Running a Red Light & Illegal Turns on Red in California
Vehicle Code 21453

According to California Vehicle Code 21453 VC, drivers: (1) must stop at red lights; (2) can turn right on circular red lights; (3) can turn left on circular red lights, but only from a one-way street; and, (4) must stop at a steady red arrow signal.

There are four important points to know about running red lights, and making illegal turns at red lights, in California.

  • Legal defenses exist for those accused of violating VC 21453 and violators can hire an attorney to fight any charge(s).
  • The fine for a violation of Vehicle Code 21453 VC can range from $35.00 to more than $100.00, plus court costs, fees and assessments.
  • A driver running a red light or making an illegal turn will also receive one point on his DMV record. You risk getting a negligent operator license suspension if you get 4 points in 12 months, 6 points in 24 months or 8 points in 36 months.

In the article below, our California personal injury attorneys will address:

red traffic lights
Legal defenses exist for those accused of violating VC 21453 and violators can hire an attorney to fight any charge(s)

1. What are the driving rules under Vehicle Code 21453 VC?

California Vehicle Code Section 21453 tells drivers that they:

  1. Must stop at red lights
  2. Can turn right on circular red lights
  3. Can turn left on circular red lights, but only from a one-way street onto a one-way street
  4. Must stop at a steady red arrow signal

1.1 Do drivers in California have to stop at red lights?

California Vehicle Code 21453 (a) says that motorists must come to a complete stop at red lights.1

Drivers must stop before reaching the nearest of:

  • A marked line;
  • A crosswalk; or,
  • The approaching intersection.2

1.2 Can drivers in California turn right on red lights?

Vehicle Code 21453 (b) states that drivers can make a right turn after stopping at a circular red light, unless there's a sign indicating the turn is prohibited.3

When making a right turn on red, all drivers must use caution and yield the right-of-way to pedestrians.4

Please note that VC 21453 (b) permits right turns at circular red lights. Red arrow signals are treated differently – as discussed below.

1.3 Can drivers in California turn left on red lights?

Vehicle Code 21453 (b) allows motorists to turn left after stopping at a circular red light, but only from a one-way street onto another one-way street.5

In turning left, drivers must use caution and yield the right-of-way to pedestrians.

1.4 Can drivers in California turn right on a red arrow signal? 

Vehicle Code 21453 (c) states that motorists cannot turn right at a steady red arrow signal.6

Drivers must make a complete stop at these signals before reaching the nearest of:

  • A marked line;
  • A crosswalk; or,
  • The approaching intersection.7
red light camera
Motorists can even challenge a ticket for running a red light if a red light camera was used.

2. Are there legal defenses if accused of violating Vehicle Code 21453 VC?

There are legal defenses if a motorist is accused of violating VC 21453. Motorists can even challenge a ticket for running a red light if a red light camera was used. It's in a driver's best interests, though, to consult with an attorney before raising a defense or challenging a ticket.

2.1 What are the most common defenses? 

There are three common defenses if a person is accused of running a red light or making an illegal turn at a red light. These include:

  1. The red light was hidden or blocked from the driver's sight.
  2. The officer was wrong in believing that there was no stop, or an illegal turn was made.
  3. The driver failed to stop or made an illegal turn because of an emergency or to avoid a crash.

2.2 Can I fight a ticket for running a red light even if it involves a red light camera?

California law permits the use of automated cameras at intersections to catch violators of Vehicle Code 21453 (a).

A driver, however, can still challenge a ticket for violating this code section if a camera was used. The most common defense is for the driver to prove that someone else was operating his vehicle when the violation happened.

2.3 Do I need an attorney?

Motorists can represent themselves when fighting a ticket for running a red light or making an illegal turn. But, it's recommended that anyone charged with these violations hire an experienced lawyer to represent them.

