Suppose you’re cruising in your car and driving within the speed limit when you see the traffic light change to yellow; your best option is to stop, and wait until the light goes green again. Unfortunately, many drivers think they can rush past the yellow light before it switches. However, they often don’t make it in time and get caught by the red light.
Even the most careful drivers fall victim. Some red-light indicators and stop signs are not noticeable, especially when you are distracted. So, if you find yourself in this situation, it’s important to understand the applicable laws and the cost of a red-light ticket.
We’ll look at how much running a red light will cost you across several states. We will also examine how red light cameras work, the possible defenses you can cite for this traffic violation, and how points from a red light ticket affect your driver’s license.
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Fines For Running A Red Light
States have different penalties for running a red light. Generally, there’s little direct punishment for a first-time offender. Instead, the punishments usually range from fines to tickets. In most states, a ticket will lead to DMV points. This may eventually result in a driver’s license suspension or revocation.
However, some states have harsher punishments than others. For example, running a red light in Nevada can lead to a fine of up to $1000 and 4 DMV points. In Tennessee, it can lead to a 30-day jail term and four points.
In Arkansas, running a red light can lead to a $500 fine and three points against your license. Repeat offenders can also get six months in county jail. In Mississippi, it can also lead to six months in jail and a $500 fine.
In Alabama, even a first offender can get ten days in jail and a $500 fine. Repeat offenders get about three months of jail time. First-time offenders in Oregon will pay a $256 fine, while repeat offenders can pay as much as $1,000.
On the other hand, Maryland, South Dakota, North Dakota, the District of Columbia, and Pennsylvania have more lenient driving laws. In the District of Columbia, for example, running a red light can result in a $150 fine and 2 points on your driving record.
In Florida, a driver gets a $158 fine and four driving points if caught by a red light camera.
In Wyoming, running a red light may lead to a jail term, but the more common punishment is a fine of $85 – $135.
In California, the base fine for running a red light is only $100, but counties charge fees and assessment dues that increase the fine to around $500.
Definition Of “Running A Red Light”
Red light running is a form of moving violation that refers to a vehicle entering or still being in the intersection after the traffic signal has turned red. Depending on the state, a driver must come to a complete stop either at the marked limit line, a crosswalk, a crosswalk close to the intersection, or the intersection itself. It is immaterial whether the red light is flashing or not.
Under Florida Statute 316, there’s no distinction between a stop sign and a red light. They are both considered noncriminal infractions.
Often, drivers speed up when the light turns yellow instead of slowing down. This may be because they want to get home faster or don’t want to risk braking hard. In other cases, there may be water on the road surface, and they want to avoid aquaplaning. No matter what happened, you broke the law if the yellow light turned red while you were driving through the intersection.
Generally, people waiting to turn left or right at the intersection are not considered to be running a red light. A right turn at a red light is permitted. For example, Florida allows motorists to make a right turn after stopping at a red light unless there’s a sign indicating it’s not permissible. This is the same position in all 50 states, and Massachusetts was the last state to adopt this law in 1980.
Remember that it is still mandatory to make a complete stop at the red light before making a right turn. Driving through without stopping is considered a violation.
On the other hand, turning left when the light is red is allowed in 38 states. However, these states permit it only if the origin and destination roads are one-way. Washington, Oregon, Michigan, and Alaska are some states that allow left turns at red lights from a one- or two-way street onto a one-way street. But this is only acceptable if there’s no sign forbidding it.
Turning left when the light is red is prohibited in Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Missouri, and New Jersey.
Possible Defenses For Running A Red Light
If you have been caught running a red light, you can contest it with the following defenses.
— The Signal Wasn’t Synchronized
You can claim that the traffic officer assumed the light was red on your end when it wasn’t. This will happen if the officer does not have a direct view of your road area. For example, an officer on one end of the road will likely assume that when the light turns green on his end, the light for cross-traffic has simultaneously turned red.
In this case, the officer will automatically assume you ran the red light without confirming if the lights synchronized as they should.
However, there are cases with systematic errors, so you can prove that the light indicators were not synchronized and get an acquittal.
— The Officer’s View Of The Limit Lane Is Flawed
An officer will only have a direct view of the limit lane when they sit close to or directly at the side of the intersecting road. Therefore, if you are pulled over for a ticket, the first question to ask the officer is what side of the road they were on at the time of the infraction. Then, proceed to provide a detailed testimony on how far you were into the intersection before the yellow light turned red.
Remember, crossing the line before the light turns red is not illegal. What’s important here is to ensure that the officer did not get a direct view and that you were through the intersection before the yellow light changed. It will also be helpful if a passenger can testify to your claims.
However, these stop-light defenses mostly cast doubt on the officer’s view. This is only possible in states without red-light cameras. Nevertheless, other defenses you can use are:
- Running the light was necessary because of an emergency vehicle behind you.
- An officer directed you to do so.
- Law enforcement has already issued a ticket in person for the same violation.
Red Light Camera Tickets Explained
Red light cameras are a type of automated enforcement technology to deter and detect traffic light violators. The system continuously monitors camera flow and captures any vehicle that doesn’t stop once the light turns red. They are often programmed to give motorists a second or two warning before they start capturing. Usually, a trained civilian or police officer double-checks the camera image to ensure there was really a violation.
