oos Email Newsletter: Issue #39

The Lack Of Rules Of The Intersection

In last week’s newsletter, Rules of the Intersection, we tried to add much needed clarity to intersection boundaries and what constitutes a red-light infraction. It turns out that nothing is quite that simple, and there is good reason why motorists are confused about intersection rules.

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) sets the federal standards. State requirements are subordinate to the MUTCD, and local jurisdictions are subordinate to the state guidelines. The federal standards are relatively clear in establishing stop lines at intersections. The problem is that hundreds of jurisdictions throughout the country don’t abide by the federal requirements. The net result is that drivers have a different set of intersection rules from one town to the next. Uncertain or confused drivers can create safety concerns, and are more susceptible to traffic citations.

We provided a definition of an intersection – the imaginary box formed by the extended curb lines of cross streets – in Rules of the Intersection as it is being used in some jurisdictions per the MUTCD. However, Section 4D.04 of the same code is more specific in addressing red lights:

“Steady red signal indications shall have the following meanings: Vehicular traffic facing a steady circular red signal indication alone shall stop at a clearly marked stop line, but if there is no stop line, traffic shall stop before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection; or if there is no crosswalk, then before entering the intersection, and shall remain stopped until a signal indication to proceed is shown . . .”

It is important for you to know that as you travel from town to town, red-light camera intersections need to be navigated with due caution because of different enforcement standards.

Our recommendation is to follow the MUTCD standard set by Section 4D.04 for determining the line your vehicle should not cross when faced with a steady circular red light signal. If you cross this line during the yellow cycle and proceed to clear the intersection, you will not be in violation of the federal regulations. You may, however, be cited by a locality that has their own set of intersection rules. If that happens, your defense that you are following Section 4D.04 of the MUTCD, which takes precedence over local interpretations, will highlight to local authorities that their standards are in violation of federal law.

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