The Ohio Legislature recently passed H.B. 154, which amends §4511.132 of Ohio Revised Code to allow drivers some leeway in proceeding through malfunctioning traffic signals. The new law goes into effect on March 17, 2017. But what does the new law mean for your daily commute?
Prior to the amendment of the statute, drivers in Ohio could only proceed through an intersection controlled by a traffic signal “if the signal facing the driver either exhibits no colored lights or colored lighted arrows or exhibits a combination of such lights or arrows that fails to clearly indicate the assignment of right-of-way.” R.C. §4511.132(A). Simply put, only if the light was inoperable or if was showing inconsistent signals that do not designate who’s turn it is to proceed through the light could a driver legally pass through a traffic signal.
The amended statute allows a third justification for proceeding through an intersection when “the signals are otherwise malfunctioning, including the failure of a vehicle detector to detect the vehicle.” H.B. 154, 2016 Gen. Assemb., 131st Sess. (Ohio 2016).
Therefore, when you approach a traffic light after March 17 and find the signal either won’t respond to the weight of your vehicle (as could be the case for lighter cars, motorbikes, or mopeds) or the light is otherwise “malfunctioning,” you may proceed to safely pass through the intersection despite the existence of the traffic signal. The same exceptions described before H.B 154 still apply (no colored lights displayed or no clear indication of right of way). However, you must comply with the manner set forth in the statute.
The statute sets forth three requirements for bypassing the signal:
- Stop at a clearly marked stop line, but if none, stop before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or, if none, stop before entering the intersection, R.C. §4511.132(A)(1);
- Yield the right-of-way to all vehicles, streetcars, or trackless trolleys in the intersection or approaching on an intersecting road, if the vehicles, streetcars, or trackless trolleys will constitute an immediate hazard during the time the driver is moving across or within the intersection or junction of roadways, R.C. §4511.132(A)(2);
- Exercise ordinary care while proceeding through the intersection. R.C. §4511.132(A)(3).
So, in essence the new law allows you to treat the intersection similar to a four-way stop or other unmarked intersection. You must stop before entering the intersection , yield to other traffic, and use ordinary care while proceeding through. What is ordinary care? Ordinary care or “reasonable” care means using a level of caution to ensure that other foreseeable persons are not harmed by your conduct.
Passing a red light in Ohio without the above-described justifications is still a minor misdemeanor. R.C. §4511.132(B). The offense is punishable by up to a $150 fine (plus court costs and the headache of increased insurance premiums). Id. If you were previously convicted of a motor vehicle or traffic offense within the same year, a new violation will be charged as a fourth degree misdemeanor (subject to maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $250 fine). Id. If previously convicted or two or more traffic offenses within one year, a violation of §4511.132 will be charged as a third degree misdemeanor (subject to a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine). Id.
To wrap things up, on March 17 your daily commute might get a little less (or a little more) frustrating. The new legislation attempts to streamline the driving experience for Ohio motorists, although some drivers will certainly attempt to exploit the new law which may lead to increased accidents and overall more chaos on the roads.