If you’re caught by a red light camera jumping the lights, you risk a number of driving penalties.
In this guide for motorists, we look at the rules on going through a red light in the UK, the penalties involved and whether any defences may be available.
What is the law on red light cameras in the UK?
Under UK red light camera laws, it is an offence to contravene a traffic signal, sign or road marking in the UK, including failing to stop for a red light. Traffic signs or signals are there to provide information and/or warnings on our roads, where there are very strict rules and regulations in place to ensure the safety of all road users. As such, if these rules and regulations are violated, a motorist will typically be prosecuted for the offence in question.
In some cases, going through a red light may be detected by police officers in patrol cars although, more often than not, the commission of this offence will typically be supported by photographic evidence from a static camera. This is because most traffic light signals at busy junctions and accident hotspots in the UK will be fitted with motion-activated cameras which can detect when a motorist has run a red light using sensors or ground loops in the road. These camera devices have the ability to take a series of photos capturing the vehicle’s number plate as it passes through a junction, although some systems will wait a fraction of a second after the lights turn to red, affording motorists a slight grace period. However, if a violation has clearly taken place, the motorist will almost certainly be prosecuted.
Importantly, when you are driving a motor vehicle on UK roads, you are obligated to stop at a traffic light unless it is green. It is an offence for any part of your vehicle to cross the white stop line or to enter any bike box if a traffic light has turned to either red or amber. If the amber light is showing, you must stop unless you have already crossed the line or you are too close to stop safely. Equally, you will be in contravention of the law if you fail to stop for motorway flashing red lights, red lights at automatic level crossings and portable red lights at road works, even though these traffic signals may not have a white stop line.
What is the penalty for running a red light?
In the UK, motoring offences attract certain penalty points on a scale from 1 to 11, with more points for the more serious offences. The penalty for running a red light is 3 points plus a level 3 fine, assessed at 25% to 75% of your net weekly income, up to £1,000.
The conviction will be valid for a period of 3 years, but will stay on your licence for 4 years, during which time you will be required to declare this when applying for insurance.
However, where the manner in which you were driving has endangered other road users, you may instead be charged with driving without due care and attention. For this offence, you could receive between 3 to 9 penalty points on your licence, plus an unlimited fine.
If you go through a red light – what happens next?
If you go through a red light, even if this is an innocent mistake, perhaps because you were not familiar with the area and the road markings were confusing, or you had a momentary lapse of concentration, you will still be prosecuted in most cases. If the police say that they have witnessed you going through a red light, you will be told at the scene if you will be prosecuted, otherwise you will be sent an Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) through the post within 14 days. If you are not the registered keeper of the vehicle, the NIP will be sent to them to declare the identity of the driver at the time the offence was committed or to provide any information in their power to give that may lead to the driver being identified.
If, for any reason, the registered keeper is unable to identify the driver, they must still reply to the NIP, giving a full account of the circumstances that prevent them from providing the necessary information. In these instances, they may need to attach additional documentation to the NIP in support of their explanation. If they fail to respond to the request, or fail to provide the necessary information without giving an acceptable explanation, it is likely that they will be prosecuted for failing to provide the driver’s details.
The NIP must be returned within a period of 28 days, where failure to return the notice, either at all or properly completed, is an offence in itself which carries 6 penalty points and a fine of up to £1,000. It is also an offence to knowingly or wilfully provide a false statement, where supplying false information is a much more serious offence, carrying a penalty of between 6 and 24 months imprisonment and/or an additional fine.
Once the NIP has been returned, you may be sent what is known as a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) with a £100 fine and 3 penalty points. The fixed penalty system is designed as a fast track system where a motorist does not dispute that an offence has taken place although, in some cases, you may be given the opportunity to attend a driver awareness course as an alternative to a fixed penalty. A course may be offered if the following criteria are met:
- you have not completed a similar course within the last 3 years or been offered a similar course for a separate offence which you are yet to book or attend
- you have provided your driving licence number and date of birth on the returned NIP
- you were the driver of the vehicle and returned the completed NIP in sufficient time for a course to be completed within 4.5 months of the date of offence.
However, should you choose to dispute the offence and the matter goes to court, you may be given a much higher fine of up to £1,000. You may also be liable to pay any court costs.
Is there any defence to going through a red light?
