Free case evaluation 24/7

(866) 393-4334

Who Is At Fault For Running A Yellow Light?

Legally reviewed by: Miriam Domer February 23, 2024
  • Law firms who have achieved over $100 million in case results

  • Many $20 million dollar jury verdicts

  • Law firms awarded Best Law Firm in 2022 by US News and World Report

The driver who runs a yellow light is sometimes at fault for any accidents that occur.

A yellow signal lets oncoming motorists know that they need to slow down and prepare to stop. Unfortunately, during yellow lights drivers often feel that they should speed up.

While you can proceed through a yellow light in most states, you should only do so if you’re unable to stop behind the line at the intersection and can safely move through the intersection instead.

If you’re in a yellow light collision, you may want to work with a personal injury or car accident attorney to seek compensation from the at-fault driver. If that’s the case, LegalFinders can help.

Close-up of a yellow traffic light signal on street

About Fault In Yellow Light Accidents

You may be at fault if you run a yellow light and end up in an accident.

Situations in which you are less likely to be at fault are if someone makes a left-hand turn in front of you at the intersection, as a driver turning left is supposed to yield to oncoming traffic.

Another situation in which you might not be considered at fault is if a vehicle makes a right turn in front of you when they are sitting at a red light and should yield.

Yellow Light Accident Statistics

Running a yellow light frequently causes intersection accidents to happen. Here are a few statistics on yellow light accidents:

  • Running a traffic signal is the most common cause of car accidents, and those who are injured or killed are more likely to be non-drivers, like passengers and pedestrians.
  • Male drivers are more likely to run through a yellow light, as are less experienced drivers.
  • Research shows that Arizona has one of the highest rates of traffic light accidents in the U.S. and often yellow light timers that run below the recommended national standard.

Legal Options For Victims of Yellow Light Accidents

If you or a loved one has been involved in a yellow light accident, you may be able to seek compensation. Make sure to consult with a car accident lawyer for appropriate legal advice on how to proceed.

Personal Injury Claims

If you or a loved one are injured in a yellow light accident, you may be owed compensation for personal injury. This type of claim can include physical injuries and post-traumatic stress caused by the experience.

Wrongful Death Claims

In an accident where a person is killed in the accident or later dies because of their injuries, there may be grounds to sue for wrongful death.

 

What Causes Yellow Light Accidents?

When a light turns yellow, drivers enter what psychologists call the Dilemma Zone (DZ), which is a one-second interval in which drivers must either brake (usually hard) or keep moving.

However, studies suggest that this decision-making zone increases in time needed as drivers age. So, while traffic engineers usually take that one second into account when setting timers for traffic lights, drivers might need longer to decide.

Below are some of the most common causes of yellow light accidents.

Speeding To Pass Through The Light

The purpose of a yellow light is to let drivers know it’s turning red so they can decide whether to stop or proceed.

Unfortunately, drivers often see the yellow light as a signal to hurry up. And because drivers of oncoming vehicles can have similar thoughts, this can result in a car crash.

Attempting To Predict Light Changes

Sometimes, drivers will predict that a light, though yellow, has plenty of time for them to make it through the intersection.

However, the amount of time a light has before it turns red can vary too much for accurate calculations, as the driver also must account for the speed of their approach, distance from the traffic signal, and how long the light has been yellow.

Distracted Driving

Talking, texting, playing on a cell phone, refereeing passengers, or hunting down a napkin can all contribute to distracted driving.

When you’re not fully paying attention to the traffic signal you’re approaching, you may miss when it turns yellow and, therefore, your opportunity to come to a complete stop.

Driving Under The Influence

If you’ve taken drugs or alcohol, your judgment is impaired, and you shouldn’t be driving. You’re endangering yourself and others in the immediate area.

It’s important to check any prescriptions from your doctor as well. Many prescription medication labels will advise against driving until you’re off the medication.

Driving under the influence means that you cannot think or react appropriately when the light turns yellow, and you may be over the speed limit as well.

Common Injuries In Yellow Light Accidents

Yellow light accidents can cause significant injury to one or both vehicles, drivers, and passengers.

Some of the most common injuries include:

  • Spinal
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Fractured bones
  • Whiplash injuries to neck and back
  • Internal bleeding
  • Abrasions, cuts, and bruising

National Yellow Light Rules

Entering an intersection on a yellow light is legal under traffic laws in most states. However, be aware of situations that can make it illegal.

For instance, if you make a right or left-hand turn, you may not have the right of way. Left-hand turns almost always must yield to oncoming traffic unless they have a green light arrow.

On a right turn on a yellow light, you may find a pedestrian entering the crosswalk on a walk sign. In that situation, you should yield the right of way to the pedestrian as well as to any oncoming vehicles.

Penalties For Running A Yellow Light Violation

Because running a yellow light is usually legal, penalties will be incurred mainly in instances where running the light is illegal, like failure to yield the right of way on a turn or making an illegal U-turn.

Penalties can be a few hundred dollars for a straight violation but quickly add up if an accident involves damage and injuries.

Damages In Yellow Light Accident Claims

Damage claims in yellow light accidents can vary.

