Ask the Motor Cop | Seeking stop light clarification 


Question: Hi Jerry. I have a question for you. I think that I know better but someone told me that, when I went through the intersection on a yellow light, I have to clear the intersection on the other side before the light turns red, or I can get a ticket. That can’t be correct, so I wanted to clearly understand, for sure, what the law is. Thank you. 

— Ralph 

Answer: Hi Ralph. This has been asked a few times, in the past, in traffic school, and is absolutely incorrect. If any portion of your vehicle is beyond the limit line, near side of the crosswalk, or entrance to the intersection when the signal turns to red, no violation to proceed through. Let’s talk about it. 

Under 21453a California vehicle code: “A driver facing a steady circular red signal alone shall stop at a marked limit line, but if none, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the of the intersection or, if none, then before entering the intersection and shall remain stopped until an indication to proceed is shown.” 

• A limit line is a solid white line between 12 and 24 inches wide placed just before the first line of the crosswalk. 

• If no limit line is present, then we are required to stop at the near side of the crosswalk, which is the first line of the crosswalk in your direction of travel.  

• If no crosswalk, we are then required to stop before entering the intersection. That would be where vehicles traveling upon a different highway joining vehicles could come in contact. 

Some intersections only have a limit line where possibly pedestrians are prohibited from crossing. 

Many citations are issued to drivers rolling through red lights, negotiating a right turn, without coming to a complete stop first. The vehicle code defines the word stop as “any cessation of movement.” 

Because many drivers fail to stop for red lights, at the change of the signal, it is sometimes suggested to delay shortly before proceeding into the intersection after the green light activates in your direction. The vehicle code states that the driver facing a circular green signal shall proceed, if safe, and yield the right-of-way to other traffic and pedestrians lawfully within the intersection or an adjacent crosswalk.  

I hope that I was able to help you understand the law regarding red lights, Ralph. When that yellow light activates, be prepared to stop safely rather than accelerating and hoping that you can make it before the red light is displayed. 

Drive carefully. 

Jerry Schlund, a Santa Clarita Valley resident, is a retired Los Angeles Police Department motor officer with over 24 years riding. He was a certified radar instructor — both laser and doppler — and was instrumental in California vehicle code amendments. He was a traffic school instructor for 25 years. Have a question for the motor cop? Send your questions to [email protected].  

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