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 South Carolina.
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.
South Carolina’s Red Light/Stop Sign Law
South Carolina’s red light and stop sign law states:
SECTION 56-5-950. Obedience to and required traffic-control devices.
(a) The driver of any vehicle shall obey the instructions of any official traffic-control device, applicable thereto placed or held in accordance with the provisions of this chapter, unless otherwise directed by a police officer, subject to the exceptions granted the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle in this chapter.
(b) No provision of this chapter for which official traffic-control devices are required shall be enforced against an alleged violator if at the time and place of the alleged violation an official device is not in proper position and sufficiently legible to be seen by an ordinarily observant person. Whenever a particular section does not state that official traffic-control devices are required, such section shall be effective even though no devices are erected or in place.
(c) Whenever official traffic-control devices are placed or held in position approximately conforming to the requirements of this chapter, such devices shall be presumed to have been so placed or held by the official act or direction of lawful authority unless the contrary shall be established by competent evidence.
(d) Any official traffic-control device placed or held pursuant to the provisions of this chapter and purporting to conform to the lawful requirements pertaining to such devices shall be presumed to comply with the requirement of this chapter, unless the contrary shall be established by competent evidence.
Whenever traffic is controlled by traffic-control signals exhibiting different colored lights or colored lighted arrows, successively one at a time or in combination, only the colors, green, red, and yellow, shall be used except for special pedestrian signals carrying a word legend. Such lights shall indicate and apply to drivers of vehicles and pedestrians as follows:
(A) Green indication:
(1) Vehicular traffic facing a circular green signal may proceed straight through or turn right or left unless a sign at such place prohibits either such turn. But vehicular traffic, including vehicles turning right or left, shall yield the right-of-way to other vehicles and to pedestrians lawfully within the intersection or an adjacent crosswalk at the time such signal is exhibited.
(2) Vehicular traffic facing a green arrow signal, shown alone or in combination with another indication, may cautiously enter the intersection only to make the movement indicated by such arrow or such other movement as is permitted by other indications shown at the same time. Such vehicular traffic shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians lawfully within an adjacent crosswalk and to other traffic lawfully using the intersection.
(3) Unless otherwise directed by a pedestrian-control signal, as provided in Section 56-5-990, pedestrians facing any green signal, except when the sole green signal is a turn arrow, may proceed across the roadway within any marked or unmarked crosswalk.
(B) Steady yellow indication:
(1) Vehicular traffic facing a steady circular yellow or yellow arrow signal is thereby warned that the related green movement is being terminated or that a red indication will be exhibited immediately thereafter.
(2) Pedestrians facing a steady circular yellow or yellow arrow signal, unless otherwise directed by a pedestrian-control signal as provided in Section 56-5-990, are advised that there is insufficient time to cross the roadway before a red indication is shown and no pedestrian shall then start to cross the roadway.
(C) Steady red indication:
(1) Vehicular traffic facing a steady circular red signal alone shall stop at a clearly marked stop line but, if none, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if none, then before entering the intersection and shall remain standing until an indication to proceed is shown except as provided in item (3).
(2) Vehicular traffic facing a steady red arrow signal shall not enter the intersection to make the movement indicated by the arrow, and unless entering the intersection to make a movement permitted by another signal, shall stop at a clearly marked stop line but, if none, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if none, then before entering the intersection and shall remain standing until an indication permitting the movement indicated by such arrow is shown except as provided in items (3) and (5).
(3) Except when a sign is in place prohibiting a turn, vehicular traffic facing any steady red signal may cautiously enter the intersection to turn right or to turn left from a one-way street into a one-way street after stopping as required by item (1) or (2). Such vehicular traffic shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians lawfully within an adjacent crosswalk and to other traffic lawfully using the intersection.
(4) Unless otherwise directed by a pedestrian-control signal as provided in Section 56-5-3110, pedestrians facing a steady circular red or red arrow signal alone shall not enter the roadway.
(5) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, if a driver of a motorcycle or moped, or a bicycle rider, approaches an intersection that is controlled by a traffic-control device, the driver may proceed through the intersection on a steady red light only if the driver or rider, as the case may be:
(a) comes to a full and complete stop at the intersection for one hundred twenty seconds; and
(b) exercises due care as provided by law, otherwise treats the traffic control device as a stop sign, and determines it is safe to proceed.
“The Right on Red” Rule
Like most states, South Carolina 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
South Carolina permits left turns on red lights provided both the origin and destination streets are one way.
The “Yellow-Light Rule” in South Carolina
In South Carolina 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.
- 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.
No Red Light Cameras
South Carolina has banned the use of red light cameras – devices that photograph drivers running red lights and automatically issue tickets.