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Can I run that red light?
June 30, 2005 8:34 AM   Subscribe

Can I proceed through a red light when it is clearly not possible for traffic to be coming from the opposing direction?

I am a contractor working on a large naval base. Through some logic that my non-military mind cannot apparently fathom, the most heavily trafficked gate has been closed lately at lunch time. When I return from lunch, rather than continuing straight across an intersection into the main gate, I have to turn left and enter another gate. The left turn signal is painfully short; however, the green "straight" lights remain lit for quite some time. Since it is impossible for traffic to be coming from the other direction (the gate is closed - IMPOSING IRON GATES and all), is it okay for me to turn left even with a red left turn arrow?

My logical mind is telling me this is a stupid question, but we all know that the law and a traffic cop's interpretation of it may not exactly be "logical". I find myself looking around to make sure there are no cops before proceeding.
posted by mike9322 to Law & Government (25 answers total)
 
Well you can do it, but it's unlikely to be legal. Warning signs have to be obeyed whether you think they make sense or not.
posted by grouse at 8:36 AM on June 30, 2005


What grouse said. When I was learning to drive, I came to a stop sign where the intersecting road was closed in both directions by construction. The cop stationed there whistled me over when I rolled through. He agreed that there was no chance my running the sign would cause an accident, but said I had to stop anyway.

posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:46 AM on June 30, 2005


Yup, the law is the law. And it makes sense if you think about it; if they allowed people to break it in "obvious" situations like this, every traffic stop would become an argument about whether it was "sensible" to apply the law in those particular situations. Drivers who run red lights or don't stop at stop signs always have what they consider good and sufficient reasons.

That said, I feel your pain, and if there's no cop in sight I'd probably say "go for it."
posted by languagehat at 9:08 AM on June 30, 2005


What languageshat said. This is why its still illegal to run a red light at 3am when there are no cars in sight.

That said, in some states a left turn on red from a two-way into a one-way street is permitted under certain situations.
posted by googly at 9:15 AM on June 30, 2005


Not to sound all hippie-granola, but you should also consider the impact on pedestrian traffic. Not allowing left turns is pertinent to foot traffic on the left and anyone assuming that drivers are going to follow the letter of the law would be surprised by your illegal left turn there.

You should contact the city's traffic engineering department. Light timing is examined and altered all the time. They -want- maximum traffic flow and likely will come and check the situation and possibly alter the light's behavior. I am assuming that based on your mention of traffic cops and main gates that this light is on civilian land, not military.
posted by phearlez at 9:16 AM on June 30, 2005


That said, I feel your pain, and if there's no cop in sight I'd probably say "go for it."

Yeah, when you're coming up to a red-light intersection late at night and you can see there is no traffic (or cop) for a half-mile in any direction, it's absolutely liberating to just blow on through without even slowing down. We humans are a strange, childishly rebellious lot, eh?
posted by Shane at 9:18 AM on June 30, 2005


*grumble*

Thanks - you are all obviously right. I think my bigger issue is the asinine closing of the gate during one of the busiest traffic times of the day. This has the effect of greatly increasing the traffic turning left through the painfully short light, into a much lower throughput gate, meaning I usually have to sit through several light cycles, all while my food is getting cold and soggy, and come up with amusing and clever run-on sentences to post to AskMe.

I should have made it clear that I don't just roll right through it - I stop and look first. It seems that about half the drivers out there agree with me, and usually if one person goes, many more will follow. ("Hey, that guy can't go, it's a red light!.... wait a second..... no traffic is coming, I can go too!")

Guess I'll just bring lunch or eat out until the gate's no longer closed at lunch.
posted by mike9322 at 9:23 AM on June 30, 2005


For the moral vs. ethical argument, Crushinator said it well here:

"Morals are what keep you from running a red light at 3 pm. Ethics are what keep you from running a red light at 3 am."

But I think you're looking for a "can I get away with it" answer. I say no, you can't get away with it. Why? Because law enforcers are involved and the law says that you have to stop at red lights. That's it.

Consider that a law enforcer's vision of a perfect world is one where no one would be able to do anything. However, in our imperfect world, they will settle for everyone obeying the rules. An exception to a certain rule will always be made by them after they stop you. That's how they want things. They feel disrespected otherwise.

So, you can go ahead and run that light, but if there's any chance that a law enforcer will see you, you will have to deal with your feelings about possibly getting caught every time.

Also consider this, do normal traffic laws on the base apply? What would happen if you did get caught? Would you get in trouble with the government, or just your employer?

Also consider disabling the light. Either by physically destroying the lights, by disconnecting them, or by petitioning (or even hacking the controller) to have them turned off or turned permanently green.
posted by redteam at 9:30 AM on June 30, 2005


googly: "That said, in some states a left turn on red from a two-way into a one-way street is permitted under certain situations."

According to this page:

"Left turn on red light from a one-way road into a one-way road is permitted after stop in 42 states and Puerto Rico. There is no left turn on red light in South Dakota unless authorized by a municipal ordinance, [nor] in Connecticut, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Rhode Island, the District of Columbia, or Guam. Left turn on red light from a two-way road into a one-way road is permitted after stop in Alaska, Idaho, Michigan, Oregon and Washington only."

