Have you ever been driving, stopped at a red light, and felt that the light was broken? Maybe you just felt the light was red for a lot longer than it should've been. I swear everyone has heard something along the lines of "if you're at a red light for more than 5 minutes you can just run it."

Unsplash - Jose Maria Martins
Unsplash - Jose Maria Martins

Maybe you haven't but I've definitely heard that in my life before. Well, is this actually true? Is it legal in the state of Iowa to drive through a red light if it appears to be stuck or malfunctioning? If this is true, what's the time limit?

Before finding out the answer about driving through red lights, do you know how lights at intersections work? According to How Stuff Works, there are electromagnetic sensors embedded in the pavement and they help lights detect cars and traffic. These sensors extend a bit behind the pavement to help them detect multiple cars. If you're at an intersection and you're the only car, it might be worth either backing up or pulling forward a bit to try and trip these detectors.

Is It Legal To Run A Red Light If It Won't Change?

After looking through Iowa traffic laws on the internet, I couldn't quite find a direct answer. I searched under Iowa traffic laws, driving laws, and laws regarding intersections, and there didn't appear to be a clear-cut answer to the question. Everything I found pretty much stated that is it illegal and you can get a ticket. I decided to ask Black Hawk County Sherrif Tony Thompson if that was true or if there was any wiggle room when it comes to lights stuck on red.

He responded with,

There is no clear-cut guidance on this from the Iowa Code perspective.  Officers always have discretion, so an explanation as to why the light was ran would give credit to the officer who listens and considers that.  Also, the court would and should give consideration to an extenuating circumstance such as this.  I have heard of cases of crossing arms that broke in the down position at train tracks and eventually, with caution, motorists began disregarding the arms until the railroad could fix the problem.  This is not spelled out in the motor vehicle code for Iowa.

It appears it all comes down to speaking with the officer. If you feel like you're sitting at a red light for a long time it is possible you can drive through it without getting a ticket. If I were stuck at a light that was red for way too long and I could see a police officer, I might honk my horn or try to get their attention somehow to let them know what's going on.

You could always call dispatch and explain the situation and they might send an officer out to the light to help direct traffic until the light gets fixed. Either way, if you think you're at a light that's been red for too long, try other methods before driving through it. If you decide it's been long enough and you're going to drive on through, be 100% sure you aren't pulling out in front of other cars.

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