Traffic Lights and How to Approach Them

Traffic lights are designed to regulate traffic flow at busy junctions and to make our roads safer. Yet many serious and often fatal incidents happen at these junctions. Is it because people disobey the rules; or do they just not know what they are?

traffic light rulesFor instance, what does a green signal mean? Most people will simply answer that it means you can go. It does not. It means that you can go IF the way is clear. Before you go forward at a green light you must make sure that it is safe. Take proper observation the way you would at any other junction, and make sure the other traffic has stopped before you proceed. