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Traffic Q&A: A 4.5 second rule for complete stop?

Post by John Henrikson / The News Tribune on March 11, 2011 at 5:06 pm with 23 Comments »
March 11, 2011 5:10 pm

QUESTION: This week’s question was prompted by a recent letter to the editor from Karla Hopkins of Mount Vernon and follow up letters and comments. Following a visit to Fife, Hopkins’ husband received a $124 photo enforcement ticket in the mail for an improper right turn. She went online to view a video of the violation.

“After watching the video several times, I called the Fife Photo Enforcement Customer Service Call Center and asked them to view the video and tell me exactly what he had done wrong,” Hopkins wrote. “He came to a full stop, his turn signal was on, he was not speeding, he did not run a red light and he stopped before the crosswalk.

“After they reviewed the video, they said, and this is a quote: ‘He did not complete the stop for 4.5 seconds.’”

Hopkins and other readers could not find any mention of a “4.5 second” rule in the law or the drivers’ guide. So, the question is whether there is such a standard, and if not, what exactly is the standard for a violation?

ANSWER: “There is no legal requirement for a vehicle to stop for 4.5 seconds,” said Sally Jacobsen, municipal court administrator for the City of Fife. “That information was a misstatement.”

The error came from a representative at the city-contracted call center, which screens questions and complaints about photo enforcement tickets, Jacobsen said. As soon as the mistake came to the city’s attention, they contacted the call center to make sure it wasn’t repeated, she said.

The operative state law (RCW 46.61.055), allows a right turn on red “after stopping,” but doesn’t give a minimum time that would constitute a complete stop.
In Fife, like other cities that use red light cameras, potential violations are screened by the camera vendor and the likely violations are forwarded to the city, said Police Chief Brad Blackburn.

“Each one is reviewed by an officer, who decides if there is a violation,” he said. The officer is looking for whether the vehicle made a complete stop and whether the stop occurred behind the stop bar.

Blackburn has not seen the video in question, but he says that sometimes the video isn’t as clear on a home computer as it is on the city’s hardware, so the violation may not be as apparent. Those who dispute their tickets can contest them in municipal court.

The City of Fife offers this FAQ on its website.

Got a question about traffic congestion, construction, spending or other transportation issues? E-mail it to Traffic Q&A. Include your name, hometown and daytime telephone number. We’ll answer as many as we can.

Leave a comment Comments → 23
  1. Another reason to outlaw the cameras immediately. Did the city of Fife reimburse Mr Hopkins for his time spent fighting their CHEATING?

    God I HATE these greedy B@$t@rd$.

  2. In other words, you’re guilty until proven innocent.

  3. That’s all the reason I need not to ever drive through Fife again–which means, of course, that I won’t be patronizing businesses there.

    Not as clear on a home computer?? If all the call center rep could come up with was that the stop wasn’t 4.5 seconds long, I don’t think screen clarity had anything to do with it.

  4. Need to form a coalition against traffic light cameras in Washington State and the incompetent imbeciles that monitor them – dumb as the Barneys’ in the black and whites !

  5. plain_old_Dave says:

    This is a lame explaination by the City of Fife to mask exactly what it seems to be: a rip-off of motorists to raise funds for the city.

  6. “Not as clear on a home computer?? If all the call center rep could come up with was that the stop wasn’t 4.5 seconds long, I don’t think screen clarity had anything to do with it.”

    I does make you wonder.

    I wish we could see all of these photo enforcement violations on the web and at the city of Fife to how much difference they are saying there is between the two.

  7. I wonder if the police are actually looking at all of these violations. That would explain a lot.

  8. Our car club used to meet once a month at the Poodle Dog. After incidents similar to this, we no longer frequent any business in Fife.

  9. This is also the same reason I avoid the City of Fife for anything. Did anyone ask what kind of equipment they’re using to view the video?

  10. Toughtimes says:

    I think someone is LYING….you state that all violations are reviewed by an officer, but if that were the case a ticket would of never been sent out for not stopping for 4.5 seconds.


  11. klthompson says:

    The only thing that will put a stop to this travesty is a united front from the merchants who will suffer the ultimate pain.

  12. “I think someone is LYING….you state that all violations are reviewed by an officer, but if that were the case a ticket would of never been sent out for not stopping for 4.5 seconds.”

    It does make you wonder. However, we have not seen the violation in question.

    Maybe folks would like to share their license number, city, and violation notice number. So that we can see their point of view.

    At any rate, the public should have the right to view all of these types of violations on the city kiosk.

  13. SSounder says:

    If the entire article is considered a few clear points ocme across:

    A contracted call center employee assigned to answer questions about potential red light violations made a misstatement.

    The call center doesn’t issue citations.

    A commissioned Police Officer reviews each potential violation, and makes a determination. (On a personal note, having recieved a few tickets in my day, I can assure you Police Officers act quite independently in this regard, I don’t see a cop comparing notes with a call center employee as part of the process)

    Based on the facts in the article I am certain that the driver did not recieve a citation based on some imaginary 4.5 second standard.

    As to whether a citiation is deserved, that is why we have Courts.

  14. Wrapper98439 says:

    I don’t see anywhere in the story that the video was reviewed by anyone other than the city employees and the family of the guy with the ticket. People have been asking for years to see one of these “bogus” tickets, but they never show up. Shoot, of they exhisted, they would be all over the web with the license plate obstructed.

  15. dbreneman says:

    So, I’ve been waiting several days for the chorus of people who always say
    . Remember those folks? They always add plenty of comments whenever traffic cameras are in the news. And they always say that those of us who distrust the motives of the traffic camera cities are just scofflaws who enjoy speeding, running red lights, etc. Well, where are they? Why aren’t they reminding us that all we have to do is scrupulously obey every law, no matter how silly, and will will become model citizens with nothing to fear from the Nanny State. C’mon! Speak up!



