Are you sure you didn’t just run that red light?
During the recent crackdowns on distracted driving, Columbus police were also citing drivers for ordinary traffic violations, such as running red lights.
“It’s a problem,” Lt. Clyde Dent said last week as he directed the operation on Victory Drive.
Police issued more than 102 citations Oct. 18 in three hours of patrolling between North Lumpkin and South Lumpkin roads. Of that, 29 were for distracted driving, which includes texting or manipulating a cellphone.
It was the third such operation since June 1.
A number of the citations were for running red lights, said Dent, who oversees the department’s motor squad, which focuses on enforcing traffic laws and investigating vehicle fatalities among its other duties.
But there were about 20 tickets given for running red lights in that time.
The Georgia code 40-6-21 states, in part, the following is a red light violation:
▪ Traffic, except pedestrians, facing a steady CIRCULAR RED signal alone shall stop at a clearly marked stop line or, if there is no stop line, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if there is no crosswalk, before entering the intersection, and shall remain standing until an indication to proceed is shown, except as provided in subparagraphs (B), (C), and (D) of this paragraph;
The exceptions are:
▪ Vehicular traffic facing a steady CIRCULAR RED signal may cautiously enter the intersection to make a right turn after stopping as provided in subparagraph (A) of this paragraph. Such vehicular traffic shall stop and remain stopped to allow a pedestrian to cross the roadway within a crosswalk when the pedestrian is upon the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling, or when the pedestrian is approaching and is within one lane of the half of the roadway on which the vehicle is traveling or onto which it is turning. For the purposes of this subparagraph, "half of the roadway" means all traffic lanes carrying traffic in one direction of travel. Vehicular traffic shall yield the right of way to other traffic lawfully using the intersection;
▪ Traffic, except pedestrians, facing a steady CIRCULAR RED signal, after stopping as provided in subparagraph (A) of this paragraph, may make a right turn but shall stop and remain stopped for pedestrians and yield the right of way to other traffic proceeding as directed by the signal at such intersection. Such vehicular traffic shall not make a right turn against a steady CIRCULAR RED signal at any intersection where a sign is erected prohibiting such right turn;
▪ Traffic, except pedestrians, facing a steady CIRCULAR RED signal, after stopping as provided in subparagraph (A) of this paragraph, may make a left turn from the left-hand lane of a one-way street onto a one-way street on which the traffic moves toward the driver's left but shall stop and remain stopped for pedestrians and yield the right of way to other traffic proceeding as directed by the signal at such intersection. Such vehicular traffic shall not make a left turn against a steady CIRCULAR RED signal at any intersection where a sign is erected prohibiting such left turn.
Dent also gives a clear definition of running a red light.
“Entering the intersection, and when I say entering the intersection, crossing the stop bar after the light has turned red,” Dent said.
So, if a motorists goes through a yellow light and it turns red before they have cleared the intersection, they have not violated the law if they were past the stop bar before it went from yellow to red?
“You go by the letter of Georgia law, you have not violated the definition of the yellow light,” Dent said. “It’s not safe. The yellow light is designed to let a buffer zone to clear between the green and red. The actual violation will be crossing the stop bar after it turns red.”
According to that same code, yellow is defined as the following:
“CIRCULAR YELLOW or YELLOW ARROW signal is thereby warned that the related green movement is being terminated or that a red indication will be exhibited immediately thereafter when vehicular traffic shall not enter the intersection.”
“You have to draw an interpretation of that,” Dent said of the code. “My interpretation, is basically, the green is being terminated and you are about to get a red in which you can’t enter. To answer your question, you would not be violating the law if you enter under a yellow.”
But Dent says that comes with a warning as bright at the yellow light he is talking about.
“Again, I kind of want to be leery about that because someone can say I want to run through the yellow light,” Dent said. “It’s not safe and it’s not a good idea.”
Dent even goes so far as to define the purpose for the yellow light.
“The yellow is designed for you to slow down and prepare to stop at the intersection,” he said. “Of course a lot of the reason is people will say, ‘I couldn’t stop at the intersection’ is they were going to fast to start with.”
The problem with crashes that occur when someone blows through a red light is the speed, he said..
Maj. J.D. Hawk, who is in charge of the patrol division, said traffic light violations are no more common in Columbus than other cities.
“People want to get where they are going and they don’t want to be stopped,” he said.
But he does issue advice for drivers who like quick starts once the light turns green.
“They really don’t need to accelerate the second that the light turns green,” Hawk said. “They need to hesitate to make sure nothing is coming through the intersection. That is one way to avoid being T-boned.”