Who Set Up This Mess?

Observation:  Friday afternoon- vehicles stopped in the left turn lane going EAST on Cypress and turning onto Hilltop.  There were four or five cars in the left designated turn lane.  All vehicles proceeded smoothly through the intersection bumper to bumper.  The light turned yellow just before the last car started through the intersection.  This vehicle was 1/2 a car length over the crosswalk, into the intersection, when the light turned RED.  Shouldn’t this driver have received a ticket?

Is this specifically sized, designated left turn lane, timed to empty out before a light change?  If not, what is the time frame (seconds) for both the green and yellow lights at that intersection?

Four or five cars is not a lot of traffic, especially when this designated turn lane wasn’t even near full on a Friday afternoon.  Is the synchronization at this intersection flawed?  If not, why would an officer consistently be at this camera-ed intersection?

Thank you in advance for your prompt response!

With regards to the first situation, the simple answer is ‘no’.  The vehicle is considered to have entered the intersection lawfully if the front of the vehicle has passed the limit line or before entering the crosswalk under the yellow or green traffic signal.  The other point, before I forget is that bumper to bumper.  I realize that a lot of people do in fact drive bumper to bumper in an attempt to make the light.  The reality of doing this is yes you might squeak on through, but you are more prone to colliding with the vehicle in front of you when he suddenly applies his brakes.  Guess who is going to be at fault?

Now if the vehicle entered the intersection under a yellow or green light but could not clear the intersection due to traffic ahead of it that is a separate violation.  A driver of a vehicle shall not enter an intersection or marked crosswalk unless there is sufficient space on the other side of the intersection or marked crosswalk to accommodate the vehicle driven without obstructing the through passage of vehicles from either side.

This intersection, along with several others in Redding are set up on a system that base the light timing on the amount of traffic in the area.  The yellow light phase is generally 3 seconds for the designated left turn lanes.  Depending on traffic volume at the time the light may say green longer or for a shorter period, all based on the traffic.  I realize that it is sometimes frustrating to be waiting to turn left and observe only a couple of vehicles ahead of you make it through the signal and it suddenly changes as you approach.  If you have ever been in the area during little or not traffic, you will notice that Cypress Street traffic will have a green light for an indefinite time period, until a vehicle on Hilltop approaches the intersection which will then result in the control box for the signals to change the green signal on Cypress to yellow and then red, which in turn changes the Hilltop signal to green.  It is all synchronized as you have mentioned and it is one of the cities busiest and congested intersections.  Just be grateful that you don’t have to drive in San Francisco everyday, where there are hundreds of these intersections.

A readers states that he was recently at the corner of Hilltop and Cypress, came to a complete stop, then with the traffic clear (he says), made a right turn onto Cypress.  Bang! Ticket for unsafe turn, even though the oncoming traffic (turning left from Hilltop) has its own dedicated lane.  He has diagrams and everything.

Perception is reality.  In this case the reader’s perception was clearly different then that of the officer. The vehicle code states; a driver, after stopping as required, facing a steady circular red signal, may turn right, or turn left from a one-way street onto a one-way street. A driver making that turn shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians lawfully within an adjacent crosswalk and to any vehicle that has approached or is approaching so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard to the driver, and shall continue to yield the right-of-way to that vehicle until the driver can proceed with reasonable safety.

The reader’s perception was that the on-coming traffic which he indicates was turning left, was in its own dedicated lane and behind him.  The officer’s perspective may have been that the approaching vehicle did constitute an immediate hazard to the reader and that the reader should have continued to yield the right-of-way to that vehicle.  Even though the approaching vehicle was in a designated lane, the driver of that vehicle was lawfully allowed to swing wide into the far right lane without concern of violating the right-of-way of any vehicle that may be turning right into that lane.

As Paul Harvey used to say, ‘and now the rest of the story’.  After receiving an email regarding this situation I personally spoke with the reader who needless to say was still hot.  The reader has been to court and did not fare as he had hoped.  The reader said he will never turn right on a red light again, no matter how many people are behind him honking.

I quoted the vehicle code section as it applies to turning right on a red signal.  The key element is the wording ‘constitute an immediate hazard’.  I realize that there are times when we are driving, that what we perceive as perfectly alright, may not necessarily be viewed by others as safe or correct.  I can only hope that I am not the one stuck behind the reader while he waits for the light to turn green before he turns right.  Maybe we will meet up and together we can each go out and enjoy the ride.

Monty Hight is a retired California Highway Patrol officer and Public Information Officer. He is the North State AVOID Campaign’s Public Information Officer. He lives in Redding. More information on AVOID can be found here.

Monty Hight

Monty Hight is a retired California Highway Patrol officer and public information officer. He is the North State AVOID Campaign’s spokesman. He lives in Redding.

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