Knowing How to Draw the Line on Running Red Lights


Dear Street Smart:

In response to a recent letter in your column, a spokesman for the CHP said that a driver entering an intersection before the light turns red has the legal right to proceed across the intersection, no matter how big it is.

My question is, could we have a clearer definition of “entering” the intersection? That is, does entering mean the front wheels, the midsection of the car or only when the rear wheels have crossed the real or imaginary line on the intersection?

The reason I ask is that a policeman once stopped me and when I said the light was still yellow when I entered, he said, “with what part of your car? The front wheels or the back wheels?”


Naturally I said the back wheels but, of course, I wasn’t positive.

No ticket ensued.

R.B. Hutchings

San Clemente


Either answer would have gotten you home in time for dinner with your driving record intact, says Steve Kohler, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol.

According to the Vehicle Code, Kohler says, a driver is considered to have entered an intersection the moment that any part of the car has crossed over either the crosswalk line or an imaginary line drawn from one curb to the other. Thus, he says, if your front bumper is already across the line when the light turns red you have the legal right to proceed through the intersection.

That’s not to say that it’s always the best thing to do, Kohler warns.

“Just because you have the right of way, you don’t want to be dead right,” he said. “There are lots of things you can do while driving to watch out for a stale signal, one that’s nearing the end of its green cycle.”

Among other things, he says, drivers approaching traffic lights should look for flashing “don’t walk” signs, cleared intersections and accumulations of traffic about to enter from either side.

“All of these things are good tip-offs that the light may be about to change, so that you may want to slow down instead of speed up,” he said.

Dear Street Smart:

Regarding the letter printed in your column from E. Gerald Sellers of Fullerton: I commute in the southern end of Orange County, so it’s unlikely that Mr. Sellers would have included my car in his informal survey of people whose vehicle registrations have not been renewed. But, had he done so, he would have tallied me with the “shirkers” Mr. Nossoff of the DMV mentions, because my tags expired at the end of July.


I am no scofflaw, however. I sent in my renewal form, along with full payment, nearly three months ago--the day after I received it in the mail. To date, the DMV has not sent me my tags. They have not even cashed my check. I’ve called and spoken with them, and they say they are “processing” my renewal and will issue the new tags when they are done. This itself was over a month ago, and still nothing has happened.

Hopefully, they will finish “processing” my renewal before another two months go by and the CHP starts taking notice of my tags. Last year I renewed in person and the whole process took less than half an hour. Why the change? And why does it take so long?

John Hawkins

Capistrano Beach

For some time now, the state has been switching over from the old walk-in method of renewal to renewal by mail. The reason, according to DMV spokesman Bill Madison, is threefold: to save money by processing all renewals at one Sacramento office, to shorten the long lines at local DMV offices and to simplify the process for car owners.

In most cases, Madison said, the new method is working fine; renewals take an average of two to three weeks.

Your case, he said, sounds like an anomaly.

“Two months is an inordinate amount of time to wait for a renewal,” he said, “especially since all we do is get it, log it, send the check through for processing and send out the sticker. This gentleman’s case is a rare one; when he called, someone should have said we’ve got to find out what’s going on.”


A check by Madison indicated that, according to DMV records, your new tags were processed and sent out on May 31.

“The only thing I can attribute the delay to is a glitch in the mail,” he said. “Who knows what could have happened?”

Madison’s suggestion: Call your local DMV office for an appointment. You will be required to sign a certificate stating that you didn’t receive your renewal, and new tags will be issued on the spot.


Street Smart appears Mondays in The Times Orange County Edition. Readers are invited to submit comments and questions about traffic, commuting and what makes it difficult to get around in Orange County. Include simple sketches if helpful. Letters may be published in upcoming columns. Please write to David Haldane, c/o Street Smart, The Times Orange County, P.O. Box 2008, Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or e-mail him at Include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers. Letters may be edited. No anonymous letters will be accepted.