Most states use red light cameras. On the other hand, some states outlaw the use of these cameras, while others have no legislation.
For example, red light cameras are legally permitted in Delaware, Colorado, Alabama, Arizona, California, Washington, Virginia, etc. They are expressly prohibited in West Virginia, Texas, South Dakota, and South Carolina. However, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Arkansas, Alaska, etc., have no legislation.
In states where red light cameras are used, the penalties for red light camera violations are usually lesser than when traditional enforcement detects such violations. Usually, first-time detection via camera does not lead to points on your driver’s license, but you will be expected to pay a fine. However, failure to pay this base fine upon notification may lead to an increase. For instance, such a failure will bump the fine up to $262 and increase license points in Florida.
However, the cameras may be activated without a violation. Since the cameras use sensors, a hard brake before a red light may cause them to capture your license plate. In this case, it’s most likely only your front bumper that went slightly into the intersection, so you will not receive a violation notification.
For example, in Florida, some regulations must be followed when using these red light cameras. Some of them are:
- The jurisdiction must email the notice of violation to the vehicle owner within a certain number of days of the violation.
- The owner must be given the right to view the photographic or video evidence and provide a means to do so.
- The jurisdiction must inform the owner of the right to request a hearing to contest the ticket.
Usually, the camera takes two shots and a 12-second video of the incident, so you can request to see them. You will also receive a notification if you are the registered owner of the car but were not the one driving during the violation.
In states like New York, the violation will be treated the same as a parking ticket, so the vehicle owner will be responsible for the violation. However, you can always contest a citation in court.
Red Light Ticket & Points On Your Driver’s License
Depending on the state, red light tickets can cost between $60 – $500 for first-time offenders. It can also soar up to $1,000 for habitual offenders. States run different DMV point systems; you may get just 2 points in some states, while others may add as many as 4 points to your license. This is similar to the points from a speeding ticket.
To pay your fine, you can mail a check or money order to the court address on the ticket. You can also pay online by visiting the courthouse website. In addition, you can visit the courthouse to pay cash and subscribe to a monthly payment plan if you can’t pay it all at once.
A person’s license point may be removed in certain situations. This can happen if such a driver attends traffic school and has not had another violation. This can also ensure your insurance rates stay the same despite the violation.
However, traffic school is usually more expensive than fines. You have to pay for a certificate of completion and submit copies to the DMV and the courthouse. The court may also charge you for court costs.
Ignoring traffic tickets and fines will shift the offense from an infraction to a misdemeanor, which will most likely add additional fines. It may also lead to a license suspension.
Red-light violations don’t always happen in isolation. They come with other severe outcomes that can lead to serious penalties. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 928 people have been killed and 115,741 injured due to motorists running a red light.
When running a red light leads to an accident, the charges will be criminal, and this will equally affect the penalties you receive. In this case, you should find an attorney to help you with the right defense strategy.
The Bottom Line
The ticket for running a red light will amount to fines and points on your driving record. This fine may cost between $50 – $500 for first-time offenders, but it can go up to $1,000 for repeat offenders. It can result in jail time or license suspension in some cases. An infraction will also appear on your driving record unless certain conditions are fulfilled.
In some states, red light violations are monitored through automated red light cameras. The notification will be sent to the violator’s home to pay the appropriate fines. However, the specific laws depend on your state. Ultimately, you have the right to defend yourself against red light charges; you can hire an experienced traffic ticket attorney to take your case to court in front of a judge.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the consequences of a red light ticket?
The direct consequence of running a red light is that you will be issued a ticket. This ticket corresponds to fines and points on your driving record. In most states, the fine will be between $10 – $500 for first-time offenders. In stricter states, habitual offenders can receive fines of up to $1,000 and earn demerit points. This can stay on your record as long as a speeding ticket does.
A first-time offender can face jail time in states like Illinois. In states with a low tolerance for violations, people can get higher fines or have their licenses suspended. A habitual offender can have their license revoked.
Suppose a person runs a red light and hits state property, another car, or a person. In that case, such a person will be charged with a higher offense, such as a misdemeanor or felony.
Do I have to pay for a red light ticket?
Yes, you must pay for a red light ticket as soon as you are charged. You can pay by mailing a check or wiring money via the courthouse website or mobile applications. Failure to pay will likely increase your fines and lead to license suspension. This will also shift the offense from a mere infraction to a criminal misdemeanor. This means it can lead to time in jail and a criminal record.
You can go to the courthouse if you can’t afford to pay all at once. You will be put on an installment payment plan that suits your situation. However, you should never ignore a citation, hoping it will disappear.
Will my insurance go up if I get a ticket for running a red light?
Unlike DUIs, a red-light ticket will not affect your insurance adversely in most states. For example, Alabama forbids insurance companies from raising insurance rates just because a person is caught on a red light camera.
However, because red light tickets will lead to point gains on your driving record, they will eventually impact your insurance rate. A red light ticket is more serious than a mere parking ticket. Most states add at least two points. This will count toward the total number of points that your insurance company may use to decide if your premium needs to increase.