Virginia Traffic Signal Laws

Virginia traffic signals are designed to allow a more orderly flow of traffic.

Traffic signals in Virginia are designed to allow an orderly flow of traffic and pedestrians in a safe manner. The state uses fixed-time and traffic-responsive signals as part of the “Smart Traffic Signal System”. A 2001 study conducted by George Mason University’s Center for Transportation Policy and Logistics stated that variable message signs, signals at intersections, surveillance cameras and traveler information are critical components in reducing congestion. The study focused on the congested northern Virginia area, and reported that the average morning commute would be 25 percent greater without such a system.

Photo Monitoring

Local governments may enact laws allowing photo monitoring equipment to enforce compliance with traffic signal ordinances. Each city or town may install no more than 10 devices or at no more than one intersection for every 10,000 population, whichever is greater.

Running a Red Light

It is illegal to run a red light at a Virginia intersection. The operator of any vehicle caught running a red light by a police officer or photo monitoring equipment will receive a citation and fine. The violation may be proved by a sworn affidavit by the police officer or photo and/or videos provided by the photo monitoring equipment.

Sharing Prohibitions

Information gathered by photo monitoring systems on traffic signals may only be used to enforce traffic light violations. Law enforcement agencies are prohibited from sharing with private entities any of the information collected by the devices. The photos, electronic images and personal image are not available to the public and may not be sold or used in marketing. All information collected must be purged from the system no later than 60 days after fines have been collected.

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Selecting Intersections

Cities and towns selecting intersections at which to place monitoring systems may consider the number of violations at that intersection, the accident rate, the difficulty of apprehending violators on foot or in a police vehicle at that location, and any risk to pedestrians. Each municipality must submit its intersection list to the Virginia Department of Transportation for final approval.

Visible Signs

Municipalities using traffic light signal monitoring equipment must post a sign indicating that such a device is being used. The sign must be readily seen and be within 500 feet of the intersection.

Traffic Light Color Definitions

Traffic signals in Virginia are designated by devices that may show blinking or solid red, green or amber lights. Traffic must stop and remain stopped when the light shows a steady read, with the exception that a vehicle may turn in the direction designated by a green arrow. Traffic may move through an intersection when a green light is showing on the traffic signal or to avoid hitting any other vehicles or pedestrians that are lawfully within the intersection. A steady amber light on the traffic signal indicates that the light is about to change to red and that a driver must stop the vehicle if he reasonably can. Traffic already in the intersection must clear the intersection. A flashing red light should be treated similar to a stop sign with all traffic stopping before entering the intersection. Drivers seeing a flashing amber light may proceed through the intersection with caution. Any traffic signal out of service for any reason should be treated as though the intersection has a four-way stop sign.

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