Running Red Lights and Stop Signs in West Virginia

Penalties and enforcement for running red lights and stop signs in West Virginia.

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 West Virginia.

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.

West Virginia’s Red Light/Stop Sign Law

West Virginia’s red light and stop sign law states:

§17C-3-4. Obedience to traffic-control devices; official signs to be in proper position, etc; penalty.

(a) The driver of any vehicle and the operator of any streetcar shall obey the instructions of any official traffic-control device applicable thereto placed in accordance with the provisions of this chapter, unless otherwise directed by a traffic or police officer, subject to the exceptions granted the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle in this chapter.

(b) Any person violating the provisions of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not more than one hundred dollars; upon a second conviction within one year thereafter, shall be fined not more than two hundred dollars; and upon a third or subsequent conviction, shall be fined not more than five hundred dollars.

(c) No provision of this chapter for which signs are required shall be enforced against an alleged violator if at the time and place of the alleged violation an official sign is not in proper position and sufficiently legible to be seen by an ordinarily observant person. Whenever a particular section does not state that signs are required, such section shall be effective even though no signs are erected or in place.

Penalties

The fine for running a red light is approximately $75 in West Virginia. 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, West Virginia 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

West Virginia permits left turns on red lights provided both the origin and destination streets are one way.

The “Yellow-Light Rule” in West Virginia

In West Virginia 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.

No Red Light Cameras

West Virginia has laws that prohibit the use of red light cameras – devices that photograph drivers running red lights and automatically issue tickets.

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