In most states, as long as the front of your vehicle entered the intersection (passed the crosswalk or limit line) before the light turned red, you haven’t broken the stoplight law. —Internet, 9/17/2017
Back in our high school days, Mr. Brown, our unfailingly patient Driver’s Ed teacher, taught us a yellow traffic light meant “clear the intersection.” If we wanted to make a left turn from a highway, we drove up to a green traffic light, stopped fully in the intersection with our left turn signal on, perhaps even turned a little left, and waited. The oncoming traffic would stop on the yellow signal, which gave us a chance to make our turn before the light turned red.
I only see drivers of our generation do this. Younger drivers do better. They stop, pointed straight ahead, before entering the intersection and wait for a break in the oncoming traffic. If there is no break and the light turns red, they will wait for a green arrow at the start of the next cycle. Only a driver with a death-wish would purposely stop in an intersection on a yellow light. Those who do by accident back up as soon as they can. Those behind them make room, recognizing a dangerous situation. I suspect the laws have changed, but this is only my observation. Many highways now have left-turn lanes that encourage the new behavior.
As we know, many drivers in all states consider any yellow traffic light seen within a quarter of a mile ahead as a signal to stomp on the accelerator and speed through the intersection, even if the light turns red before they reach it. Many times I have felt guilty squeaking through a yellow light, then seeing in my rear-view mirror five more cars going through what is now an obvious red light.
Traffic engineers build in a few seconds delay between the light turning red and the cross-traffic light turning green. The trouble is, drivers who use that route every work day know this. They quickly learn how much grace time they have and depend on it to run the red light. The engineers can’t win.
In most countries—and states—there are two sets of traffic laws: the written, official laws handed out to minors, the mentally challenged, and foreigners, and the unwritten, unofficial laws that the locals know and abide by. (My wife claims the real speed limit is always at least 5 mph over the posted limit. I think she is right.)