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

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.

I thought this was a good question and asked Lieutenant O’Hanlon at the city’s Traffic Division to address Doug’s concern. Lieutenant O’Hanlon responded via email 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 as other readers have recommended, 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 or via the City’s 311 smartphone app [pdf].

Doug: please do post an update on how your friend’s citation turns out and if your friend is able to successfully contest the citation.