THE CITY SCOOP: Is there an excuse to run a red?

Each week, Herald reporter Brandi Jewett answers your questions about local government, laws and other local topics.

Q: How many light cycles should a motorcyclist have to sit through until they just check both ways and go through the intersection? My record at that one light is three light cycles before I finally threw my hands in the air, defied the traffic signals and just used common sense by looking both ways for a safe time to go through.

A: If you were driving in states such as Nevada, Wisconsin or South Carolina, the law is on your side and you could have proceeded through the intersection without a worry.

North Dakota isn’t included on a list of states that allow motorcyclists to run a red light after stopping and waiting a specific period of time. That time can range from 45 seconds to 120 seconds, depending on the state.

In North Dakota, motorcyclists are no different from any other vehicle that approaches a stop light, according to Grand Forks city spokesman Kevin Dean.

All are required to stop for red lights and proceed only when the light turns green.

Dean says said despite the city’s best efforts to employ sophisticated traffic signals, those signals still need to be calibrated or “tuned” from time to time. Much like a musical instrument, nobody enjoys it when the signals are out of tune.

But instead of emitting an ear-splitting screeching noise, when the signals are out of whack they may not recognize a vehicle or motorcycle and may not cycle properly.

In that case, Dean says the best option is to turn right at the red light when the traffic is clear. If this is not an option, a vehicle should only enter an intersection when no other vehicles are in the vicinity and it is safe to do so.

If you do encounter malfunctioning traffic lights, report them to City Traffic Engineer Jane Williams at

Red light runners

Q: I was taught that when the stoplight turns yellow, one is supposed to stop if you can safely do so. It seems that many Grand Forks drivers speed up and not only speed through the yellow light, but end up going through the red light (often with one or two cars behind them also going through the red light). Why aren’t these individuals ticketed for going through the red lights?

A: While this is an annoying and sometimes even dangerous situation drivers may encounter in the city, there’s not much that can be done unless police see them running the red.

For those who insist on following the person doing what you described — I refer to this as “piggybacking” — Dean recommends a review of the law.

As defined by the state, a steady yellow traffic signal means “warning” or “caution” and that the traffic light will soon change from green to red.

Vehicles that enter an intersection on a steady yellow signal have not technically “run” a red light, but when they do is open to interpretation.

Some local judges think if a vehicle does not clear the intersection before the light turns red they are in violation, while others think a red light violation only occurs if a vehicle enters the intersection under a red light, according to Dean.

The bottom line is vehicles can and will be ticketed if they are observed running a red light. Police officers can’t be everywhere so Dean says the best advice is to follow the speed limit, maintain control of your vehicle and be prepared to slow and stop if the light turns yellow.

Have questions? Call Jewett at (701) 780-1108 or (800) 477-6572 extension 1108, email, follow her on Twitter at @GFCityBeat or see her blog at

3 thoughts on “THE CITY SCOOP: Is there an excuse to run a red?

  1. Is the city likely to respond to complaints by bicyclists that lights are not changing for them, even when centered in the middle of the lane? 2nd Ave N and 5th St is a bad intersection since they replaced the temporary stop signs with a traffic light.

      • My main problem is that it is unclear where people who ride bicycles should be when stopping at any given intersection. Where there are sensors in the ground, sometimes I can line up correctly with them, but the “cameras” on top of the intersections rarely seem to see me. If it helps anyone else, I generally stop in the middle of the crosswalk (I know, bad move), which allows people in cars to pull up to the stop line and activate the signal, but I’m still not sure this works all the time.

        I know that at least some of the intersections can be tripped by bicycles because of the ground sensors. Marking these with bike boxes would be extremely helpful.

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