwise malfunctioning, including the failure of a vehicle detector to detect the vehicle,’ in the list of requirements for what the driver of a vehicle, streetcar, or trackless trolley should do when approaching an intersection where traffic is controlled by traffic control signals,” Koehler said during sponsor testimony. “This allows the driver of a motorized vehicle, not just a bicycle, to determine if the red light is malfunctioning or not, without any visible indicators as mentioned in lines 11, 12 and 13 of the bill.
“I understand that this language is necessary for bicyclists because their weight and the material of the bicycle are not enough to affect the signals in place for the light. However, I do not believe it is safe for a driver of a motorized vehicle, with plenty weight and metal to set off the detection, to determine if the red light is functioning properly when there are no visible cues other than the light is not turning fast enough.”
The lawmaker said he was tipped off to the problem provision by constituents alarmed by local media coverage of the bill’s passage.
Columbus Police Sgt. Nick Konves, assigned to the division’s Bicycle Coordination Unit, testified before the House Transportation and Public Safety Committee that he only became aware of HB 154 when he heard the media reports.
“One media outlet ran a short teaser that urged viewers to tune in to learn about a new law that ‘legalized’ going through red lights,” he said. “Naturally, this sparked my interest.”
A representative of the Ohio Bicycle Federation suggested to committee members that bill also apply to motorcycles and animal-drawn vehicles.
“Some vehicles are not detected by inductive loop detectors because the sensors react to conductive or ferrous metals,” said the federation’s Patricia Kovacs. “Bicycles, motorcycles and Amish buggies often have this problem.
“If the bicycle or other vehicle is positioned directly over the wire, it is often detectable. Sometimes the detector needs to be calibrated so that it is more sensitive.
She said the group she represents works with the state’s transportation and health departments to educate cyclists about the detectors and how to determine whether a given signal works properly.
“We also encourage (bicyclists) to contact engineers if signals need to be adjusted,” Kovacs said. “The signal law requires the bicyclist or driver to yield to all traffic approaching on the intersecting road before proceeding with care if their vehicle is not detected.”
Without the fix HB 9 would offer, Koehler was concerned the precedent its predecessor presents.
“Motorists are going to begin to believe that they can pull up to any stop light and as soon as they believe they’ve waited long enough, proceed through the red light,” he said. “I can’t think of any stop light that changes fast enough for me.
“In my opinion, I believe there are very few lights that function properly when I am in a hurry. The bottom line is, just like the media reports we have heard, I believe we have created language that will be used as a loophole to use stoplights as stop-signs for automobiles.”
HB 9 was reported out of committee last week and awaits introduction in the Ohio Senate.