Running Red Lights and Stop Signs in Alabama
Penalties and enforcement for running red lights and stop signs in Alabama.
Running a stop sign or red light is one of the most common moving violations (especially most 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 Alabama.
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.
Alabama’s Red Light/Stop Sign Law
Section 32-5A-31: Obedience to traffic-control devices; devices presumed to comply with requirements.
(a) The driver of any vehicle shall obey the instructions of any official traffic-control device applicable thereto placed in accordance with law, 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 in position approximately conforming to the requirements of this chapter or other law, such devices shall be presumed to have been so placed 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 pursuant to the provisions of this chapter or other law and purporting to conform to the lawful requirements pertaining to such devices shall be presumed to comply with the requirements of this chapter or other such law, unless the contrary shall be established by competent evidence.
The fine for running a stop sign or red light is typically between $100 - $150 (and three points) in Alabama. A red light camera ticket is approximately $100 (no points). 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, Alabama 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
Alabama is one of 41 states that allow left turns on red provided both the origin and destination streets are one way.
The “Yellow-Light Rule” in Alabama
In Alabama 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 the front of your vehicle entered the intersection or passed the crosswalk or limit line before the light turned red, you haven’t broken the law. (And unless the officer is sitting right at the intersection on the cross street and has a view unobstructed by other waiting vehicles, you’re in a better position than he is to judge that.
- The officer could not see your full stop … Occasionally, an officer will park on a cross street so that all she sees 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—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.
Things to avoid … Never tell the officer who stops you that it was a really short yellow light. That comes pretty close to admitting that you did indeed enter the intersection when the light was red.
Red Light Cameras
Alabama is one of 24 states that permit the use of red light cameras – devices that photograph drivers running red lights and automatically issue tickets. Three possible defenses to consider:
- 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). Time the duration of the yellow light and if it differs substantially from local yellow lights, you may be able to make this argument to a judge;
- some states require that warning signs be posted to make you aware of photo enforcement at the upcoming red light. If you can prove that the municipality did not provide such signage, you may be able to succeed in red light camera defense. (Photos are essential to this defense.)