It's advantageous to hire an attorney for three main reasons. These are:

  1. Prosecutors tend to offer better deals to defendants with lawyers.
  2. Defense attorneys are knowledgeable on how to get charge reductions and dismissals.
  3. Defendants with defense lawyers do not have to go to court.

3. What are the penalties if guilty of violating VC 21453?

The possible consequences of a motorist violating Vehicle Code 21453 include:

  1. Receiving a speeding ticket and paying a fine; and,
  2. Getting points assessed to the driver's DMV driving record.

3.1 How much is the fine?

The base fines for VC 21453 violations are:

  • $100 for running a red light; and,
  • $35 for making an illegal turn at a red light,8

Please note that these are the base fines. Drivers will have to pay a considerable amount more due to fees and surcharges.9

3.2 How many points are put on my driving record? 

Violators of Vehicle Code 21453 VC will receive one point on their DMV driving record.10 Points assessed on a motorist's record are reported to that motorist's insurance carrier. The result is typically an increase in the driver's insurance rates for several years.

If a person accumulates a certain number of points within a 1-,2- or 3-year period in California, the DMV can declare that person a negligent operator. If this is done, the DMV can suspend or even revoke that person's driving privileges. Either action requires a California DMV hearing.

4. Do I have to attend traffic school if I violate Vehicle Code 21453 VC?

Motorists that violate VC 21453 do not have to attend traffic school.

Drivers, though, can voluntarily choose to do so. Generally, you can go to traffic school if:

  1. You have a valid driver's license;
  2. The offense occurred while driving a noncommercial vehicle; and,
  3. Your ticket is for an infraction that is a moving violation.

If a driver elects to go to traffic school, he must still pay his traffic fine.11  However, the driver generally should not get any points on his driving record if he completes the school.12

5. Is it a crime if I run a red light or make an illegal turn at a red light?

It is not a crime if a motorist violates Vehicle Code 21453 VC.

These violations are infractions under California law and an offender is not subject to incarceration.

6. What happens if I ignore a ticket for violating Vehicle Code 21453?

Two things happen if you ignore a ticket under this code section. These are:

  1. You violate a new law, California Vehicle Code 40508 VC, for the failure to appear in court on a traffic citation; and,
  2. You may receive penalties for violating VC 40508.

6.1 What is the violation of Vehicle Code 40508 VC? 

When you are issued a traffic ticket in California, the officer will have you sign a written promise to appear at the time and place specified.

If you willfully fail to appear as promised, you violate Vehicle Code 40508 VC.13 You willfully fail to appear when you are willingly a no-show. It doesn't matter if you didn't intend to break the law.14 

Nor does it matter whether you're guilty or innocent of the underlying traffic citation.15   You violate Vehicle Code 40508 just by breaking a promise to:

  • Appear in court,
  • Appear to pay bail,
  • Pay bail in installments,
  • Pay a fine within the time authorized, or
  • Comply with any condition of the court.16

6.2 What are the penalties for Violating Vehicle Code 40508 VC?

Violation of Vehicle Code 40508 VC is a misdemeanor. The penalties are:

  • Up to six months in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $1,000.17
two cars involved in an accident
A driver who runs a red light or makes an illegal turn at a red light in California, and thereby causes an accident, is likely to be found negligent in a personal injury lawsuit

7. What is the effect of a red light violation on a personal injury lawsuit?

A driver who runs a red light or makes an illegal turn at a red light in California, and thereby causes an accident, is likely to be found negligent in a personal injury lawsuit.

California law defines "negligence" as the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or to others. In the context of an auto accident, the negligent driver is at fault for the accident. Further, the negligent driver may have to pay for any damages caused.

Proving negligence in a personal injury case is sometimes difficult. In California though, a driver is considered "negligent per se" if he violates a statute.

Negligence “per se” is a legal theory in which negligence is presumed based upon a defendant's violation of a statute or ordinance

This means a driver would be negligent per se if in violation of VC 21453.

