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 Is Running A Yellow Light Legal In New York?

Traffic light in urban city with time-lapse lights.

While almost every driver understands that running a red light in New York is a traffic offense, a yellow light tends to create much more confusion. Some drivers accelerate when facing yellow lights in an effort to move through intersections as quickly as possible. Others slam on the brakes and attempt to stop before the light turns red. Others find themselves in a state of panicked indecision, coasting through the intersection without braking or accelerating. Is running a yellow light illegal in New York? After being injured by someone running a yellow light, it makes sense to consult a New York car accident injury lawyer for clear answers. Call Stufano Law at (914) 752-7746 for more information. 

Running a Yellow Light Is Legal in New York

Moving through an intersection while facing a yellow traffic light is legal in New York. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles in New York, a yellow light does not mean “stop.” Instead, it means “prepare to stop.” Section 1111 of Article 24 (Traffic Signs, Signals, and Markings) expands upon this in more detail. When facing “yellow indications,” all traffic may enter an intersection. Specifically, Section 1111 instructs motorists to “cautiously enter” the intersection “only to complete” their present trajectory. In other words, a motorist can move through an intersection with a yellow light if it is too late to apply the brakes. 

What if the Light Turns Red While in the Intersection?

While running a yellow light is perfectly legal in New York, motorists may encounter legal issues if the light turns red before they enter the intersection. The general rule is straightforward: If a motorist is already in the intersection when the light turns red, they can proceed through the red light. Under Section 1111, moving through the red light is necessary in this situation to “complete the movement” – and it is therefore permitted. 

Legal issues arise if motorists enter intersections after lights have already turned red. For example, a motorist may approach a yellow light and assume they have enough time to clear the intersection. If the light turns red before they enter the intersection, however, this represents a traffic offense. Not only that, but it also represents a form of negligence – potentially allowing any seriously injured parties to file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver. 

How Do I Know Whether I Ran a Red Light?

Entering an intersection with a red light is illegal in New York. While that might seem like a straightforward fact, it may be difficult to determine where the intersection actually begins. According to the New York City Department of Finance, the intersection begins at the crosswalk line. This is why automatic red light cameras activate as soon as vehicles move past crosswalk lines. 

However, these crosswalk lines may not be clearly defined. Sometimes, lines fade with time. In other situations, drivers may face multiple layers of lines – making the “starting point” of the intersection unclear. These complexities can make filing a personal injury lawsuit or injury claim difficult in New York. For motorists who were injured by those running red lights, it may be very important to prove that the negligent motorist was already inside the intersection at the moment the light turned red. 

What Are the Penalties for Running a Red Light in New York?

Motorists face numerous tickets in New York after running a red light. Each of these tickets comes with different penalties. More importantly, they indicate a degree of negligence behind the wheel. 

Failing to Obey a Traffic Control Device

A police officer may write a ticket for “failure to obey a traffic control device” if they see a motorist running a red light. The fine for this offense can be a few hundred dollars, and motorists may also have two points added to their licenses. Technically speaking, it is possible to face up to 15 days in jail for this offense. Although jail time is rare, motorists could be incarcerated for running a red light if the incident is particularly dangerous. Those who run red lights in a particularly dangerous manner often face additional tickets and charges – including reckless driving. A red light ticket may be a relatively minor concern for motorists who have also caused serious car accident injuries in New York. Not only will these motorists face potential felony charges, but they may also face civil lawsuits from injured parties. 

Running a Red Light

Police officers also have the option to write tickets for running red lights. This offense leads to heightened penalties for drivers in cities with more than one million people – and this applies to Yonkers. Compared to “failing to obey a traffic control device,” this ticket has a higher fine and one more point added to the license. The maximum jail sentence of 15 days is identical, however. 

Technically speaking, a police officer could charge a motorist with both of these offenses. When a motorist runs a red light in New York, they are also failing to obey a traffic control device. 

What If the Police Officer Incorrectly Accused Me of Running a Red Light?

Police officers are not perfect, and they have to rely on their own observations to determine whether a motorist ran a red light. A police officer may incorrectly issue a ticket for a motorist whose only “crime” was running a yellow light. The officer may have thought that a motorist was behind the crosswalk line when the light turned red, when in fact the vehicle was inside the intersection. Even if the vehicle is partially inside the intersection at the moment the light turns red, this should not result in a ticket. 

In these kinds of disputed situations, injury lawsuits can prove challenging. For example, a motorist may enter an intersection with a yellow light before being “T-boned” by a negligent motorist. The negligent motorist may then claim that the other driver ran a red light in an attempt to escape liability. To back up this claim, they may point to the fact that a police officer issued a ticket to the other driver. However, the ticket may have been incorrectly issued – and a personal injury lawyer could help prove that the motorist was legally running a yellow light. 

Red Light Camera Tickets Are Not the Same As Police Tickets

A ticket generated by an automatic red light traffic camera is not the same as a ticket issued by a police officer, and the penalties are generally much lower. Unlike a ticket issued by a police officer, a red light camera ticket does not add any points to a license. The fine is also much lower. 

Contact Stufano Law Today

While traffic light laws can be confusing, motorists can pursue lawsuits confidently alongside experienced car accident injury attorneys in New York. Fighting allegations of running a red light may be well worth the effort, especially if these allegations prevent motorists from accessing compensation for their injuries. On the other hand, it may be crucial to prove that a negligent motorist ran a red light before causing a serious injury. To learn more about legal options after an injury while running a yellow light in New York, contact Stufano Law today at (914) 752-7746. 


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