Can Pa. drivers run a red light that won’t change?

Remember the four-minute rule when a traffic light is stuck on red.

By Matt Desanto
Centre Daily Times

Construction, congestion and bothersome drivers often make for a frustrating commute, but a broken traffic signal can take things to a whole new level.

A never-ending red light presents a dilemma for drivers:
• Will that signal ever change?
• If it doesn’t, is it safe to continue driving when traffic is clear?
Remember the four-minute rule when a traffic light is stuck on red. READING EAGLE,
• Is that even legal in Pennsylvania?

Luckily, a relatively new law in the Keystone State makes this rare circumstance a bit easier for drivers throughout the commonwealth. Here’s what you need to know about running through a red light that won’t turn green.

Can you run a red light if it won’t turn green?

Probably, but it depends on the circumstances.

According to the commonwealth’s Ride on Red law, any vehicle (including cars, bikes, motorcycles and even horse-drawn buggies) can proceed through an intersection if a trafficsignal is malfunctioning or if its vehicle-detection system fails to recognize present vehicles. In these instances, drivers should treat malfunctioning traffic signals as stop signs, according to PennDOT.

“It’s important to note, however, that this does not mean you can treat any red light as a stopsign,” PennDOT wrote in an online guide. “It must be malfunctioning.” According to the agency, Pennsylvania law lacks specic language dening how long amotorist must wait at a red light before the signal is considered malfunctioning. It is best to use common sense and look for signs of complete malfunction, including a totally dark signal or a light frozen in red mode (or, as PennDOT says, going through several cycles without granting a green light).

Through a partnership with Pennsylvania State Police, PennDOT published a safety video in 2018 that recommends waiting at least four minutes before asserting a traffic signal is broken.

“We have a lot of questions on what constitutes a malfunctioning signal,” State Trooper Brent Miller said in the video. “Basically, if you’re at a traffic control signal for more than four minutes, that means it is malfunctioning. There is no traffic signal out there in the state of Pennsylvania that cycles longer than four minutes. A lot of people are impatient and may think a minute is too long, but you have to remind people that it’s actually four minutes.” Before an amendment in 2016, Pennsylvania’s law allowed motorists to treat only traffic signals that were not operating as stop signs. Now, additional language species malfunctions can surface through traffic signals that use inductive loop sensors or automated technology features to detect the presence of vehicles. PennDOT says lightweight vehicles may have trouble triggering a traffic signal’s detection, resulting in a light that does not change.

Can I get a ticket if I run a malfunctioning red light?

Possibly, but it’s a bit of a gray area.

As PennDOT recommends, look for signs of malfunction and wait long enough to proceed through an inoperable red signal. Use extreme caution and make sure the intersection is clear before driving forward into the intersection. Pennsylvania drivers who pass through a steady, operational red light at an intersection commit a summary offense and may be subject to a fine of at least $25 and, potentially, marks against their driving record. According to Pennsylvania code, heftier fines of around $100 are applied for those found violating an automated red light.

Tips for staying safe

PennDOT maintains many guides and brochures offering safety tips for Pennsylvania drivers, all available online at no cost.
To put things simply, the agency encourages drivers to “Start SMART” and “Stay SMART” — a series of acronyms offering straightforward safety tips.

• S — Seat belt on, seat adjusted
• M — Mirrors adjusted and clear
• A — Air conditioning, heating and defrost panels set
• R — Radio and audio panel set
• T — Thoroughly check the area for traffic, people and objects.
• S — Watch your speed
• M — Frequently check your mirrors
• A — Avoid distractions
• R — Remember the rules of the road
• T — Give yourself enough time to reach your destination.


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