What do you do if a traffic light doesn’t detect you?

The traffic light: originally designed to stop vehicles from killing people. Image via Lifehacker.

We are reposting this post from 2011 because the issue is still relevant, along with some new updates.

A reader, Doug, recently asked the following question,

What does the vehicle code say about bicycles making a left turn at a light that won’t turn green. I always assumed a “safe and prudent” approach and not turn left until there is no oncoming traffic??? Though a friend was just cited for this.

A previous Lieutenant at the San Diego Police Department had responded as follows:

Concerning the citation, I cannot comment on the validity of its issuance because I was not there.  If the individual believes the citation was issued in error they can contest the citation through the court process.

However, California Vehicle Code section 21450.5 (b) states essentially traffic actuated signals must be installed and maintained so as to detect lawful bicycles and motorcycles.

California Vehicle Code section 21800 (d) (1) essentially states that when signals are inoperative the vehicle (bicycle) shall stop and may proceed with caution when safe to do so.

Without knowing the particulars of the citation it appears the bicyclist must  stop for the signal and then if the signal will not “trip” the bicyclist may proceed when safe to do so.

Hope the answer is clarification enough. Additionally, it is also useful to be proactive by reporting all traffic lights that don’t detect cyclists to  the San Diego Streets Division via the Streets website. Reporting it via the web form also makes it easy for you to track the status of your request and follow up. Typically the requests are addressed within 24 hours, although if several thousand of you start making traffic light requests, the time to address the sensors may get longer.

When you make your request, be sure to ask that the traffic light sensors be lowered to detect bicycles and that the cycle lasts long enough for someone to ride across multiple lanes. Not everyone can dash across multiple lanes at 30-40 mph, and many bicycle riders are slow.

If you have other proactive tips or suggestions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.