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Yellow light law unclear

October 3, 2008
The Daily Mining Gazette

Running a yellow traffic light is illegal in Michigan?

There is no doubt that we owe to our law enforcement for keeping our neighborhood safe and pleasant. Whenever I see a police offer stop a car, I cannot help saying, "Thank you, officer, for ridding one more bad guy off the road."

A common wisdom is "never say never." Just like the smartest guys on Wall Street did not anticipate their recent collapse, I was pulled over by a Hancock police officer during the rush hour on Sept. 19 for violating a Michigan law - running a yellow light in downtown Houghton.

I explained to him that I lived in New York before I came to Houghton and might have mistakenly assumed we can also drive through a yellow light.

The officer insisted that's because police may not enforce this law in New York. He was very clear - I indeed broke the law by running a yellow light.

My immediate reaction was disappointment in myself for not being aware of this law for so many years as a driver. My next reaction was my appreciation for the offer's diligence. The officer was a nice young fellow, a type of guy who you'd like to have a beer with.

After I came home, I first went online to see what the law says about yellow light. To my surprise, there are lots of controversies in various states. Some got a ticket, some don't. It's OK in some counties and not in others.

So far, I have not seen any clear legal statement regarding the yellow light. The closest I can find is the booklet (driver's instructions) I got from the DMV, which says, "You are required to stop on a yellow light. If you cannot stop safely, do not speed up, but drive cautiously through the intersection." This statement does not really help because it doesn't say who and how to interprete the word "safely" here.

Since most of us in Houghton go through that downtown intersection on a daily basis, a better and noncontroversial interpretation of the law is much needed. This not only helps us but also helps the police. We want to abide by the laws, but only when they are clear enough to abide by, otherwise they are subject to potential abuses.





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