(And a hell of a lot more.)
posted by Plutor at 9:32 AM on June 30, 2005


So, along the same lines, how do we decide to go ahead and begin the long line of people running the red went it is clear that the lights are broken and are simply not ever going to change (at least not for a few hours)?
posted by lalalana at 9:33 AM on June 30, 2005


I don't know how prevalent it is in the States (if that's where you are), but the Lower Mainland area in British Columbia has traffic cameras at many a stop light.

And yes, I'm the dork that will stay put until the light turns green.
posted by deborah at 10:40 AM on June 30, 2005


Also consider disabling the light. Either by physically destroying the lights, by disconnecting them, or by petitioning (or even hacking the controller) to have them turned off or turned permanently green.

Wow, this is terrible advice! I can only imagine that getting caught screwing with traffic signaling equipment would be infinitely more troublesome than getting caught running a red light when no other traffic is around.

One is definitely not okay.
posted by odinsdream at 10:55 AM on June 30, 2005


googly-What languageshat said.

First I read it one way. Then I read it another way. Then I read it the first way again, and giggled.
posted by evariste at 11:00 AM on June 30, 2005


Ticket fines are a revenue stream for a government entity - and signing a ticket admits no guilt. Take it to the judge and see if he/she can see the injustice of it all.
posted by DandyRandy at 11:42 AM on June 30, 2005


In response to Lalalana - California at least has a specific provision that, after waiting a "reasonable" amount of time and discovering that the light is broken, it's okay to proceed once it's safe. I think "reasonable" means waiting long enough to prove that the light is malfunctioning - several minutes at least. Note that this is most likely not a defence against getting a ticket (although one would hope that police would be reasonable as well) but instead a defence in court fighting the ticket. It's also really important to keep the "once it's safe" provision in mind - you pretty much have to assume that everyone else has the right-of-way.
posted by robhuddles at 12:24 PM on June 30, 2005


me too, deb, even at 3am. i figure 'why go down that slippery slope?'
posted by five fresh fish at 12:46 PM on June 30, 2005


If you were on a motorcycle in Tennessee you might be able to run it. If you don't want to follow the link, it is about a law in Tenn. that allows motorcyclists to run red lights after a reasonable amount of time to correct for the fact that the sensors controlling traffic signals often fail to sense motorcycles. Other states have considered similar laws, although I do not know which if any have passed.
posted by TedW at 1:23 PM on June 30, 2005


The law is the law, but I made a left turn on red in front of a police car blocking oncoming traffic on a three way intersection. I didn't even bother stopping (what am I going to hit?) The officer didn't flip on his cherries... :)

Why don't you just *ask* the local police about the situation? They would be happy to give you the answer. If you're worried they'll start patrolling the darn thing, tell them you're talking about a street that's closed somewhere or other (elsewhere).
posted by shepd at 1:29 PM on June 30, 2005


On a related note:

My old apartment complex had too few parking spaces. However, the complex had a fair number of handicapped parking spaces that were never used. Some of the tenants illegally converted some of the handicapped spaces into regular spaces.
posted by malp at 1:42 PM on June 30, 2005


shepd writes "Why don't you just *ask* the local police about the situation? They would be happy to give you the answer."

My experience is local cops (even the mounties) don't know squat when it comes to technical point of law. They count on the "hand out tickets until a judge tells you to stop" mode of operation. I've forced a ticket a couple of times to stop harrassment.
posted by Mitheral at 2:08 PM on June 30, 2005


Can I proceed through a red light when it is clearly not possible for traffic to be coming from the opposing direction?

Yes, if no-one else sees you do it. I sometimes run certain lights which make no sense (I know a few locations where you get two sets of lights literally 10 metres apart, and the first set stays on red while the second set is on green.. which is senseless).

And this doesn't apply to you, but in the UK.. if the light is in roadworks/construction, then legally, most likely yes. I've run a few construction lights at night, as they're not considered official lights (much like non official speed signs do not count either).
posted by wackybrit at 3:45 PM on June 30, 2005


It would seem to make sense to do so, but it's certainly ticketable anywhere I've ever lived.

I can't see MPs pulling you over for this kind of crap, though.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:54 PM on June 30, 2005


Mithereal, you're right, they might not know the law. But they know what they will give out a ticket for, and since, when it comes to driving law, all that matters is whether they'll give yo you a ticket or not, their answer is the gold that is sought. :-)

IIRC, in still quite a few cities it's still illegal to drive at over 5 mph unless you have a flagman running in front of your vehicle. A lot of those laws simply didn't get wiped from the books (proving why one should never let a law get on the books for "temporary measures" without a hard termination date). But since you will never get a ticket from a police officer, who cares apart from myself?
posted by shepd at 4:06 PM on June 30, 2005


Am I the only one tempted to stage a flagman stunt, hoping to get ticketed for impeding traffic flow or somesuch, only to end up in court whipping out a lawbook and triumphantly proclaiming the legality of what I was doing?

Hell, it'd be worth it even if I lost the case and got the fine.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:02 PM on June 30, 2005


Also consider disabling the light. Either by physically destroying the lights, by disconnecting them

Yes, this is bad advice. Do not consider disabling, destroying, or disconnecting any government property on a military base unless you're prepared to deal with serious legal issues.

The petitioning part of the suggestion might be more use, and would definitely be safer.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:14 AM on July 1, 2005


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