Traffic

Traffic Q&A: What constitutes running a red light?

Question: My son says that if any part of a vehicle crosses the stop line before the intersection and crosswalk, prior to the traffic light changing from yellow to red, it is not a violation of running a red light.

I was told that if a vehicle is not able to clear the intersection prior to the light changing from yellow to red, it is an infraction.

What is the real rule, and what constitutes an infraction of running a red light? – Robert Horton, Gig Harbor

Answer: Your son is correct.

As long as some part of your car is over the stop line before the light turns red, you have not committed a violation.

That’s Washington state law, and you can read about it at RCW 46.61.055 (“Traffic Control Signal Legend”).

Here’s a way you might be able to save face with your son, however: In nine states, you would be correct. In those jurisdictions, drivers are required to stop on yellow.

The Federal Highway Administration refers to the two different versions of red light laws as “permissive yellow” and “restrictive yellow.” Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have permissive yellow laws and nine have restrictive yellow laws.

In Washington and 36 other states with “permissive yellow” rules, drivers can legally enter an intersection during the entire yellow interval, and a violation occurs if a driver enters the intersection after the onset of red.

In states with a “restrictive yellow” rule, drivers can neither enter nor be in the intersection on red, and a violation occurs if a driver has not cleared the intersection after the onset of red.

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