Running a red light is illegal and dangerous in California, as it is in all states. Drivers who run red lights put themselves and others at risk of a serious or even fatal accident. The consequences for running a red light in California depend on the situation, but can include financial penalties, driver’s license points, and even jail time in some cases.
Traffic Ticket and Fine
The most common penalty for running a red light in California is a traffic ticket and fine. The base fine for running a red light ranges from $100-$200 depending on the jurisdiction. However, the total cost increases significantly once other fees are added on top of the base fine. These include:
- State penalty assessment: $40
- County penalty assessment: $35
- Court construction penalty: $35
- Emergency medical services penalty: $20
- Conviction assessment fee: $35
- Automation fee: $40
With all the assessments and fees, a simple red light ticket can end up costing $400-$500 in California. And that’s without traffic school or attorney fees if you choose to fight the ticket.
Insurance Rate Increase
In addition to the fine, running a red light will also cause your insurance rates to increase. How much they increase will depend on your driving record, insurance provider, and other factors. Generally, you can expect your insurance premiums to rise 10-20% after a red light ticket in California. This rate hike can follow you for 3-5 years before dropping off your record.
Driver’s License Points
The California DMV will assess one point against your driving record for running a red light. These points stay on your record for 3 years. If you accumulate 4 points in 12 months, 6 points in 24 months, or 8 points in 36 months, the DMV will suspend your license.
Here are some other common ways to get points on your California license:
|Hit and run
As you can see, running just one red light won’t lead to a suspension. But if you run several lights or commit other moving violations, you risk hitting the point thresholds. You can go to traffic school for certain citations to help prevent a suspension.
If it’s your first offense in 18 months, you can opt to go to traffic school online or in-person to dismiss a red light ticket in California. You’ll still have to pay the fine, but no points will go on your record. This keeps your auto insurance from increasing. Complete traffic school within 90 days of your citation to qualify for the point dismissal.
Serious Accidents or Injuries
Running a red light becomes a much more serious matter if it results in an accident with injuries or property damage. If you run a red light and collide with another vehicle, you are very likely to be deemed “at-fault” for the accident.
Possible criminal charges include:
- Misdemeanor reckless driving – Up to 90 days in jail and a fine up to $1,000.
- Felony reckless driving – 16 months – 3 years in state prison if there are serious injuries.
- Vehicular manslaughter – 4 years in prison if another person dies. Increases to 15 years to life if gross negligence.
Even if you avoid criminal prosecution, you can still face severe civil liability. The victim(s) can sue you for:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of companionship
- Punitive damages in egregious cases
A red-light related accident can easily lead to civil damages in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more.
All drivers in California accidents must file an SR-1 form with the DMV within 10 days. This report provides basic details about the accident. Failure to submit it results in an automatic 1-year license suspension. Note that the SR-1 is different than the police report. You must file an SR-1 even if the police issue a report at the scene.
Right on Red
So when exactly can you make a right turn at a red light in California? Here are the rules:
- Come to a complete stop – You must come to a full and complete stop before turning right on red.
- Yield to pedestrians – Make sure no pedestrians are crossing legally in the intersection.
- Yield to oncoming traffic – Double check that no vehicles are approaching from the left before you turn right.
- No sign prohibitions – Make sure there is no posted sign at the intersection prohibiting a right on red.
As long as you take these proper precautions, you can legally turn right after stopping at a red light in California unless otherwise posted. Never roll through a right on red without coming to a complete stop first.
Red Light Camera Tickets
Many intersections in California are equipped with automated red light cameras. These devices photograph any drivers who illegally enter the intersection after the light has turned red.
If caught by a red light camera in California you’ll receive a citation in the mail within a few weeks. Red light camera tickets don’t go on your driving record, but the fines are very similar to a standard traffic ticket. Expect to pay around $500 by the time all the fees are added on.
Some key facts about red light camera tickets:
- Tickets are issued to the vehicle owner, not necessarily the driver.
- Most police departments review the photos before issuing a citation.
- You can request to view the camera evidence.
- There is no option for traffic school.
- No points will be added to your DMV record.
