Running Red Lights and Stop Signs in Maryland

Penalties and enforcement for running red lights and stop signs in Maryland.

Running a stop sign or red light is one of the most common moving violations (especially popular when police officers must meet their ticket quotas for the month). Here are the basics on the enforcement, defenses and penalties for this offense in Maryland.

Where and How to Stop

Stop signs and traffic lights, sometimes referred to as traffic-control devices, are placed at intersections and crossings requiring the driver to come to a full stop at the “limit line” (a line painted on the street indicating where to stop), or if there is no limit line, at the entrance to the intersection or crossing.

Maryland’s Red Light/Stop Sign Law

Maryland’s red light and stop sign law states:

Md. TRANSPORTATION Code Ann. § 21-201  (2013)

§ 21-201. Obedience to and required traffic control devices 
   (a) Obedience required. --
   (1) Subject to the exceptions granted in this title to the driver of an emergency vehicle, the driver of any vehicle, unless otherwise directed by a police officer, shall obey the instructions of any traffic control device applicable to the vehicle and placed in accordance with the Maryland Vehicle Law.
   (2) The driver of a vehicle approaching an intersection controlled by a traffic control device may not drive across private property or leave the roadway for the purpose of avoiding the instructions of a traffic control device.

   (b) When devices not in proper position and legible; when devices not required. --
   (1) If a provision of the Maryland Vehicle Law or of an ordinance or regulation of a local authority requires a traffic control device, the provision is unenforceable against an alleged violator if, at the time and place of the alleged violation, the traffic control device is not in proper position and legible enough to be seen by an ordinarily observant individual.
   (2) Unless a provision of the Maryland Vehicle Law or of an ordinance or regulation of a local authority states that a traffic control device is required, the provision is effective and enforceable even if no traffic control device is in place.

   (c) Presumption that devices were placed by official act. -- Unless the contrary is established by competent evidence, if a traffic control device is placed in a position approximately meeting the requirements of the Maryland Vehicle Law, the device is presumed to have been placed by the official act or direction of lawful authority.

   (d) Presumption that devices comply with requirements of Maryland Vehicle Law. -- Unless the contrary is established by competent evidence, if a traffic control device is placed in accordance with the Maryland Vehicle Law and purports to meet the lawful requirements governing these devices, the device is presumed to meet the requirements of the Maryland Vehicle Law.

Penalties

The fine for running a stop sign or red light can range from $110 to $500 (2 points) in Maryland. These fines may change over time and differ by county. Check with the county clerk for the most current fines.

“The Right on Red” Rule

Like most states, Maryland allows drivers to make a turn on a red light in certain situations – typically if there is no sign prohibiting "right on red," and if it is safe to do so under the circumstances.

Left on Red Rule

Maryland allows left turns on red provided both the origin and destination streets are one way.

The “Yellow-Light Rule” in Maryland

In Maryland it is not illegal to deliberately drive through a yellow light. A yellow light means only that traffic facing the light is “warned” that a red light will soon follow. As long as your vehicle entered the intersection or passed the crosswalk or limit line before the light turned red, you haven’t broken the law.

Possible Defenses:

  • The officer could not see your full stop. Occasionally, an officer will park on a cross street so that all is visible is the stop sign and limit line, and maybe a few feet of road in front of the line or sign. A conscientious driver might well come to a complete stop a few feet behind the line where the officer can’t see; then, having already stopped as required, drive ahead into the intersection. If this happens to you, you should try to find out where the officer was parked. Later you can take pictures from that location to show just how limited the officer’s view was.
  • You could not see the stop sign or red light. It may happen that local conditions made the device unviewable to you—for example, leaves from adjacent trees covered or obscured your view of  a stop sign until it was too late to stop. This too can be shown with photographic evidence, and establishes the defense that you were neither willful nor criminally negligent in driving through it.
  • The “recently installed” defense. One other possible (if rare) defense applies to newly installed devices. For example, it’s all too easy to miss seeing a recently installed stop sign on a familiar road. Willfulness or carelessness is an implied essential element of every violation and a judge may find you not guilty if the stop sign wasn’t visible until too late, or you didn’t realize it had just been installed.
  • “Didn’t stop at the line” defense.  People sometimes get a ticket because they stopped in front of the limit line or crosswalk, rather than behind. If this happens to you, perhaps you can truthfully testify that it hasn’t been repainted for so long that it was unnoticeable. Here again, a picture is truly better than a thousand words.

Red Light Cameras

Maryland permits the use of red light cameras – devices that photograph drivers running red lights and automatically issue tickets. Three possible defenses to consider for a red light camera ticket:

  • You weren’t driving the car. If this is the case, the photograph should demonstrate that someone else was driving your vehicle;
  • The yellow light was too short. In some cases, it has been discovered that municipalities have deliberately shortened the duration of yellow lights in order to increase the odds of running the light (and ratcheting up the town’s traffic enforcement revenue). If you want to make this claim, you should time the duration of the yellow light to see if it differs substantially from other nearby yellow lights. This argument may not succeed in all states.
  • Some states require that warning signs be posted to make you aware of photo enforcement at the upcoming red light. Some states require warning signs for red light cameras. If you can prove that the municipality did not provide warning signage, you may be able to succeed in your red light camera defense. (Photos are essential to this defense.)
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