Ohio lawmakers rush to fix bill allowing drivers to run red lights

Under the law change, if drivers think they have waited long enough at a red light, they can go through it

By Jim Siegel
The Columbus Dispatch

CLEVELAND — The bills lawmakers rushed to pass during the lame-duck session late last year included one that mistakenly turned red lights in Ohio into stop signs that drivers could ignore if they felt enough time passed.

Now lawmakers are rushing to fix the issue.

As the last General Assembly drew to a close, lawmakers amended and passed House Bill 154 as a way to allow both vehicles and bicycles to go through red lights if the signal fails to recognize the vehicle and activate.

But Columbus Police Sgt. Nick Konves, a member of the bicycle coordination unit, said when he read the bill, it "allows motor vehicles to treat intersections like stop signs."

Unlike when a stoplight is out or blinking because of a mechanical failure, there is no way for a driver to know for sure if an otherwise functioning light has been signaled to change.

Under the law change, if drivers think they have waited long enough at a red light, they can go through it, said Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield.

"I can't think of any stoplight in the state of Ohio that functions properly when I'm in a hurry, and I haven't talked to anyone who thinks this is a good idea," Koehler said.

Konves, a former paramedic, explained to lawmakers recently the dangers of allowing vehicles at a red light to go through intersections.

The law, which officially takes effect March 21, "allows the driver of a vehicle to decide when it is appropriate to proceed through a traffic signal," Konves said. "My opinion and decision to proceed will likely be different than almost everyone else in this room. This makes enforcement and prosecution very difficult and nearly impossible."

The House unanimously passed House Bill 9 on Wednesday. The bill would still allow bicycles to pass through red lights if the signal is not activated, but not vehicles. It now goes to the Senate.

"It needs to be changed before people, especially young drivers, start being taught that they can run red lights in Ohio," Koehler said.

Under the new bill, cars are still able to go through an intersection if a stoplight is visibly out, as has long been the case. At that point, the intersection is treated as a four-way stop.

In other business, the Senate passed a bill granting a three-day sales tax holiday during the first weekend in August.

As it has for the past two years, the savings would apply to clothing priced at $75 or less, school supplies $20 or less and books and workbooks $20 or less.

"The Ohio sales tax holiday has proved to be a win-win for parents, students and businesses alike," said Sen. Kevin Bacon, R-Minerva Park, the sponsor of the bill, which now goes to the House.

The House also voted to hold a joint session in Sandusky on April 4 for Gov. John Kasich's State of the State speech, but not before a Democratic and Republican lawmaker each spoke out against the need to, once again, take the show on the road.

Kasich's annual decision to move his big speech out of Columbus to a small city in Ohio — Medina, Steubenville, Lima, Wilmington and Marietta in previous years — is wearing thin among a number of lawmakers, some of whom held their noses in the 58-38 vote. A more agreeable Senate OK'd the resolution 31-2.

Copyright 2017 The Columbus Dispatch

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