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The Indiana Dead Red Law: Is it Ever Legal to Run a Red Light?

Updated March 18, 2024 | By Wilson Kehoe Winingham staff

Did you know that it’s sometimes legal to run a red light?

Of course, Indiana law—and the law everywhere else—requires drivers to stop at intersections that have a red light displayed. But in certain circumstances, drivers are allowed to go through an intersection while a traffic light is red. Laws that make this exception are known as “dead red” laws.

At least twenty states have some form of dead red law.

  • Some states allow any vehicle to go through an intersection if a red light is not working properly after stopping and making sure it’s safe to proceed. 
  • Other states make this exception only for motorcycles and bicycles.

What Is Indiana’s Dead Red Law?

Indiana’s dead red law [Indiana Code 9-21-3-7(b)(3)(D)], which went into effect on July 1, 2014, covers only motorcycles and bicycles. The law says that a motorcyclist or bicyclist can go through a red light if:

  1. They stop at the intersection for two minutes without the light changing, and
  2. They then treat the traffic light like a stop sign, checking that it’s safe to continue through the intersection before proceeding.

What’s the Point of Indiana’s Dead Red Law?

If you’re not a motorcyclist or bicyclist, it may not be immediately apparent what function Indiana’s dead red law serves.

Traffic lights are used to control the flow of vehicles through intersections. Many traffic lights, especially in higher-traffic areas, operate on timers. But in other intersections, especially less-traveled ones, various sensors are used to detect when a vehicle has stopped at an intersection. When the sensor detects a vehicle, the light changes.

Infrared, microwave, and video sensors are mounted on or near the traffic signal. These types of sensors usually detect any vehicle that comes to an intersection, regardless of the vehicle’s size.

But the most common sensor type—an induction loop—sometimes has trouble detecting the presence of smaller vehicles like motorcycles and bicycles. Why?

Induction loop sensors are buried in the roadway, usually at the white line that indicates where cars should stop. The steel that composes a vehicle’s frame causes a change in the magnetic field of the induction loop, triggering the traffic light to change.

The problem is that motorcycles and bicycles often don’t have enough magnetic material in their frames to trigger induction loop sensors. If their motorcycle or bike doesn’t trigger the sensor, a rider may be stuck at a red light indefinitely or until a larger vehicle triggers it. 

Indiana’s dead red law gives motorcyclists and bicyclists a way out when they’re stuck at intersections where sensors don’t detect their presence.

Accidents Caused by Running Stop Signs or Red Lights

There are many different causes of car accidents. Although it’s dangerous to do so, many drivers run stop signs or red lights. Drivers run stop signs and red lights for various reasons, including:

  • Trying to beat a light—Most drivers have rushed to get across an intersection on a yellow light but actually crossed on red.
  • Impatient, aggressive driving—Some drivers are guilty of deliberately running stop signs or red lights.
  • Drowsy driving—Drivers dozing at the wheel may go through a stop sign or traffic light.
  • Distracted driving—Sometimes receiving a text or adjusting the stereo distracts a driver, causing them to miss a stop sign or red light.
  • Medical emergency—In rare instances, someone has a medical emergency like a heart attack or seizure while driving and fails to stop at a red light or stop sign.

What to Do if You Get Into an Accident With Someone Who Runs a Stop Sign or Red Light

If you’re in an accident caused by another driver running a stop sign or red light, you should take the following steps:

  • If you can, move vehicles to a safe place out of the way of traffic, but don’t leave the scene.
  • Call 911 to summon emergency help for anyone who’s been injured and to inform the police.
  • Get a police report and contact information for any witnesses to the accident.
  • Get the other driver’s name, address, and insurance information.
  • Take photos of the accident scene and any damage to the vehicles. Write down or record your version of what happened.
  • Get a complete medical evaluation for yourself and any passengers as soon as possible. Some potentially life-threatening internal injuries require prompt treatment but don’t have obvious symptoms right away.
  • Contact your insurance company to let them know about the accident.
  • Keep medical records related to your injuries. Keep a diary of how any injuries affect your daily activities.
  • Contact an experienced car accident lawyer for help in negotiating an insurance settlement or conducting a lawsuit.

Crash Types in Red Light and Stop Sign Accidents

The most common type of crash when someone runs a red light or stop sign is a side-impact crash (sometimes called a T-bone crash), in which one car strikes the side of another car.

Side-impact collisions often result in serious injuries, because cars are typically less protected on the sides. In addition, if a driver causes an accident by running a stop sign or red light, the impact is often at or close to full speed, compounding the danger.

Side-impact collisions can result in virtually any type of car accident injury, from cuts and bruises to broken bones, internal injuries, and traumatic brain injuries.

Proving Fault in a Stop Sign or Red Light Case

Running a stop sign or red light is a violation of Indiana’s traffic laws. So, if someone causes an accident by not stopping at a stop sign or red light, it’s fairly clear that they’re at fault.

The challenge is that proving that someone ran a red or blew through a stop sign can be difficult. When someone is supposed to stop at an intersection but doesn’t, they may hit your car, but it’s also possible that you’ll hit their car. As a result, the collision itself may not indicate who’s at fault.

Here are a few ways to protect yourself if a negligent driver runs a stop sign or red light and causes an accident:

  • Get the names and contact information of any third-party witnesses to the accident. Because they don’t have a vested interest in your insurance settlement or lawsuit, their testimony can go a long way toward convincing claims adjusters or a jury that the other driver was at fault.
  • Get a police report. Indiana law requires drivers to report any accident to the police if there is more than $1,000 in damage or if someone was injured or killed. You need to take care of this statutory requirement to pursue a damage or injury claim.  In addition, the police report may include information that helps your case. For instance, a police report that says that the other driver received a citation for running a stop sign supports your claim that the other driver was at fault.
  • Take photos of the accident scene and any damage to the vehicles. From the position of vehicles after an accident, skid marks, and vehicle damage, investigators can sometimes deduce estimated vehicle speeds at impact and other accident details.
  • Review footage from any surveillance cameras at the intersection. Video taken by cameras mounted on traffic lights or security cameras outside businesses at the intersection may help prove your case. An experienced car accident lawyer can help you access this kind of evidence.

So, if you hit a car that ran a stop sign in front of you and are worried that it looks like you caused the accident, take heart. There are multiple ways to prove that you weren’t at fault.

Indiana’s Dead Red Law and Liability

Suppose a motorcyclist or bicyclist crosses an intersection at a red light. A vehicle traveling through the intersection on a green hit the biker.

Can the biker use Indiana’s dead red law to claim they were not at fault? Probably not, but it’s advisable to consult an attorney about such matters.

Although the dead red law allows cyclists to cross an intersection on red in very specific circumstances, a biker is responsible for ensuring that it’s safe to cross the intersection. That responsibility doesn’t fall on a driver passing through at a green light.

Experienced Indianapolis Car Accident Attorneys

If you were injured in an accident caused by a driver running a stop sign or red light, contact the Indiana car accident lawyers of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The attorneys at WKW know the ins and outs of showing who’s at fault in stop sign and red light accidents, and they can provide invaluable help with your insurance claim or lawsuit. Fill out our online contact form for a free case evaluation.

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