Please note, however, that even if a driver is negligent per se, the driver may still be able to recover for any damages he incurs. This is because of California's comparative fault laws.

8. Are there laws related to VC 21453?

There are three laws related to running a red light and making an illegal stop.  These are:

  1. Failing to stop at a stop sign;
  2. Reckless driving; and,
  3. Driving under the influence.

8.1 Must drivers in California stop at stop signs? 

California Vehicle Code 22450 VC states that motorists cannot run stop signs.

This means that if a California driver is entering an intersection with a stop sign, he must stop.18 And, he must stop at the first of the followings:

  • A marked line
  • A crosswalk
  • The approaching street19

Complete stops are required. Rolling stops are not permissible under VC 22450. A rolling stop is when a vehicle is still in motion, even at the slightest of speeds.

The penalties for running a stop sign in California include:

  1. A traffic ticket and an approximate fine of $238; and,
  2. One point on the driver's DMV driving record.

8.2 What is reckless driving under California law?

A driver in California may run a red light or make an illegal turn at a red light because the motorist was driving recklessly.  Reckless driving is treated as a separate offense.

California Vehicle Code 23103 is the State's law on reckless driving. It makes it a crime to drive with wanton disregard for the safety of people or property.20

If no one other than the reckless driver is injured in the incident, VC 23101 is a California misdemeanor. It can be punished at most by:

  1. Five to 90 days in county jail, and/or,
  2. A fine of between $145 and $1,000.21

But the possible jail sentence and fine increase if the reckless driving causes an injury.22

And any reckless driving conviction will add two points to the driver's California DMV record.

8.3 What about driving under the influence (DUI)?

A driver in California may run a red light or make an illegal turn at a red light because the motorist was driving under the influence.  If so, the DUI is treated as a separate offense.

Driving under the influence (DUI) is against the law in California. It's against the law to:

  1. Drive under the influence of alcohol; and,
  2. Drive under the influence of drugs.

Please note that the penalties for a California DUI can grow quite severe. Thus, you must consult with a California DUI attorney if charged with this offense.

Legal defenses to a California DUI charge do exist, but a California DUI lawyer is necessary to assert the right one on your behalf.

Were you accused of running a red light or making an illegal turn at a red light in California? Call us for help…

female operator smiling
Call us for help

If you or someone you know has been cited for a violation of VC 21453, or has been injured in an accident in California, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LAW-FIRM. For tickets in Nevada, please visit our page on NRS 484B.300 - fighting red light tickets in Las Vegas Nevada.

  1. California Vehicle Code 21453 (a) VC.
  2. See same.
  3. California Vehicle Code 21453 (b) VC.
  4. See same.
  5. See same.
  6. California Vehicle Code 21453 (c).
  7. See same.
  8. See DMV.org.
  9. See same.
  10. See same.
  11. See California Courts website.
  12. See same.
  13. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC.
  14. CALCRIM 2240, endnote 1: Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose. It is not required that he or she intend to break the law, hurt someone else, or gain any advantage.
  15. See same.
  16. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC, endnote 1.
  17. California Penal Code 19 PC.  Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both.
  18. California Vehicle Code 22450 VC.
  19. See same.
  20. California Vehicle Code 23103 VC:
    “(a): A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.
    (b)  A person who drives a vehicle in an off-street parking facility, as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 12500, in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.”
  21. Vehicle Code 23103(c): “Except as otherwise provided in Section 40008, persons convicted of the offense of reckless driving shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for not less than five days nor more than 90 days or by a fine of not less than one hundred forty-five dollars ($145) nor more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment, except as provided in Section 23104 or 23105.”
  22. California Vehicle Code 23104 (a) VC: “Except as provided in subdivision (b), whenever reckless driving of a vehicle proximately causes bodily injury to a person other than the driver, the person driving the vehicle shall, upon conviction thereof, be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for not less than 30 days nor more than six months or by a fine of not less than two hundred twenty dollars ($220) nor more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment.”

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