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Bikers seek permission to bypass "dead red" lights; police say no way

TOPEKA — It sounds like the plot of a ’50s B movie — bearded, leather-clad bikers clashing with police.

But today, words were the weapons as motorcycle riders came before a House committee seeking legal relief from red lights that never change.

The issue before the House Transportation Committee was House Bill 2058, better known as the “Dead Red” bill.

Cyclists representing the motorcycle organization ABATE — A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments — testified that they could wait forever at traffic signals, because their bikes often lack the mass to trigger sensors embedded in the pavement that cause the lights to change from red to green.

Rider Tim Farr said that late at night or when there’s a lull in traffic, “you either sit there forever or you just run the light. There’s no way around it.”

The Dead Red bill would change state law to allow cyclists to ride through a red light after waiting a reasonable length of time for the light to change, provided they proceed in a safe manner.

“This is a very common issue we are facing and it is statewide, not just in Topeka,” said rider Tony McClelland.

No opponents testified in person at the hearing, but the riders have some powerful adversaries. The Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police and the Kansas Peace Officers’ Association filed written testimony opposing the bill.

“Adding this provision to the red light statute will create a debate in court when a citation is issued on a stop and go red light violation, even when ultimately the signal cycles as designed,” said the testimony filed by Ed Klumpp, legislative committee chair for the police chiefs and legislative liaison for the peace officers. “What is a reasonable time period will be debatable as well.”

The police organizations said it should be left to the officers.

“There are many issues in traffic enforcement requiring officer discretion and the consideration of unusual circumstances,” Klumpp wrote. “We should not attempt to codify all of these deviations. We strongly urge you not to move this bill forward.”

The motorcyclists said officer discretion is well and good, but inconsistent.

Ron Vauter of Salina said his experience is that out of 10 officers, eight would probably be OK with cyclists driving through frozen lights, while two would go by the book.

“Then you’ve got to go to court and prove you’re innocent,” he said.

Members of the committee seemed sympathetic to the cyclists’ plight.

“I can feel your frustration,” said Rep. Don Hill, R-Emporia. He said the timing for the bill is “bizarre,” because he had never been stuck at a frozen light in his life, but it happened to him twice during last week’s heavy snow and ice storms.

Rep. John Grange, R-El Dorado, suggested the bill could be expanded to include cars and bicycles as well as motorcycles.

Committee Chairman Gary Hayzlett, R-Lakin, said he plans to bring the bill back for a vote on whether to send it to the full House, although he said he would oppose efforts to expand it beyond motorcycles.

“I think we have to be very, very careful about that,” he said.

But he added that he does understand what the motorcyclists have to put up with, and said the bill could prevent some traffic stops that lead to unnecessary confrontation with police.

“Maybe it would ease that tension a little bit,” he said.

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