Failure to Stop for a Traffic Control Device
Drivers Running Red Lights and Stop Signs
There are two types of traffic control devices that require drivers to come to a complete stop before proceeding forward: red lights and stops signs. According to statistics published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an average of 2 people die each day in the United States in automobile collisions caused by someone running a red light, and over 120,000 are injured. 45% of all crashes occur at intersections where someone often has a stop sign or red light and fails to stop and/or yield right of way after stopping. When a driver fails to stop for a traffic control device, the results can be deadly, particularly if they are rushing to beat a yellow light.
What Are the Texas Laws Pertaining to Traffic Control Devices?
The Texas Laws pertaining to failing to stop at traffic control devices are found in Chapter 544 of the Texas Transportation Code. It addresses both running red lights and running stop signs.
What Texas Law Applies to Running Red Lights?
Section 544.004 covers traffic control lights. It reads as follows: (a)The operator of a vehicle or streetcar shall comply with an applicable official traffic-control device placed as provided by this subtitle unless the person is:
(1) otherwise directed by a traffic or police officer; or
(2) operating an authorized emergency vehicle and is subject to exceptions under this subtitle.
Thus, if the light is red, a driver has a legal duty to stop.
What Texas Law Applies to Running Stop Signs?
Section 544.010 covers stop and yield signs as follows:
(a) Unless directed to proceed by a police officer or traffic-control signal, the operator of a vehicle or streetcar approaching an intersection with a stop sign shall stop as provided by Subsection (c).
(b) If safety requires, the operator of a vehicle approaching a yield sign shall stop as provided by Subsection (c).
(c) An operator required to stop by this section shall stop before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection. In the absence of a crosswalk, the operator shall stop at a clearly marked stop line. In the absence of a stop line, the operator shall stop at the place nearest the intersecting roadway where the operator has a view of approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway.
Thus, drivers with a stop sign have a duty to stop.
Is Running a Stop Sign or Stop Light Negligence Per Se?
Negligence per se means: ‘negligence as a matter of law.’ Under common law, it is negligence per se to violate a specific statute, code, or ordinance that defines a standard of conduct as it applies to a particular class of people. In order for a statute to qualify, it must clearly define the conduct required and it must be designed to protect the particular class of persons who are seeking to enforce it. In the case of red lights and stop signs, Texas Courts have recognized that the above statutes are intended to protect other drivers, pedestrians, and/or cyclists that could be injured or killed by people running a red light. Thus it is negligence as a matter of law if you are found guilty of having run a red light.
Are You Automatically Liable if You Run a Red Light?
Running a red light is negligence as a matter of law. However, there are defenses to this negligence that, if proven, may operate to reduce or even eliminate liability for the resulting collision. Defenses such as a sudden emergency, unavoidable accident, or even contributory negligence may apply. Examples of situations where these defenses may be asserted include:
- Sudden Emergency – the driver has a sudden heart attack and cannot control the vehicle.
- Unavoidable Accident – black ice prevents a slow-moving vehicle from stopping before the intersection.
- Contributory Negligence – the other driver is on his phone and, though he has plenty of time to see the other car in the intersection, he fails to keep a proper lookout. This typically will reduce liability but only relieves one of liability if the latter driver is found over 50% at fault.
Why People Run Red Lights and Stop Signs
There are many reasons why a driver may run a red light or ignore a stop sign. It may be done intentionally or inadvertently. Sometimes people get in a hurry and just simply do not want to wait. Other times they are distracted or otherwise not paying attention and do not notice the color of the light or that there is a stop sign. All vehicle operators have a duty to maintain a proper lookout and to follow any and all traffic control devices and signs. Thus, failing to stop for any of these reasons constitutes negligence per se on the part of the vehicle operator.
Stop Signs Removed or Traffic Lights Broken
If a stop sign has been removed or the traffic light is broken, a driver is not guilty of running a stop sign or signal. However, if there is a broken signal light, all drivers should come to a stop before proceeding into the intersection, and; then only do so if it can be done safely.
City, County, or State Liability for Defective Lights or Signs
Is a City Liable if They Never Put Up a Traffic Control Device?
Under Texas law, the government is immune from lawsuits unless they have granted permission to sue them under the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA). Under the TTCA, a government agency has absolute discretion as to whether or not to put up a traffic control device (sign or signal) at any given place. If the government chooses not to put one up, individual citizens have no cause of action against the government agency for choosing not to do so. However, if the government agency determines a control device should be put up and actually puts one up; then the government agency has a duty to maintain the device.
Is a City Liable for Missing Traffic Signs or Defective Signals?
Under the Texas Tort Claims Act, a driver may sue a government responsible for maintaining a traffic control device that was already put in place. However, in order to recover, the driver must show that the responsible agency had actual notice of the defective light or missing sign and failed to act reasonably to remedy the condition or warn the public of the danger. This is a very hard burden to overcome because you have to show that the sign was down or the device was inoperable and that the responsible government agency was made aware of this fact and then failed to act as a reasonable person would have acted to take care of it.
Consult a Lawyer
If you have been injured in a car wreck due to someone’s failure to stop for a red light or stop sign, you may have legal recourse against that driver for his negligence. Call Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. today to speak with a personal injury trial attorney regarding your case. (713) 932-0777. The call and consultation are free. If we take your case, we charge no fees unless we make a recovery for you.