Running Red Lights and Stop Signs in Montana

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

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.

Montana’s Red Light/Stop Sign Law

Montana’s red light and stop sign law states:

Montana Code Annotated

61-8-201. Obedience to traffic control devices -- exception for certain vehicles and funeral processions. (1) Unless otherwise directed by a peace officer, flag person, crossing guard, or public safety worker, the driver of a vehicle shall obey the instructions of an official traffic control device applicable to the driver's vehicle and placed in accordance with the provisions of this chapter. The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle, a police vehicle, or a highway patrol vehicle and the driver of a motor vehicle in a funeral procession are exempt from obedience to official traffic control devices and flag persons as provided in this chapter.

 (2) A provision of this chapter for which traffic control devices or flag persons are required may not be enforced against an alleged violator if at the time and place of the alleged violation an official traffic control device or flag person is not in proper position and sufficiently legible or visible to be seen by an ordinarily observant person. Whenever a particular section of this chapter does not state that official traffic control devices or flag persons are required, the section is effective even though traffic control devices are not erected or in place.

 (3) Official traffic control devices or flag persons that are placed or held in position substantially conforming to the requirements of this chapter and the requirements of the uniform system adopted by the department of transportation pursuant to 61-8-202 are presumed to have been placed by an official act or at the discretion of a lawful authority

“The Right on Red” Rule

Like most states, Montana 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

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

The “Yellow-Light Rule” in Montana

In Montana 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

Montana has no laws authorizing the use of red light cameras – devices that photograph drivers running red lights and automatically issue tickets.

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