Rules of the Road: New law helps motorcyclists when signal doesn't change


Question: When pulling up to a left-hand turn lane at many intersections in Bellingham, the in-road sensor does not pick up my motorcycle no matter where I position it. It's obviously not a problem when another vehicle is in front or behind me, but when solo I've sat at lights for several cycles with no turn light forthcoming. What is the legal thing to do? I'd still be there on a few occasions if I wouldn't have moved on!

Answer: The first thing to do, when you are near a phone, is to contact the local public works department and let them know the sensor is not working. I believe all of the sensors in Whatcom County are now designed to detect cars, bicycles and motorcycles. The magnetic sensors are able to be adjusted for sensitivity, but unless someone tells them they are not working, the agencies don't know to go fix them.

As for the legal thing to do, the legislature passed Senate Bill 5141 that changed the law as of June 12. Now motorcycles that come to a complete stop at a light can proceed - with caution and if safe to do so - if the light fails to change after a full cycle once it should have been triggered.

Here's the new RCW 46.61.184, Street legal motorcycle at intersection with inoperative vehicle detection device: Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, the operator of a street legal motorcycle approaching an intersection, including a left turn intersection, that is controlled by a triggered traffic control signal using a vehicle detection device that is inoperative due to the size of the street legal motorcycle shall come to a full and complete stop at the intersection. If the traffic control signal, including the left turn signal, as appropriate, fails to operate after one cycle of the traffic signal, the operator may, after exercising due care, proceed directly through the intersection or proceed to turn left, as appropriate. It is not a defense to a violation of RCW 46.61.050 that the driver of a motorcycle proceeded under the belief that a traffic control signal used a vehicle detection device or was inoperative due to the size of the motorcycle when the signal did not use a vehicle detection device or that any such device was not in fact inoperative due to the size of the motorcycle.


Rules of the Road is a regular column with questions and answers on road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices.

Answers come from David Wright, a retired officer from the Bellingham Police Department who is now serving on the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force.

For previous Rules of the Road columns or to ask a question, go to

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