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Stop, Go, Floor It: The Dilemma Zone

A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) looked at 14 cities using red light cameras and found that the combined per capita rate of fatal red light accidents decreased by 35 percent. On the flip side, The Federal Highway Administration and Virginia Transportation Research Council found that red light cameras probably caused more rear-end crashes.

What's worse for my insurance?

"If you stop for a yellow light, you are blameless," consumer analyst Penny Gusner says. "Even if you get hit from behind, it's their fault, not yours."

Zipping through the light to avoid a tailgater is no excuse, unless an officer happens to cut you some slack. A camera won't know the difference.

Any accident after you've run a red light is almost always your fault, Gusner says. (Read about comparative negligence laws.)

While fines for a red light violation can vary dramatically, it's the black marks on your motor vehicle record that eventually cost you the most. Your insurance company can calculate rates based only on what it finds there. (See's " Uh-Oh Meter" to see how different infractions typically affect your premiums.)

A single red-light ticket might be forgiven, cost you a good driver discount, or actually raise your rates, Gusner says, depending on your insurer's surcharge schedule. "You can ask them about it even before you get a ticket," she says. "It can make a difference down the road."

Many jurisdictions don't put red-light camera violations on motor vehicle records at all.

Staying safe

So how do you stay safe when approaching an intersection and the light is yellow?

Maria A. Wojtczak, owner of Driving MBA, offers this advice: "Use the broken white or yellow lines as indicators. Each line represents 10 mph. If you only have two lines before entering the intersection and are going 40 mph, you have reached the point of no return and must continue through the light. If there are four or five lines before the intersection you have plenty of time to make a safe stop."

Experts also remind drivers to avoid changing lanes in an intersection -- which is also illegal.

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