Section 36(1) Road Traffic Act 1988

Running a red light or failing to comply with any other road traffic sign, including road markings is an offence.  These offences are usually dealt with by fixed penalty.  If a fixed penalty is not issued by the police or, if it is refused by the driver, then any prosecution must be raised within 6 months from the date of the offence.


The penalties for failing to comply with a traffic signal or other traffic sign are 3 penalty points and a fine.  The court also has discretion to disqualify.  In most cases, these offences are dealt with by way of Fixed Penalty irrespective of whether a driver has been stopped by the police at the time of the offence or caught on camera.  However, in some cases, where a driver fails to comply with a traffic sign he could face a prosecution for careless driving. 

Notice of Intended Prosecution 

If a driver has been caught on camera a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) must be issued to the owner of the vehicle within 14 days.  This includes a requirement to provide details of the driver at the time of the offence.  Failure to comply with this requirement is a separate offence which carries 6 points. 

A fixed penalty cannot be accepted if a driver is subject to disqualification under totting up provisions.  In these circumstances a court summons will be issued and the driver will be required to attend court.  The same procedure is followed if a driver denies the offence or refuses a fixed penalty.

Traffic Sign Regulations

There are strict rules governing traffic signs, traffic lights and road markings.  Most of the legislation in this area is contained in the Traffic Sign Regulations & General Directions 2002.  For instance, traffic signs must conform to these regulations in terms of size, colour and type.  In addition signs must be lawfully placed in order that the driver is made aware of the restriction, prohibition or requirement conveyed by the traffic sign.   A failure by the authorities to observe these regulations may provide a defence.  However, it is to be noted that a trivial departure by the authorities from the regulations is unlikely to secure an acquittal. 


Unlike other road traffic offences the prosecution do not require to corroborate the offence of failing to comply with a traffic sign.  The evidence of one police officer is enough.   Furthermore, in all cases of this type there is a presumption that the traffic signs comply with all the regulations, unless the contrary is proved.   This means the onus is on the defence to establish that traffic signage is inadequate or defective and, therefore, not lawful.  

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Running a Red Light

The most common traffic sign offence is running a red light.  A driver is just as likely to be stopped by the police at the time of the offence as he is to be caught on camera.  Either way the offence is usually dealt with by a Fixed Penalty of 3 points and a fine of £100. 

The obligations on a driver when approaching a set of traffic lights can be summarised as follows:

  • If the traffic lights are showing a red light the driver must stop behind the white stop line in all circumstances.
  • If the amber light is illuminated the driver must stop, unless he has already passed the stop line or to do so would be unsafe.

The obligation is clear, the driver must stop unless the light is green, in which case he may proceed if it is clear and safe to do so.  It should be noted that the offence is committed if any part of the vehicle crosses over the stop line when the red light is showing.  The offence is committed even where the car is stopped before the rear wheels go over the stop line. 

If the white stop line is worn out and otherwise not fully visible the driver should stop in line with the primary signals.  The same principal applies to temporary traffic lights with no stop line.  In these circumstances, however, there should be a sign stating “when red light shows wait here”.  The position of that sign is regarded as the stop line and the offence is committed if that point is passed when the red light is showing.


It is important to note that photographic evidence and even the evidence of police officers can be challenged.  However, any such challenge must be properly done. In addition, a factual defence of denial is always open to a driver who disputes the allegation.   In camera cases the prosecution must prove that the device was calibrated and checked for accuracy.  The prosecution may attempt to prove that a device is accurate and reliable by producing certificates.  Documentary evidence of this type can also be challenged.

A potential defence is also available if the traffic lights are not working properly on the basis that the signals do not comply with the appropriate regulations.  However, the onus is on the defence to establish that the traffic lights were not working. 

Proceeding beyond a red light because of an emergency is not a defence, but it might amount to a Special Reason that would avoid endorsement of penalty points.  In theory, the offence is even committed where a driver goes through a red light in order to allow an emergency vehicle to pass.  However, in these circumstances, the prosecution is unlikely to seek a conviction or raise proceedings in the first place.  

How we can help

If you have been charged with running a red light or failing to comply with some other road traffic sign we can help. Our experience and expertise in this area will quickly determine the merits of your case and all other options that might be available to you. Early expert advice can save time and expense. We can prepare your case, arrange for supporting documentation and make forceful representations at court. We pride ourselves in offering a service that is friendly, reliable and honest. For free advice that is without pressure or obligation simply contact us:

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