Liability in Accident from Entering Intersection on Yellow

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The moment you get behind the wheel in California, you accept all the duties that come with being a driver. You automatically take on a responsibility to all other roadway users, to prevent car accidents and injuries. Many duties come with this responsibility, but in general you must obey traffic laws, road rules, and driving best practices.

Accelerating when you see a yellow light to “beat the red” goes against your duties as a driver. It could endanger others’ lives. Entering intersections on a yellow light contributes to the number of intersection accidents each year – an accident type that caused 927 deaths in California in 2017. If you were recently in an accident involving a yellow light, here’s what you need to know.

Intersection Traffic Laws in California

Slowing down when you see a yellow light isn’t just good sense – it’s the law. California Vehicle Code Section 21453 outlines a driver’s duties when approaching a traffic signal. The law states that all drivers must stop at the marked line when “facing a steady circular red signal,” unless already in the intersection. The previous code, Section 21452, states that a steady circular yellow light warns drivers that a red will come immediately after. Thus, it is a driver’s responsibility to slow down upon a yellow light, to come to a stop at the line in time for the red.

The most common yellow light issue arises when a driver can’t decide if he or she has enough time to go through the intersection before the light turns red. Many drivers will misjudge the time, speed, or distance, and fail to stop in time before the red indicator. If a driver crosses the marked line and enters the intersection when the light has turned red, that driver has violated the vehicle code and may face related penalties.

There is no law in California that forbids drivers from being in an intersection during a yellow light. The law is that the driver cannot be in the intersection during a red light. Although the difference is often a matter of a few split seconds, it is a major one. If you’re involved in an intersection car accident when you had a yellow light, you were not technically in the wrong. If the light had turned red, however, you could be liable for damages.

Moving Violations That Could Point to Liability

Most red and yellow light accidents are not black and white issues. They are complex and may require crash re-creation, video surveillance footage, and eyewitness interviews to determine liability. If you performed certain actions in the seconds leading up to the collision, however, your odds of liability increase. A police investigation will aim to identify whether either driver committed the following mistakes:

  • Not slowing down for a yellow light
  • Speeding up at a yellow light
  • Failing to come to a complete stop at a red light
  • Causing a rear-end collision by failing to stop
  • Misjudging the distance of oncoming traffic when turning left

These are common intersection mistakes drivers make that cause serious car accidents. The most severe wrecks often stem from drivers speeding up to try to beat the red light. This can lead to high-speed collisions and fatal T-bone accidents. It is every driver’s duty to obey traffic signals, to drive at a safe speed, and to stop for red lights. Failure to do so, resulting in a collision, could place liability on you as a driver.

How to Prove Your Case

Running a red light could qualify as negligence per se in the California courts. Negligence per se means a driver could be at-fault for causing the accident by violating a traffic law, without any other proof of negligence necessary. If you’ve been the victim of an intersection crash, you may be able to prove your case with help from investigators. Consult with an accident attorney for advice on filing an intersection accident claim. Contact the team of accident attorneys at Panish Shea & Boyle, LLP today! (310) 477-1700