Ready, Steady, Go – If Legal, Of Course

Today marks the 101st anniversary of the first electric traffic light being installed and the Telegraph has written an interesting article regarding its origins.

Trainee Solicitor, Nathan Taylor-Allkins, who will join the Crime and Regulatory department as a newly qualified solicitor in September, looks at why drivers are seemingly willing to risk points on their licence, or even disqualification, for a momentary advantage and reminds motorists of the traffic light laws.

For many of our clients, in both the business and private sector, having a valid driving licence is indispensable. Whilst the basic principles relating to green and red lights are straightforward, there appears to be confusion regarding what is legal when the lights are on amber. So what do you need to know?

101st Anniversary of Traffic Lights - Ready, Steady, Go

The Law:

Drivers are under a duty under section 36 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to comply with traffic signals. This must be read in conjunction with Regulation 36 of the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 which specifies that:

  • A green light means that vehicles can proceed (provided it is clear and safe to do so);
  • A red light means that vehicles shall not proceed beyond the stop line (i.e. the white road marking placed on the road in conjunction with the signals);
  • Amber with red means the same as a red light; and
  • Amber alone also means the same as a red light, i.e. the vehicle must stop, unless it has already passed the white stop line or the vehicle is so close to the stop line, that coming to a halt might cause an accident.

The amber alone does not mean that you can continue past the lights, contrary to popular belief. You will have committed the offence unless you can demonstrate that you had already passed the stop line or that it was unsafe to stop, neither of which may be easy to prove.  

The Penalties:

Non-compliance with Section 36 will result in your licence being endorsed with 3 penalty points unless the court imposes a discretionary driving ban with a maximum fine of £1,000 together with court costs, a victim surcharge and new criminal court charge of £150 (a massive £520 if convicted after trial). Alternatively, the case may be dealt with by the driver accepting a £100 fixed penalty offer and three penalty points.

Three penalty points may appear insignificant but they impact on insurance premiums. The driver may also be at risk of falling under the ‘totting up’ procedure that enforces a minimum six months driving disqualification for reaching twelve penalty points within any three-year offending period.

In addition, if you are the keeper or driver of a vehicle involved in such an offence, you may receive a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) to identify the driver of the vehicle. If you fail to respond to the NIP within 28 days, you will have committed a further offence which can result in your licence being endorsed with six penalty points (or disqualification) and a fine up of £1,000 imposed, unless you can establish any possible defence to this.

If you have received a NIP and are unsure what to do, speak to us as soon as possible after receiving it to avoid the risk of receiving further points on your licence.

How do the Regulations apply in certain situations?

  • Over-shooting the stop line: If the red light is showing, an offence is committed if any part of the vehicle crosses the stop line. If you have partly crossed the stop line when the lights change to red, it is an offence if you proceed any further forward.
  • Emergency vehicles: the law allows for emergencies or very unique circumstances where there may be a technical offence. The court is permitted not to endorse penalty points. 
  • Wet weather conditions: Skidding passed the stop line due to weather conditions could still constitute an offence under the Regulations as you are expected to drive with due care and attention, and at a speed at which you are able to stop promptly. 
  • Temporary lights: The Regulations can apply to temporary traffic lights and the stop line is created by the “when red light shows, wait here” sign. If any part of the vehicle crosses the sign when the red light is showing then an offence can be committed.
  • Articulated vehicles: Drivers of long vehicles must ensure that the whole of the vehicle, including the trailer, can pass on the green light. If the lights change to red before the entire vehicle has passed the stop line, then an offence is committed.

There are, of course, many more situations that arise regarding traffic light offences and whilst not all offences are prosecuted, there are certainly those which are defendable; getting advice early is key.

If you would like to discuss any of the above, or if you are facing a driving ban or disqualification under the totting up rules, please feel free to contact the team for a confidential chat about your case, your options and how we may be able to represent you.

(Disclaimer: This article does not constitute legal advice or create a professional adviser-client relationship. If you have a particular situation on which you require advice, please contact us. Information correct as at 5 August 2015).