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What's Driving You Crazy: If a ramp meter light is green, do you have to stop?

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Posted at 4:54 AM, Jan 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-18 10:17:27-05

Mary from Denver writes, “What’s driving you crazy? Hi Jayson, after reading your article regarding the highway onramp lights, I have a question for you. If you are coming up to the light, no one is in front of you or beside you and by the time you get there, it turns green, do you need to stop? My son got a ticket today for doing so, and the officer said "Well, you didn't even hit your brakes, that's why I'm giving you a ticket". It's a 4-point ticket, which in my view is totally excessive for an onramp light that was GREEN when he went through. Wondering your thoughts on that?”

This is a tricky one as it seems that the legality of this move is up to the discretion of the officer that sees it happen. My feeling is that any driver using a ramp that has an active meter light that is flashing red and green should approach slowly enough to stop if the light is red but not be ticketed if the driver is rolling through when the light is green.

Since my opinion isn’t worth anything when it comes to getting or not getting a ticket, I asked your question to several law enforcement agencies who patrol ramps with meter lights.

Ginger Delgado with the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office told me, “The only time you can go (and don’t need to stop) is if the light is green at the EXACT moment you cross the light. Something seems a bit fishy because there had to be some red involved or I doubt the officer would have ticketed the guy. Since we weren’t there, it’s hard to speculate what happened. It sounds that most likely the person saw the light was green but at some point, it turned red.”

Crystal Dean, operations support manager with the Greenwood Village Police Department told me, “Based on this scenario, there would not be a violation.”

Josh Lewis from the Colorado State Patrol told me, “Because I don't know the exact circumstances, I wasn't there, this will largely come down to officer discretion based on the situation. Metered lights also have signs near/before/on them that indicate a vehicle needs to stop, in addition to the red light itself, when active. The intention of these lights is to filter in traffic to the main highway in an effort to avoid congestion, hence if the lights are activated, they need to be followed like any other traffic control device. Given how quick the green is, the driver should always be prepared to stop at them, but again, not knowing exactly what took place in the moment, I cannot articulate as to the officers reasoning in issuing the citation.”

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Kurt Barnes, technician with the Denver Police Department, told me, “Colorado Revised Statutes 42-4-604 defines a driver facing a steady circular red signal shall stop and the same driver facing a circular green signal may proceed straight through. Officer discretion is important given the variables that can exist at these traffic signals with traffic volume and flow.”

As with many scenarios when driving, doing something wrong is many times up to the discretion of the officer patrolling the streets and their interpretation of the law. The wonderful thing about our systems of law and order is that the ticket is not the final say. It is technically a summons to court. Your son can, and should, make his arguments to the traffic judge and see what the judge rules. Most people just sign the ticket, basically admitting guilt in exchange for a lesser penalty and lower fine. Since law enforcement opinion that I mentioned in this story is mixed, your son might be able to persuade a judge to see the situation in his favor.

Update from Mary: “BTW - thank you for the advice. The magistrate excused the $75 ticket.”

Denver7 traffic anchor Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 25 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on any podcast app including iTunes , Stitcher , Spotify and Podbean.