When riding his motorcycle around town, Gil Gilkey often encounters those pesky traffic lights that seem to be stuck on red. He doesn’t take it personally, as his is a predicament known by any biker who has waited in futility for a signal to acknowledge his presence -- especially at left turns.
“I’ve been stuck many of times in the rain for that reason,” said Gilkey, road captain of the local chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association. “You’re left to sit there deciding whether or not to break the law.”
A new proposal making its way through the Georgia House would grant motorcyclists the license -- after waiting 60 seconds -- to run a red light at a signal that fails to detect an idling bike. House Bill 161 includes language that would protect motorists who have the right of way from receiving certain citations in the event of a crash.
The bill -- sponsored by Rep. Ann Purcell, R-Rincon, who rides a motorcycle -- has passed the Public Safety Committee but not yet drawn a vote. The proposal has the backing of several biker organizations around the state,
“We are running the lights now -- we just don’t really have a choice,” said Linda Allen, legislative director of the American Bikers Active Toward Education in Georgia.
Allen said there are about 40,000 traffic signals in Georgia that were put into service before 2005 that rely on detection devices not designed to recognize the weight of a motorcycle.
“It would cost literally millions of dollars to replace all those sensors, and we’re not asking Georgia to do that because the state doesn’t really have all the money for that,” Allen said.
If the bill becomes law, Georgia would become the ninth state to pass some form of legislation accommodating motorcyclists stranded at red lights.
Local motorcyclist Benny Downs said he would be in favor of the new law, but questioned whether Columbus needed it.
“It’s very seldom I pull up to one that doesn’t change,” said Downs, first officer of the local chapter of the Southern Cruisers Riding Club.
Paul Lujan, president of the Valley Motorcycle Touring Association, said he has waited a long time at some intersections because running the light can be dangerous.
“In Columbus, I’ve learned that these people will take the right of way if they have it,” Lujan said. “They view a motorcycle as a machine, not as a human being on a vehicle.”
State Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, said he is still weighing the pros and cons of the bill and plans to speak with local law enforcement leaders next week.
“I don’t want convenience to cause its way into accidents,” Smyre said in a phone interview Saturday.
He cautioned that the 60-second rule outlined in the bill could complicate things for police officers who don’t know how long a motorcyclist has been waiting at the light.
“You get into a gray line in terms of law enforcement,” Smyre said.
Gilkey said he bought a special magnet for his motorcycle that is designed to trigger the red light sensor, but added it seems to work sporadically.
“Sometimes you just sit,” he said. “They sell different kinds, and I guess you get what you pay for.”
John Cunningham, owner of Chattahoochee Harley-Davidson, said he hasn’t heard many complaints about long waits at red lights.
“In the Columbus area, I wouldn’t say it’s a big problem,” he said. “Let’s face it, if you’re in a car or a motorcycle and you’re sitting at a light that won’t change, there are probably not too many of us who are just going to sit there.”