If you receive a notice in the mail that you triggered a red light camera, examine the photos closely. If you clearly ran the light, you most likely have no choice but to pay the fine. But if there’s any question about the timing, it may be worth contesting the ticket or seeking an attorney’s advice.
Least and Most Expensive Places for Tickets
The cost of a red light ticket in California varies greatly by county and city. Here are some of the least and most expensive places to get caught (base fine only):
|Solano County ($100)
|Los Altos ($490)
|Contra Costa County ($100)
|Santa Clara County ($490)
|Sonoma County ($100)
|San Francisco ($236)
Fines in the most expensive areas like Los Altos and Santa Clara can total over $800 after all the fees and assessments. So look both ways in those intersections!
How to Fight a Red Light Ticket
There are steps you can take to contest a red light ticket in California if you believe it was issued unfairly or in error:
- Verify the deadline – Check the notice for the deadline to contest, usually 20-30 days.
- Review the photos/video – Examine the camera evidence closely for any ambiguity.
- Evaluate police report – Check for discrepancies between the report and camera footage.
- raises a legal issue – For example, blocked view or malfunctioning signal.
- Request a hearing – Contest the ticket by mail or schedule a court hearing.
- Submit evidence – Gather proof like photos, video, or maintenance records.
- Consider traffic school – Attend traffic school even if the ticket sticks.
Contesting a ticket in court and providing evidence to the judge offers the best chance of success. But there’s no guarantee and you could be assessed court costs if you lose. Consulting a traffic ticket attorney is advisable if the stakes are high.
Red Light Ticket Defenses
Some potential defenses for challenging a red light camera ticket include:
- Another car triggered the camera
- Entered on yellow (difficult to prove)
- Obstructed view of signal
- Malfunctioning traffic light
- Emergency avoidance maneuver
- Improper notice or service of ticket
An experienced attorney can help assess if any of these defenses apply to your situation. It’s very tough to beat a red light camera ticket on your own if the photographic evidence seems unambiguous.
How to Avoid Running Red Lights
The best way to avoid fines, points, and accidents is to not run red lights in the first place. Here are some smart driving habits to stop at all traffic signals:
- Pay attention – Don’t drive distracted. Look ahead at traffic signals.
- Slow down – Begin braking well in advance so you can stop gradually.
- Double check – Quickly glance left and right before proceeding on green.
- Allow extra time – Don’t race to beat yellow lights.
- Watch speed – Driving within speed limits gives you more reaction time.
- Check function – Verify all lights are working at an intersection.
- Be cautious – Use extra care at busy or complex intersections.
Drivers should also maintain vehicles properly, with functional brakes and tires. Heavy fines and penalties for running red lights also provide strong motivation to stop on yellow!
Dangers of Running Red Lights
Running red lights leads to hundreds of fatalities and tens of thousands of injuries nationwide each year. Red light violations are especially dangerous because they often result in cars crashing at high-speeds from opposite directions.
In California, around 165 people died in red light running crashes in 2021. Nearly 4 in 10 crashes at intersections involve red light running per data from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Some shocking statistics on the dangers of running red lights:
- Over 900 people died in crashes involving red light running in the U.S. in 2020 (NHTSA)
- An average of 2 people died every day in red light crashes in 2021 (IIHS)
- Almost 50% of Americans know someone injured or killed in a red light crash (AAA survey)
- 1 in 3 people would consider it acceptable to run through a red light if nobody was around (NHTSA study)
Clearly, violating traffic signals is no small matter. Remaining patient and vigilant at intersections can help protect all road users.
Running red lights in California can lead to expensive tickets, increased insurance costs, license points, and severe civil and criminal liability in the event of a traffic collision. Intersection cameras and attentive law enforcement make it very likely that red light runners will get caught.
The safest approach for California drivers is to monitor traffic signals at all times, slow down well in advance on yellow, double check for pedestrians and oncoming cars, and resist any temptation to race through late yellow or red lights.
With so many riders and pedestrians on California roads, we all need to do our part to keep intersections safe. The consequences for running red lights simply aren’t worth seconds saved by rushing through cross traffic. Stopping at all solid red traffic signals should be an absolute must.