It's OK to drive through a yellow light, isn't it?

Many drivers see traffic signals change to yellow as they approach an intersection and think “I’ll make it through before it changes to red, that’s OK”. But is it?

The problem with this thinking is that the yellow (or ‘amber’) light shows for about three to four seconds, depending on the speed limit. So by the time you see the yellow light, think about stopping and then drive through the intersection, chances are you’ve left it too late.

In our busy world, we are often in a hurry and can have the attitude that “that rule doesn’t apply to me because I need to get where I need to go ASAP”. Drivers will ignore road rules to suit their needs.

Can we legally drive through a yellow?

The road rules state that when you approach a yellow light you must stop if you are safely able to do so before reaching the stop line. If not before the stop line, then before entering the intersection. VicRoads’ website states that for a yellow light, you must stop unless you can’t stop safely. Most of us are a little lax in our application of this rule.

Drivers’ behaviour suggests they think of the yellow light as an extension of the green, rather than as a warning to stop at the imminent red. A better way to think of the yellow is that it is at the start of the red, not at the end of the green.

‘Anticipate light changes’

RACV’s Drive School Manager, Peter Phillips, suggests that the “traffic and environment should be considered when deciding if it’s safe or not to stop. Learner drivers should exercise caution, learn to anticipate light changes and prepare to stop rather than prepare to race through”.

RACV receives many calls regarding red light camera infringements. Much of the time, the driver has decided they can continue through the intersection on the yellow light, misjudging either the traffic speed, the length of time it takes to get to the stop line or the length of the yellow light.

The trigger for a red-light camera is located just over the stop line and is activated 0.5 seconds after the yellow light changes to red. So in order to get a red-light camera fine, you have not stopped during the yellow and have gone through the red half a second too late.

The obvious solution to avoid these fines? Use the yellow light as intended, as a warning to stop, not as an extension of the green.

Written by Lindsay Layzell - Senior Roads and Traffic Engineer
June 24, 2016