A 2019 survey conducted by AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety found that three out of every 10 drivers admitted to running a red light in the 30 days before the survey.
Let’s look at the penalties for running a red light and see if they offer enough of a deterrent to reduce the startlingly high number of drivers guilty of this behavior.
Potential Penalties for Running a Red Light
The worst penalty for running a red light has nothing to do with legal consequences. The worst penalty is the injury or even death of someone involved in a crash that results from running a red light. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 846 people were killed in crashes from drivers running red lights in 2019. And an estimated 143,000 people were injured in those red light crashes.
In some states, you can get jail time for running a red light. But, the most common penalty for running a red light is a traffic ticket. The traffic ticket is always accompanied by a fine. And tickets can also charge “points” against your license. Too many points can result in the suspension or even revocation of your driver’s license.
Which States Have the Most Severe Penalties for Running a Red Light?
Every state offers different penalties for running a red light. Many states also vary the penalties based on whether or not the driver has previously been cited for running a red light or stop sign. So perhaps the penalties from the first offense aren’t terribly harsh, but penalties from additional offenses get severe.
Here are 10 states with particularly harsh penalties for red-light runners (in alphabetical order):
Alabama: Even a first offense can come with up to 10 days in jail. Repeat offenders can spend up to three months in jail. There are also fees of up to $500.
Arkansas: Up to six months in jail for repeat offenders plus up to $500 in fines and three points against your license.
California: Fines up to around $500 (the base fines are only up to $100, but California counties charge fee and penalty assessments that dramatically increase the amount due). You might be able to reduce the fee by attending online traffic school.
Illinois: 20 points against your license, which results in an automatic license suspension of at least one month. This is in addition to a $120 fine.
Mississippi: Up to six months in jail for repeat offenders plus up to $500 in fines.
Nevada: Fines of up to $1,000 plus four points.
Ohio: Up to two months in jail for repeat offenders plus up to $500 in fines and two points against your license.
Oklahoma: Up to six months in jail for repeat offenders plus up to $500 in fines and two points against your license.
Oregon: Standard fine of $265, but repeat offenders can get a fine of up to $1,000.
Tennessee: Up to 30 days in jail plus four points.
How to Get a Red Light Traffic Ticket Dismissed
Your state might not waive the fine associated with a red light traffic ticket, but it might be willing to dismiss the points the ticket added to your driver’s license, effectively “dismissing” the ticket.
The exact procedure varies by state but generally requires that drivers complete a defensive driving course. Taking this course demonstrates to the traffic court that you are serious about improving your driving habits. Once the court system is notified that you’ve completed your course, they will often remove the associated points from your driver’s license record.
If you’ve received a red light ticket, check with your state’s traffic court to see if you qualify to have a ticket dismissed. And even if you don’t qualify, consider taking the course anyway. There is no downside to becoming a safer driver.