Running Red Lights and Stop Signs in North Carolina

Learn about North Carolina’s red light and stop sign laws and the consequences of a violation.

North Carolina drivers who run stop signs or stop lights will likely have to pay a fine. Red light and stop sign violations also add demerit points to a motorist’s driving record. This article gives an outline of what the law prohibits and some of the specific consequences of a stop sign or red light ticket.

(Also, read about the ways of handling a traffic citation.)

Making the Stop

Generally, when approaching a stop sign or stop light (whether solid or flashing red), drivers must come to a complete stop prior to the nearest of entering the crosswalk, reaching a marked stop line, or entering the intersection itself.

Right-On-Red Rule

As long as there’s no sign prohibiting it, North Carolina law permits drivers to make right turns after stopping at a red light. However, drivers need to use caution and follow the normal right-of-way rules when making a right on red.

Left-on-Red Rule

Unlike some other states, North Carolina doesn’t allow motorists to make a left turn on red.

Meaning of a Yellow Light

In some states, it’s illegal to enter an intersection if the light is yellow. In North Carolina, however, a solid yellow light is just a warning that the light is about to turn red. In other words, you can enter an intersection while the light is still yellow, just not after it has turned red.

Special Rules for Motorcycles

Some intersections are equipped with sensors that detect when a vehicle is present at a red light and trigger the signal to switch to green. Sometimes, these sensors don’t detect motorcycles because of their size or weight. So, North Carolina law provides motorcyclists with a defense to a red light ticket. Motorcyclists who are cited for running a light can establish the defense by showing:

  • they first came to a complete stop at the light
  • before advancing, they waited at least three minutes at the light
  • no other vehicle had the right-of-way at the intersection, and
  • no pedestrians were attempting to cross at the intersection.

Red Light Cameras

North Carolina law permits jurisdictions within the state to use automated cameras at intersections to catch red light violators. However, jurisdictions that use red light cameras must install signs indicating to motorists that red law cameras are in use.

Red light cameras tickets are mailed to the owner of the vehicle. The owner is generally responsible for paying the citation. However, an owner can avoid having to pay the ticket by providing an affidavit to the jurisdiction that issued the ticket that states:

  • the name and address of the person or company who had the care, custody, and control of the vehicle when the violation occurred, or
  • the vehicle was stolen and being operated by the thief at the time of the violation.

Red light cameras violations are civil offenses as opposed to traffic infractions. The fine for a red light camera ticket is $50 ($100 if not paid on time). Red light camera violations won’t add points to a motorist’s driving record or affect insurance rates.

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

Fines and Points for Violations

Generally, stop sign and red light violations are infractions in North Carolina. Convicted motorists are looking at a maximum fine of $100. However, court costs can increase the amount the driver actually has to pay.

A stop sign or red light conviction will add three demerit points to a motorist’s driving record. A driver who accumulates 12 or more points within a three-year period faces license suspension. However, eligible drivers can get a three-point reduction by completing a “driver improvement clinic.”

Depending on the circumstances, a red light or stop sign violation could also lead to a reckless driving conviction. And a driver who runs a red signal or stop sign and causes a fatality may face “misdemeanor death-by-vehicle” charges.

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