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Yellow Light: What Should I Do?

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Law

Virginia Code Section 46.2-833 states:  “Steady amber indicates that a change is about to be made in the direction of the moving of traffic. When the amber signal is shown, traffic which has not already entered the intersection, including the crosswalks, shall stop if it is not reasonably safe to continue, but traffic which has already entered the intersection shall continue to move until the intersection has been cleared.”

The Stop Line

The white line your car crosses when entering an intersection is the stop line.  That line is so named in the motor vehicle handbook because you are to stop behind that line if the light turns yellow.

What If I Have Crossed the Stop Line?

If you cross the stop line before the light turns yellow, then you may continue to make your turn or other manuever.  When you cross the stop line before the light changes then the law states that you have lawfully entered the intersection.

Can I Ever Cross That Stop Line If the Light Is Yellow?

The code does make an exception for situations where it is reasonably safe to continue into the intersection when the light has changed to yellow.  But who gets to decide when your manuever was reasonably safe?  Aye, but there’s the rub.  In your opinion it may be safe to enter the intersection under the yellow light, wait for oncoming traffic to clear, and then turn left.  I have done that myself, albeit without much thought for the consequences.  But when you get to court, the trooper who wrote you a ticket may tell the judge that he, the trooper, considered your actions unsafe.  You can testify that you considered it reasonably safe, and, yes, the standard for conviction is supposed to be beyond a reasonable doubt, but that trooper has more credibility with the judge than you.

What If I Get Trapped Under the Light?

Assume you are making a left turn.  The light changes to yellow just as you come to the stop line and there is only one car in sight coming toward you.  You get delayed in the intersection so you wait for that oncoming car to come past you on your left and then you will turn.  Sounds reasonably safe.  You begin to turn left and a car suddenly shows up coming straight at you from the oncoming lane.  Where did that car come from?  Out of a driveway or business?  Was it hidden behind a building, parked vehicle, or a curve? Or did you just not see it before?  Or did it just enter the intersection late after you started your turn?  Whatever the reason, brace for impact!

I Just Got Injured, Who Pays

You braced for the impact, but both you and the oncoming driver were transported to the hospital.  The good news is you were not badly hurt.  The bad news is that you are going to be sued by the oncoming driver.  Why?  Because that person’s lawyer will argue that you entered into the intersection when it was not reasonably safe to do so, and then failed to yield the right of way.  A jury will have to decide whether or not to award damages to the oncoming driver.  What a pickle!

This Lawyer Just Decided to Be More Cautious Under the Caution

Wow!  While writing this I just realized what a reckless driver I have been!  Yes, I have been a yellow light offender in the past.  I just called my insurance agent and confessed. (I have heard that confession is good for the soul.  However, that only applies when talking to your priest, not to the police.)  He said he would not raise my rates this time.  Whew!

If You Want to Know More

If you are not exhausted after reading this and would like more answers to frequently asked questions, check our website at Overbeylaw.com.  Join us for a friendly chat.  (However unlikely that sounds, you can have a friendly chat with a lawyer).

David Hawkins, Esquire

Overbey, Hawkins, & Wright, PLLC

Lynchburg and Rustburg, Virginia