Running Red Lights and Stop Signs in California

Read about California’s red light and stop sign laws and the consequences of a violation.

If you get caught running a stop sign or red light in California, you’ll typically be looking at a fine and demerit points on your driving record. This article gives an overview of what the law prohibits and some specific consequences of a stop sign or red light violation.

(Also, read about the options for dealing with a traffic citation.)

Making the Stop

At a red light (solid or flashing) or a stop sign, motorists must come to a complete stop prior to the nearest of reaching a marked limit line, entering the crosswalk at the near side of the intersection, or entering the intersection itself.

Right-On-Red Rule

California law allows motorists to make a right turn after stopping at a red light unless there’s a sign indicating the turn is prohibited. However, drivers must use caution and follow right-of-way rules when making a right on red.

Left-on-Red Rule

In California, a motorist can do a left turn after stopping at a red light only from a one-way street onto another one-way street. Of course, motorists need to follow the normal right-of-way rules and proceed with caution when making the turn.

Meaning of a Yellow Light

In some states, it’s illegal to enter an intersection on a yellow light. However, in California, a steady yellow light is just a warning that the light is about to turn red. In other words, you’re allowed to enter an intersection while a light is yellow, just not after it has changed to red.

Red Light Cameras

California law permits the use of automated cameras at intersections to catch red light violators. Red light camera tickets are mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle. The notice that comes in the mail must include the date, time, and location of the violation. The notice should also inform the owner how he or she can view the photos of video of the alleged violation.

A vehicle owner might be able to beat a red light camera ticket by proving to the court that someone else was operating the vehicle when the violation occurred.

(Also, read about how red light cameras work and fighting a red light camera ticket.)

Fines and Points for Violations

All California traffic violations have a “base fine.” However, the actual amount the driver has to pay includes the base fine plus a number of fees and surcharges. These additional amounts can substantially increase the total cost. (See our article and table about how much California traffic tickets actually cost.) The base fines for stop light and stop sign violations are:

  • $100 for running straight through a solid or flashing red light
  • $35 for making an illegal right turn at a red light, and
  • $35 for running a stop sign.

A stop sign or red violation will also add one point to a motorist’s driving record. Acquiring too many points can lead to license suspension. (Read about California’s traffic violation point system.) However, a driver can avoid the traffic violation point—and some of the cost—by completing traffic school.

Depending on the circumstances, a red light or stop sign violation could lead to a reckless driving conviction. And if one these offenses result in the death of another person, vehicular manslaughter charges are another possibility.

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