The most common damages cited in accident claims include:

  • Property damage
  • Bodily injury
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of wages
  • Wrongful death

Factors In Yellow Light Crash Cases

Auto accidents at a yellow traffic light can result in rear-end collisions and right- and left-turn accidents. These are some of the factors considered in settling an accident case:

Fault

Some states are no-fault states, which means that you file with your insurance company for damages regardless of who caused the accident.

In an at-fault state, you must prove that you were less than 50% at fault, especially if both drivers ran a yellow light.

Negligence

Comparative negligence in yellow light accidents means looking at the actions of each person involved and assigning a percentage of fault.

Faulty Lights

When the lights are out at an intersection, or they’re flashing yellow or red, the rules surrounding how to proceed through the intersection change.

Failure to know and follow the rules of the road can put you at fault for the accident.

The local governing body may sometimes be responsible for the faulty lights. However, it can be tricky to prove this and even trickier to receive compensation for it.

Improper Signage

A lack of appropriate signage or partially or fully hidden signage can sometimes be the reason you end up in an accident. In those situations, you may be able to seek compensation from the city or county.

However, you may have to prove that those elements were lacking, or they may have to prove that those elements were present.

That’s why visual documentation of the scene is important. If the municipality states a sign was there but it isn’t in any pictures or video, that may help your case.

Evidence Taken From The Scene Of The Accident

It’s important to gather evidence from your own accident if it’s safe to do so. These are a few examples of evidence you might need to collect:

  • Take pictures of each vehicle and any specific damage. Turn in a circle and take pictures or record a video.
  • Document the insurance and license information, address, and phone number of the other motorist, and get any law enforcement officials’ name and badge number.
  • Write down what happened and how you’re feeling.
  • Get reports from medical professionals (including first responders) detailing injuries or mental symptoms.
  • Follow up with your primary care physician (PCP) to care for injuries sustained in the accident and get documentation of that as well.

You will need to provide many of these pieces of evidence to your legal representation, insurance company, and other entities.

How Can A Yellow Light Accident Lawyer Help?

Yellow light accidents can be very nuanced in determining fault and seeking compensation. Having a professional car accident attorney or personal injury attorney to help you navigate the challenges of a lawsuit can help.

One of the biggest mistakes drivers can make is assuming that their auto insurance company is taking care of them.

Know that while you need insurance coverage, your insurance company’s goal is to pay as little as possible, which is what their attorneys help with.

Enlisting your own yellow light accident lawyer ensures that there is one professional present in that conversation who wants you to be compensated as much as possible.

Establishing an attorney-client relationship with your own attorney means that they’ll handle a lot of the details and investigative work for you.

Get Help With Your Yellow Light Car Accident Claim

Between the insurance companies, police reports, and trauma of having been in an accident, it can be easy for you or a loved one to feel like it’s too much to handle.

You can reach out to LegalFinders for a free consultation on your yellow light car accident claim. We can set you on the path to finding the right car accident or personal injury lawyer.

Running A Yellow Light Accident FAQs

What Happens If You Run A Yellow Light And It Turns Red?

It is usually legal to go through a yellow light if you enter the intersection while the light is still yellow, even if it turns red while you’re in the intersection.

Is It Okay To Pass A Yellow Light?

If you’re close enough to the light when it turns and stopping would put you in the middle of the intersection, you are usually okay to proceed through the intersection.

You’ll need to check that oncoming vehicles are also not coming through the intersection, especially if either of you is making a left turn.

Can You Get A Ticket For Running A Yellow Light?

Yes, if running the light causes an accident. While running traffic signals is one of the most common causes of traffic accidents, going through an intersection when the light is yellow is legal in most cases.

What Happens If The Light Turns Red While You’re In An Intersection?

Some states offer a half-second grace period to vehicles that are in an intersection when the light turns red. In those situations, if you’re still in the intersection, you may receive a citation or ticket.

Others allow that you’re okay if you entered the intersection while the light was still yellow.

Can You Sue If Someone Hits You After Running A Yellow Light?

Yes. However, keep in mind that you may not have a valid case unless you meet certain criteria. It’s best to consult with a qualified attorney.

Article Sources

ABC 15 Arizona. “Time to Stop: Can longer yellow lights prevent red-light running deaths?” Retrieved from: https://www.abc15.com/news/operation-safe-roads/time-to-stop-can-longer-yellow-lights-prevent-red-light-running-deaths.

Association for Psychological Science. “Experiments in the Dilemma Zone.” Retrieved from: https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/experiments-in-the-dilemma-zone

Coverage. “What does a no-fault state mean for auto insurance?” Retrieved from: https://www.coverage.com/insurance/what-does-a-no-fault-state-mean-for-auto-insurance/.

Illinois Department of Insurance. “Comparative Negligence.” Retrieved from: https://idoi.illinois.gov/consumers/consumerinsurance/comparative-negligence.html.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “Red light running.” Retrieved from: https://www.iihs.org/topics/red-light-running.

National Library of Medicine. “Yellow light decision based on driving style: Day or night?” Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8926246/.

ScienceDirect: Journal of Traffic and Transportation Engineering. “Yellow light dilemma zone researches: a review.” Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095756415302804.

U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. “If you run a red light, you are betting more than you can afford to lose.” Retrieved from https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersection/signal/fhwasa11016.pdf.

U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. “Safety: Yellow Change Intervals.” Retrieved from: https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/provencountermeasures/yellow_xhg_intervals.cfm.

ON THIS PAGE