Back-Seat Driver

Bee readers see red on right-turn ticketing issue

What should the fine be for a rolling right turn on a red light?
What should the fine be for a rolling right turn on a red light? Federal Highway Administration

Rolling right turns on red lights: It’s a red-hot topic.

Last week, more than 100 readers wrote and called us, offering their opinions about a maneuver that every driver makes many times every day, but not everybody does the same way. The conversation was prompted by a legislator’s proposal to lower the fine for a rolling right turn on red from the current level of more than $500 down to $270. The bill, by Sen. Jerry Hill of San Mateo, is in limbo this week, but Hill hopes to get it passed this year.

Many comments we got were from drivers who have been ticketed. Usually, they were nabbed by red-light video cameras. Most said they had nearly stopped and weren’t endangering anyone. They were shocked when they saw the fine amount. Some ended up paying nearly $600 with traffic school fees added on.

A typical comment from these readers: Police and local governments are using red-light cameras to pick on drivers by overcharging for a minor or nearly nonexistent offense. (Several agreed they had no problem with using red-light cameras for people who blow straight through an intersection without stopping.)

Many others said they always come to a full stop. Several offered a variation of this comment: The law is the law. If you break the law, tough luck!

By the way, a full legal stop is a somewhat particular thing. Your tires have to completely stop turning, momentarily, before your front bumper crosses the first white line you come to. If you stop with your nose, say, a foot over that line (thus in the crosswalk) you can be hit with the $500 ticket.

Then, you need to check for pedestrians and cyclists before edging forward. At that point, you might even stop again to make sure there are no oncoming cars.

We also heard from pedestrians who told us of nearly being hit by drivers who didn’t bother looking to the right to see if they were there. This, I think, is a growing problem. As we build more communities designed to encourage more walking, hopefully we drivers will learn better that we have to look in all directions before we drive through a crosswalk (marked or unmarked). Pedestrians are the least protected among us.

Some bicyclists contacted us with similar complaints. More than a few car drivers also complained about cyclists who, they say, are often guilty of red-light running. If nabbed, they could be hit with the $500-plus ticket.

A few drivers said they don’t think they should have to obey the law if there are no other cars, pedestrians or cyclists around. In those cases, slowing down seems good enough. Two mentioned they have seen police fail to fully stop before making a right on red. They had some choice words about that.

Then there is the group we appreciated most. We got a few emails from drivers who acknowledged they don’t always come to a full legal stop. I suspect there are more of us in this group than any other. Most did not sound dismissive of the law. A few said they felt pressured at times by impatient drivers behind them. But mostly, people in this group said, it just isn’t something they really focus on.

Hearing that a ticket could cost them $600, a few said they planned to get a bit more focused from now on. Me, too.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

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