Running a red light is a common occurrence. Sometimes it may happen on purpose but it’s not too unusual to hear about people who were tired, late at night after a shift who accidentally ran a red light when nobody else was out and about. But even alone like this, thanks to red light cameras, you could still find a fine arriving in the mail shortly after.

Running a red light is so common, in fact, that it is among the most ticketed offenses in the whole of New York state. It’s bad enough getting ticketed for running a red light but many people worry about getting charged with a crime like reckless driving. Running a red light may result in a reckless driving charge but it isn’t always the case. To understand why, it’s important to first see how the state defines reckless driving.

What is Reckless Driving?

Reckless driving is described in such a way as to give law enforcement a wide window for enforcement. This is best observed in the language that New York uses to define it. Reckless driving involves driving a vehicle in a way that “unreasonably interferes” with the use of a public highway. In addition, it also covers any action that “unreasonably endangers” others, whether they are drivers, cyclists or the pedestrians on the sidewalk.

This definition is important in determining whether or not you can be charged with reckless driving for running a red light. To use that example from earlier, pretend it is late at night after a long shift. If there is nobody else out and about then running a red light would neither unreasonably interfere with other’s ability to use the highway, nor would it be unreasonably engangering anyone.

This does not mean that you can’t still be pulled over and charged with reckless driving. An officer of the law absolutely could pull you over for running the red light. They could even charge you with reckless driving. However, there is a very good chance that the charge gets dropped. One case worth mentioning is that of People v. Bulgin in 2010 whereupon the individual ran two red lights before stopping for the police. They were shown to be unaware of the police trying to pull them over and they were not charged with reckless driving because there was nobody out and about for them to interfere with or endanger.

So it is possible to be charged with reckless driving for running a red light but the circumstances surrounding the traffic infraction are what will determine whether or not the charge is valid.

What Happens When You Run a Red Light?

There are three ways that running a red light could go. The first and easiest is that nothing happens. Nobody was around and the light in question wasn’t equipped with a red light camera. In this case, you just go along with your day and use the experience as a wakeup call to ensure you stop at the next one.

If the light was equipped with a camera then it would take a photo of your car committing the offense and a fine would be mailed to you. However, red light cameras tend to have lower fines than if you were stopped in person. This is one benefit but it arises from two facts. One is that it is harder to prove that the person ticketed was in fact the driver. The second is that it is unconstitutional to be charged this way as it denies the individual’s right to confront their accuser. A lower fine means people are more likely to pay it than fight it, which is a bad choice since they’re much easier to fight than when you get stopped in person.

Getting stopped in person is the worst of the options because it clearly places you behind the wheel of the car. When pulled over for running a red light there are two tickets you could be facing:

  • VTL 1110a: This is a failure to obey a traffic control device, such as a red light or a stop sign. This could result in a fine up to $150, along with a surcharge of around $80. It also impacts your license by costing you two points. But worse of all, you could spend up to 15 days in jail. This is an unlikely outcome. It is typically only seen in cases where there was danger to the public and so it will almost universally be paired with reckless driving at that point.
  • VTL 111(d)-1: This is a passed red light. Depending on whether it happened outside or inside the city will determine the penalty. It could range from a fine between $225 to $450, with that surcharge again. This time it is three points off the license and the potential for 15 days in jail.

What Defenses are There Against Running a Red Light?

Running a red light is easiest to defend when the charge comes from a red light camera. Being stopped in person it is much harder to argue that you weren’t the one driving the vehicle. In cases where you were stopped in person, there aren’t many defenses which you can use.

What Should I Do if I’m Charged with Reckless Driving?

It can be expensive to run a red light but being charged with reckless driving is a thousand times worse. This is a real crime rather than a simple violation. Being found guilty of reckless driving can be a quick way to get your license suspended if you aren’t careful.

If you’re charged with reckless driving then your best friend will be an experienced attorney. They’ll help you build a defense and show the court that your driving was not in fact reckless. If you’re being charged then call Mirsky Law Firm at (516) 299-6187 to see how we can help today.