NMA Email Newsletter: Issue #38

Rules Of The Intersection

One truism that most motorists know is that if any part of a vehicle has crossed into an intersection while the traffic signal is yellow, the driver has not run the red light. What many of those same motorists may not know is what constitutes the boundaries of the intersection. That lack of understanding (or misunderstanding) can make all the difference between clearing an intersection legally or receiving a citation and hefty fine.

The intersection is defined by the extension of the curb lines along each side of the cross streets, which form an imaginary box. The crosswalk and a painted stop line/bar are typically behind this point. If a driver believes that the stop line, or cross walk if there is no stop line, constitutes the beginning of the intersection, that driver probably has, on occasion, passed through that line on a yellow light, innocently believing that the vehicle has already entered the intersection.

If, during the fractions of a second it takes a vehicle to cross between the stop line and the intersection boundary, the yellow light turns red, a citation can be issued. At a red-light camera intersection, this ticket is automatic.

To show how not having a clear understanding of the intersection boundaries can cost you, we’ll take a look at some statistics from Clarksville, TN. That city had nearly 2600 red-light camera activations at twelve intersections during August 2009. About 170 of those instances, or 6.5%, were triggered by drivers who entered the intersections after the lights were red for more than two seconds — true red-light running offenders. The majority of the other camera activations were instances where the vehicles passed through the signals a mere 0.2 or 0.3 seconds after they turned red.

Even armed with the knowledge of where the real intersection boundary is, drivers can still have a dilemma. They can legally stop immediately behind the intersection line, but still be at risk of being clipped by cross-street vehicles making left turns, or they may be blocking pedestrians from using the crosswalk. Backing up is dangerous (and illegal), and proceeding through will trigger a photo ticket where there are red-light cameras.

Ticket cameras cause split second confusion by many well-meaning drivers, who have no intention of running red lights. That is unsafe, and unfortunately, lucrative traffic management.

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