The most important issue in a red-light crash case is whether you were already in the intersection before the traffic light turned red. If you entered an intersection on a green light or a yellow light, and then the light turned red, then you are entitled to clear the intersection. This commonly happens at busy intersections where a vehicle turning left lawfully enters an intersection on a green or yellow traffic light and clears the same after the traffic light cycles to red. Conversely, if the approaching vehicle in your case did not enter the intersection before the traffic light turned red, and your vehicles collide, then you have a colorable defense to a red-light ticket as that vehicle arguably is at fault.

While this is a matter of common sense, three Ohio statutes support this conclusion as well. Ohio Revised Code Section 4511.01(UU) defines “right of way” as “[t]he right of a vehicle … to proceed uninterruptedly in a lawful manner in the direction in which it or the individual is moving in preference to another vehicle … approaching from a different direction into its or the individual’s path.”

Ohio Revised Code Section 4511.13(B)(1) states that a driver facing a steady circular yellow signal is thereby warned that the related green movement or the related flashing arrow movement is being terminated or that a steady red signal indication will be exhibited immediately thereafter when vehicular traffic shall not enter the intersection.

Ohio Revised Code Section 4511.13(C)(1), provides that a driver facing a steady circular red signal indication, unless entering the intersection to make another movement permitted by another signal indication, must stop at a clearly marked stop at the stop line, or none then the crosswalk, or if none then simply before entering the intersection.

Red traffic light

When reading these code sections together, an approaching vehicle only has the right of way if it is proceeding “in a lawful manner.” If the approaching vehicle runs through a red light, then this vehicle has forfeited the “right of way.” Likewise, if the vehicle entering the intersection under a yellow light proceeds to make a left turn resulting a collision with an approaching vehicle running a red light, then the vehicle running the red light has forfeited the right of way and the driver of that vehicle arguably is at fault for causing the collision.

Ohio appellate decisions likewise support this conclusion. While not a crash case, in City of Columbus v. Sharaf, 10th Dist. No. 02AP-2, 149 Ohio App.3d 171, 2002-Ohio-4502, 776 N.E.2d 543, the Tenth District Court of Appeals recognized that under state and local statutes a vehicle may proceed through an intersection on a yellow light. Moreover, this vehicle may clear the intersection even if the light has turned red.