All of the Lights: What to Do at Traffic Lights

Most people are familiar with the meanings of traffic lights way before they get behind a steering wheel (Rousing game of Red Light, Green Light, anyone?). Still, it can’t hurt to review exactly what we should be doing when we come upon certain traffic lights. They’re protecting us at dangerous intersections, after all. And you’d be surprised how many full grown, license-toting drivers have no idea how to act at a flashing yellow light.

Solid Red Light

Seeing red? You better stop. Come to a complete stop and wait until the light turns green before you proceed. You might be able to turn right at a red traffic light, but be careful about it. Check for signs at the intersection that say “No Right Turn on Red” or something like that, and obey them. If there aren’t any signs holding you back, yield to cross traffic and pedestrians before making your right turn on red. Left turns on red are rare, but it can be done. Only turn left at a red light if you’re turning from a one-way street to another one-way street and you’ve yielded to other traffic.

stop at all stoplights
Obey the traffic cat.

Flashing Red Light

The easiest way to remember the protocol at flashing red lights is to treat them the same as stop signs. You should come to a full stop, check the intersection and yield the right of way to others who got to the intersection before you, and then proceed when the coast is clear. Just be mindful and don’t assume that cross-traffic has the same flashing red light as you do. Often, intersections will have flashing red in one direction and flashing yellow lights in the other direction (generally the street that’s more heavily traveled). We’ll get to flashing yellow in a second.

Stop at a flashing red lights and then proceed when clear
Tell ‘em, Gaga.

Solid Yellow Light

A yellow traffic light is a warning that a red light is soon to follow. You have two options as you approach a yellow light. In most situations, you should slow down and get ready to stop your vehicle at the red light. However, if you’re traveling at a relatively high speed (but not over the speed limit, right?), you can choose to hurry up and get through that intersection before the light changes. You should only do this if it would be dangerous or difficult to come to a stop in the limited amount of time and space that you have to do so. In most cases, yellow lights mean “slow down,” not “speed up.”

Slow down at yellow lights unless it's unsafe
Don’t try to stop at a yellow light if it would be dangerous.

Flashing Yellow Light

Good news: You don’t have to stop at a flashing yellow light. You’re allowed to drive right on through, but it’s a good idea to reduce your speed a little bit and be cautious as you cross the intersection. You never know who might fail to offer the right-of-way that’s rightfully yours. Probably someone who didn’t read the rules for flashing red lights (above).

proceed carefully through flashing yellow lights
Go ahead, you don’t have to stop at flashing yellow.

Green Light

Aw, yeah. Green traffic lights mean “go!” But before you enjoy that sweet, sweet acceleration, take a second to look both ways to make sure your path is actually clear. Sometimes bad drivers like to run red lights. Trust no one.

obey traffic signals
Good job! Now you’re a traffic light pro.