Intersection safety and red light cameras

Running a red light is a bad idea, but in some places it can also mean a surprise ticket.

Intersection Safety

Intersections are some of the most dangerous places on the road.

  • At less busy intersections, there may not be any signs or signals. Yield to traffic that is already in the intersection.
  • At busier intersections, STOP or YIELD signs might be in place to give priority or the right-of-way to traffic on the busier street.
  • If you see a “4-way” or “All-way” tab below a STOP sign, this means that all directions have a STOP sign. The vehicle that arrives first gets to go first. In the event of a tie, yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on the right.
  • At roundabouts, vehicles already in the roundabout have the right of way.
  • At the busiest intersections, traffic signals may be used to alternate right-of-way to each street, and maybe even to each direction of traffic.
  • At an intersection where the light has just turned green, look for cars on the crossing street that are going through a red light.
  • When the light has been green for some time, be prepared to slow down in case the light changes to yellow or amber. Take your foot off the gas pedal and cover (but don’t press on) the brake pedal.
  • Yellow or amber lights don’t mean speed up. The light is about to turn red, so be prepared to stop.
  • Pedestrians are particularly vulnerable at intersections, so be alert at busy intersections near bus stops, schools, shopping areas or business districts. Like some drivers, pedestrians may be distracted by their mobile devices or other people, and may behave erratically and unpredictably.
  • If you arrive at a signalized intersection where the electricity has gone out, or if you see that the red light is flashing on and off, proceed through that intersection as if all directions had a STOP sign.
  • In all cases, you must yield the right-of-way to emergency vehicles (police, fire, ambulance, etc.) that are at an intersection.

How Red Light Cameras Work

Since law enforcement can’t catch everyone who runs a red light, some communities have mounted cameras on traffic lights. When a vehicle doesn’t stop for a red light, the camera takes a photo or video of the violation, recording the date, time, vehicle information, and speed. An officer typically reviews the footage to verify a ticket, and the offending driver receives the ticket via mail.

Research shows that red light cameras are effective as deterrents, especially in lowering the number of most dangerous light violations, which occur 1½ seconds after the light turns red. As of May 2018, 422 communities in the U.S. have implemented the red light traffic camera program. See if you live in one of them.

Be warned that if someone claiming to be a police officer calls a driver to demand a fine, it's likely a scam. If this happens, do not give out any personal information. Hang up immediately and call the police.

Red Light Safety

Running red lights is a serious teen driver safety concern. In 2015, an estimated 200,000 people were injured in accidents involving drivers running red lights, and 800 were killed.

Red light camera or no camera, always be cautious when approaching red lights.

  • Come to a complete stop before the crosswalk or solid line.
  • Obey the speed limit and slow down early.
  • Never try to beat yellow lights. If you can't stop safely, maintain your speed through the intersection.
  • When turning right on red, come to a complete stop before inching forward to look for gaps in traffic.
  • Yield to pedestrians and bicyclists.
  • Even after a light turns green, check in all directions before proceeding into traffic.

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