The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX


November 13, 2012

Basically legal to move through intersection on yellow light

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My husband and I have a fight almost every time we get in the car about the red light law. When you are turning left at a light and waiting for the oncoming traffic to pass, is it legal to pull out into the intersection while waiting? And also, if you are in the intersection when the light turns yellow or red, but then turn after the last car passes, is that a legal violation? — J.F., Greenville

The answer to your first question is “yes,” it is legal to pull out into the intersection while waiting for oncoming traffic to pass if you have a green light. It is also legal to complete a turn you started during a green light if the light subsequently changes to yellow or red after you have entered the intersection.

Under Texas law, a steady yellow light means: “(1) movement authorized by a green signal is being terminated; or (2) a red signal is to be given.” Basically this means that a yellow light is legally treated as a “go” signal with an added warning element.  If the signal turns red before you enter the intersection, you have committed an offense.

The underlying reasoning for the answers above relates to the issue of which plane must be broken for an offense to occur. The Texas Transportation code states that a driver “facing only a steady red signal shall stop at a clearly marked stop line...[or] before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection.” As long as you have entered an intersection before the light turns red, you have not committed any offense.

The more important question is whether it is safer to stop or to enter the intersection with a yellow signal. This must be determined on a case-by-case basis.  For instance, if you stop suddenly at a yellow signal on a rainy day, you could cause the person behind you to slide into your vehicle. Your duty to avoid an accident is far more important than meeting the technical requirements of the law. You may also receive a valid ticket for causing a wreck if you make reckless decisions that might otherwise comply with the law.

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