November 29, 2010
By Jordan W. Charness
Peter was in a hurry to get home. Though he had improved his driving habits ever since the police began strictly enforcing speed limits in his area, on that particular day, he drove at or slightly above the speed limit. By and large, his driving was legal and he did remember to come to a complete stop at all stop signs – which just goes to prove that enough tickets can even teach someone like Peter to stop at a stop sign!
As he approached a traffic light about half a block away, he saw that it was still green. When he was a quarter of a block away, it turned yellow. When he arrived at the intersection, it was still yellow and he decided to fly through it without exceeding the speed limit. When he reached the opposite corner, the light was still yellow and he breathed a sigh of relief.
Realizing that he had been lucky, he slowed down and began driving at a more leisurely pace. He noticed that a police car behind him had turned on its lights but the cop car was several hundred meters away from him. Since he was driving normally and knew that he had not run a red light or even any stop signs he was reasonably certain that the police were not after him.
Several blocks later the police car was right up behind him and the police officer turned on the siren and motioned for Peter to pull over, and Peter did so. When the policeman walked up to his window a perplexed Peter asked him what he had done wrong.
The cop replied that he had gone through a yellow light which was already yellow when he entered the intersection. Even though he had exited the intersection while the light was still yellow, it was still a traffic offense. The law states that you are not allowed to enter an intersection on a yellow light. Although the penalties are not as severe as they are for going through a red light, it is still against the law in most places.
Peter did not want to debate the issue with the police officer since the law is the law and even if Peter was not aware of it, he knew that he was still responsible for his actions. The policeman went away and then came back and gave Peter two tickets. The first one — a ticket for going through a yellow light — was the one that he had expected.
The second ticket came as a big surprise to Peter. It was for failing to pull over once the police officer had indicated that he should do so. As the cop explained, as soon as Peter saw that there was a police officer behind him with lights flashing he should have pulled over. Peter countered by saying that he was sure that the cop was not after him and that was the reason that he kept going. As soon as the police had put on the siren and motioned for him to pull over he had immediately followed their instructions and did just that.
Peter paid for the yellow light ticket and is taking the second ticket to court, and it will be interesting to see what a judge decides. While it is true that you have a legal obligation to pull over once a police officer tells you to, you also have to have a reasonable belief that the officers attention is fixed on you. Everything will depend on how believable Peter’s story is and whether or not a judge agrees with Peter that there was no reason for him to think that the police were after him – at least not this time.