  16. SSounder says:

    “The very idea of the power and the right of the People to establish Government presupposes the duty if every indvidual to obey the established Government” George Washington

    In other words; If we do not think coming to a complete stop, at the designated place on a red light is reasonable, then we need to work through the legislature to change the law to require otherwise. In the meantime, we have a duty to obey said law.

    As to the question of safety; I imagine the law as written was intended to promote safety at controlled intersections. Is there really a need or a purpose in debating such a concept, on a blog?

  17. artiepuy says:

    dbreneman – I for one am one of those people who contend that actually obeying state traffic laws are usually a pretty good way to avoid traffic tickets. When you regularly skirt the edges of the law, it is quite possible that you can get away for a long time with no ramifications for your actions. Eventually though, the tiny “pushes” that people regularly do will catch up with them.

    Speed limits? Just add 5 to whatever the number is. Yellow light? Floor it before it changes. Stop signs? No-one is coming, why stop? Weaving in traffic? Everyone else is just driving too slow. Texting or talking on cell phone? It’s just this “one time”. (Right)

    I’m not fond of the excuses of “I’ve always done it that way”, “It used to be legal”, “The road is designed badly”, or “If a person had seen my actions, they would have let me go”. I am definitely not fond of the automatic assumption that it’s all because someone is corrupt.

    When the mentioned letter first came out, I carefully looked up the RCW. It not only made no mention of 4.5 seconds, it made no mention of any amount of time. Based on that and on the testimony of the person who wrote the letter, I suggested that they fight it.

    The RCW does however state “Vehicle operators facing a steady circular red signal alone shall stop at a clearly marked stop line”. That seems pretty simple to me, but a lot of people seem to come up with a lot of excuses why they just can’t seem to do it. It never seems to be their fault.

    Those same people, knowing that the city of Fife cracks down hard on their traffic stops, still contend that it’s the city’s fault that they got a ticket, not their own. IN THIS CASE, it appears that Fife may indeed be, shall we say, “juicing” the ticket count using certain non-legal means. If this is true, then any fines levied against a non-existent 4.5 second rule (or even a non-existent 3-second rule) should be vacated and refunded. But just because they may have been using such a rule does not automatically mean that all of their tickets are bogus, or that people who actually do not legally stop should be forgiven. They’ve earned their ticket.

    I happen to go with the complete stop rule. The front end of my car goes down as I’m stopping. When I’ve come to a stop, it raises back up in rebound. Once it goes down again, I can go. Anything less than that could be argued to not be a complete stop.

    It is that simple. Really.

  18. catriley says:

    Maybe if people actually learned how to drive, then cities wouldn’t have to go to elaborate efforts to make you follow the law.

    Obviously, there was an issue with that ticket.

    Having said that, I was almost t-boned three times yesterday by people who felt they were just too darn special to stop at the stop sign completely, or even stop anywhere near the line at the intersection. All three had to jam on their brakes, as they were fully preparing to run the stop sign by rolling through the turn. I’m tired of people rolling through stop signs or just ignoring them completely if they think (after a quick glance) that no one is close by.

    People are driving worse and worse, and if the threat of a camera fine means that it will stop people from blowing through intersections, then I’m all for it. Why would I care about traffic cameras tickets? I don’t break the law. Simple.

    Yesterday on the 16, I witnessed three SUVs and a Pick up truck all tailgating each other, probably 10 feet of each other’s bumper, going at least 70mph in a driving rain. Now if one person has to slow or swerve or hits a hyrdro-plane puddle, they’re all going down.. and taking the rest of us with them.

    Learn to drive folks, Stop running stop signs, stop ROLLING through stop signs. Stop tailgating, and at least TRY to stay within 5 mph of the speed limit. Then you won’t have to worry about cameras. Oh, and how many years will it be before you all stop breaking the cell phone law? And.. holding the phone in front of your mouth with a speaker phone, doesn’t cut it. You get the ticket even if it’s not up to your ear. duh.

    I do have to laugh at people who hate the cameras. So you think that breaking the law and endangering others is okay as long as no one is there to see you? You only drive responsibly if you know the police are nearby?

  19. catriley says:

    I think the best way to know if you’re one of those rolling-stop people is to notice if your foot leaves the gas pedal completely, hits the brake completely, and that you’re accelerating again from a stop. Tapping your brakes while you’re still rolling is not a stop.

    I echo everything that artiepuy wrote. The issue of stopping on the line is a huge one… Has it been too long since people have taken their driving test? You stop at the line completely. Then, if you’re going into traffic, you roll out to see if it’s safe to go. you don’t try to make it all one motion, because you always seem to endanger the cars on the road in front of you.

    Unless your’e delivering babies, putting out a fire, or doing brain surgery, your trip to Nordies or Starbucks is just not that important. Really.

  20. iskater532 says:

    I had this same thing happen to me in Fife, only when I called they said it was 3 seconds mandatory. I had stopped, you can clearly see my brake lights in the picture, but then I had to scoot up to see if cars were coming at Valley Ave and 70th St. I paid. Should have fought it, but it does show they do lie, or don’t know the laws themselves.

  21. bswigart says:

    So how about we the people mount an initiative to do away with these red light cameras then!?

    And if we have to we’ll renew the law every two years ’till the politicians get it.

  22. sirlancealot says:

    Nobody cares if people stop behind the line or two inches beyond the line. Nobody. Cops don’t care. Anyone ever been stopped by a cop for this infraction? nope. It just does not happen.

    My brother is an engineer for the city. He will tell you, straight up, it is used as a money maker. That IS the motivation behind the program. Period.

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