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Can Bicycles Run Red Lights Legally?

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Bicycle advocate Alex Thompson wrote on his blog that he ran various red lights last night in Santa Monica. He explains his actions. "Because the decrepit signals wouldn’t change for me. Every time I visit Santa Monica City Council I run the light in front of the Police Department. I wait and wait and wait before I realize that the signal is not going to change for me. Then I look around, make sure there aren’t any police about, and I run it."

He noted that there was "supposedly" a law allowing people to run a red light if it is not changing. "I’m not looking to have that conversation with a cop," he said.

It's true, the California Vehicle Code does have something for this:

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21800 (d) (1) The driver of any vehicle approaching an intersection which has official traffic control signals that are inoperative shall stop at the intersection, and may proceed with caution when it is safe to do so. This subparagraph shall apply to traffic control signals that become inoperative because of battery failure.

Of course, it's very interpretive. How long does one have to wait for it to equal inoperative? How does one know when it is battery failure? If a light changes for a car, but not a bicycle, does that make it inoperative?

Photo by racreations via Flickr