Failing to comply with traffic light signals is a strict liability offence. This means that the court will not entertain a defence that the motorist did not intend to commit the offence. This is because strict liability deals only in facts and not intentions. However, there are still some limited circumstances, with the help of a legal expert, which may provide you with a basis upon which to defend the charge of contravening a red traffic light, including:
- undermining the accuracy of any observations made by the police of running a red light, where you have been stopped at the time of the alleged offence by a police patrol, or
- undermining the accuracy of the photographic equipment used to capture your number plate, where you have been caught going through a red light on camera.
The police can make mistakes, and in some circumstances, it may be possible to persuade the court that their evidence is unreliable. Errors can also occur with the equipment used to support allegations of motoring offences or, alternatively, the lights may not have been properly authorised by the local authority, most commonly applicable when it comes to temporary lights.
Can you lose your licence for going through a red light?
If you already have 9 or more penalty points endorsed on your licence, you will usually be summonsed to court, regardless of whether or not you accept that you ran a red light. This is because accumulating 12 or more points within 3 years can lead to a minimum 6-month ban. As such, you will be at risk of losing your licence unless there are special reasons not to impose the points or where a disqualification would cause exceptional hardship.
A special reason could include, for example, if you went through an amber light where it would have been dangerous to stop. In contrast, exceptional hardship refers to any scenario where losing your licence would impact your life beyond a level that would normally be expected, such as significant financial hardship and the possibility of becoming homeless.
It is worth noting that many traffic light cameras have built-in radar technology, with dual speed and red light functions enabling them to detect both types of offences. Motorists should therefore avoid the temptation to put their foot down when traffic lights change from green to amber or amber to red, otherwise risk having their licence endorsed with penalty points for two separate offences, creating a greater risk of a totting up ban.
It is also worth noting that if you are a new driver, and you accrue just 6 points within the 2-year probationary period, your licence will be automatically revoked.
What should you do if you’ve gone through a red light?
If you have accidentally driven through a red light or sailed through a junction just as the lights are changing against you, it will not always be clear if you have been caught on camera, resulting in a nail-biting 2-week wait checking your mail for any NIP.
Not every traffic light in the UK will have a corresponding camera, but cameras are not always easy to spot, as they can vary in size and design. For the most part, they will be placed on tall metal poles, either slightly before or after the traffic light itself, although they can also be mounted on street light poles. It may also be impossible to determine if a camera is active. Some cameras create a noticeable flash when they take a photo, whereas newer models may use an infra-red flash which is not visible to the naked eye. As such, the only way to know for sure if you have been caught going through a red light is to wait 14 days for a possible NIP. This is how long the local police force dealing with the offence have to notify you. At this stage, if you have received an NIP through the post, seeking early legal advice from a specialist in ‘red light camera UK law’ can allow you to make an informed decision as to how best to proceed based on all the circumstances involved.
The NIP will set out the specifics of the alleged offence, the location where the offence was said to have taken place, together with the date and time of that offence. It should also indicate what type of evidence the allegation is supported by, for example: “This allegation is supported by photographic and/or video evidence”. In most cases, the NIP will provide a website address which will allow you to view online information about the allegation, together with the photographic image(s) of you going through the red light. In most cases, it will be difficult to challenge this evidence, where accepting a fixed penalty notice can often represent the best way forward, rather than running the risk of going to court.
Still, it may be possible to successfully challenge the offence of running a red light. As such, where there is a good basis upon which to defend the allegation(s) against you, especially if you are at risk of losing your licence, having the right legal advice and representation can help you to avoid the potentially devastating consequences of receiving a ban.
Finally, it is worth noting that regardless of how you intend to proceed, if you are both the driver and registered keeper, you must return the NIP within 28 days, otherwise face an additional fine and points. Importantly, completing the NIP is not an admission of guilt, but simply an admission of driving the vehicle at the time of the alleged offence.
Red light camera FAQs
What happens if I go through a red light?
If you are observed by police driving through a red light or have been caught on camera, you could receive 3 penalty points and a minimum £100 fine. If you already have 9 points, you could also lose your licence.
What happens if you accidentally go through a red light UK?
Even if you accidentally go through a red light, you will still usually be prosecuted if this is caught on camera. If you accept running a red light or are found guilty, you will get 3 points, plus a fine.
Do you always get points for running a red light?
If you are found guilty of running a red light, the minimum penalty is 3 points and a £100 fine. However, in some cases, if the traffic lights were not fitted with functioning photographic equipment, you may avoid being prosecuted.
Do all red lights have cameras UK?
Not all UK traffic lights are fitted with cameras, where a motorist who has run a red light may avoid a penalty, although it is reasonable to assume that the signals at busy junctions and accident hotspots will have cameras.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.