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Florida Yellow Light Car Accidents: Who’s At Fault?

Florida yellow light car accidentsWe all know red-lighting running is unequivocally illegal – not to mention incredibly dangerous. But what about Florida yellow light car accidents?

Determining fault in a yellow light crash can be more complicated than identifying negligence in a red light crash. That’s because with yellow lights, the law allows room for driver discretion. When a traffic light is red, we all know that means stop. When it’s green, we know that means go. But yellow is that brief in-between window where drivers have to decide whether they have enough time to safely proceed through the intersection before the light turns red or if they need to stop. Not all drivers are going to make the same call. And whether the call was reasonable may factor into the question of fault if someone is injured in a yellow light crash.

There are two basic approaches to traffic law on yellow light signals: Permissive yellow light law and restrictive yellow light law. It depends what state you’re in. Permissive yellow light law allows a driver to enter the intersection at any point during the entire yellow light interval and be in the intersection/proceed through it when the light turns red, so long as they entered the intersection while the light was still yellow. A restrictive yellow light law is one wherein a vehicle can’t enter the intersection if the light is yellow, unless the vehicle is able to clear the intersection before it turns red OR the vehicle can’t enter an intersection with the light is yellow unless it’s impossible or unsafe to stop.

As our Fort Myers car accident lawyers can explain, Florida has a permissive yellow light law.

All Florida traffic signal devices must use a yellow “caution” light between the green and red lights.¬†F.S. 316.075 explains that with respect to a steady yellow light (as opposed to a flashing one):

  • Vehicle traffic facing the yellow light is considered warned that the green light is being terminated and the red indication – when vehicles should not enter the intersection – will be displayed immediately after.
  • Pedestrians facing a yellow light are advised there isn’t enough time to cross the road before a red light is shown and no pedestrian should start to cross the road at that point.

With respect to flashing yellow lights at Florida intersections, these warn approaching drivers to proceed through the intersection with caution, yielding the right-of-way to vehicles that are already in or approaching the intersection first.

Types of Florida Yellow Light Car Accidents

So what goes wrong in Florida yellow light car accidents? There are a few common scenarios. These include:

  • Drivers who stop at an intersection upon approaching a yellow light are rear-ended by another driver who fails to stop.
  • A driver making a left turn at an intersection yellow light fails to yield the right-of-way to another driver traveling straight in the opposite direction.
  • A pedestrian is struck by a vehicle while making their way across the street at an intersection when the light is yellow – or just after it’s turned red (assuming they didn’t start to cross the street when the light was yellow, but rather the light turned yellow before they finished crossing the road).
  • A driver accelerates through a yellow light, trying to “beat” the red light, and in turn end up crashing into slowing or stopped traffic ahead, a pedestrian, or another vehicle coming from the opposite direction.

How Do Courts Determine Fault for Yellow Light Crashes?

A driver may or may not be liable for a crash at a yellow light. It all comes down to the fact pattern, and whether the driver’s judgment was reasonable and justified based on the circumstances.

Researchers have looked into the question of why drivers make the decisions they do when approaching a yellow light (to speed up, slow down, or stop). One analysis published last year in the peer-reviewed Public Library of Science journal noted that driving styles were an important influence on driver decision-making. (“Driving styles” are understood to mean a driver’s habits with regard to how fast they drive, how likely they are to overtake other vehicles, and how frequently they violate traffic rules.) Drivers were broken down into a few different categories, including dangerous, aggressive/angry, anxious, and cautious. Drivers who are cautious are considered “adaptive” drivers, and all others are considered “maladaptive” drivers. Maladapted drivers are far more likely to increase their speed when approaching a yellow light. This was especially true when drivers were male and inexperienced.

In another study by the AAA Traffic Safety Culture Index, more than 1 in 3 drivers admitted that at least once in the past month, they’d run a traffic light that had just turned red when they could have stopped safely. Longer yellow light intervals on traffic signals tended to be associated with an uptick in crashes. When Georgia increased its yellow light times by 1 second at intersections with red light cameras, red light running fatalities by 53 percent. On the flip side, making the intervals too short can result in more rear-end crashes.

Fault in a yellow light car accident will depend on a number of different factors, but in general:

  • Oncoming traffic will have the right-of-way if someone else is proceeding through the intersection while making a left turn at a yellow light. The driver turning left is responsible to make sure they have ample time and space to safely complete their turn.
  • A pedestrian who enters an intersection after the light turns yellow may be held comparatively negligent for their injuries if struck by a car when the light is yellow or has just turned red. They may still be able to collect damages from the driver, but it could be reduced proportionate to their own level of fault.
  • If a driver rear-ends another who is stopped at a yellow light, there’s a rebuttable presumption that the driver in the rear is at-fault. Drivers who are traveling behind other cars are responsible to maintain a safe distance, remain alert, and travel at a safe speed. Failure to do so can often lead to yellow light crashes.

None of these scenarios are open-and-shut, though. It’s important if you’re injured in a Southwest Florida car accident to consult with an experienced attorney who can carefully review the facts in your case, outline your legal rights, and help you determine your next best step.

If you are injured in a Fort Myers, Naples, or Key West motorcycle accident, contact our injury attorneys at Garvin Injury Law at 800.977.7017 for a free initial consultation.

Additional Resources:

Vehicle-Based Countermeasures For Signal and Stop Sign Violation, March 2004, U.S. Department of Transportation, NHTSA

More Blog Entries:

Can Both Drivers Be At-Fault in a Fort Myers Car Accident? December 22, 2022, Fort Myers Accident Lawyer Blog

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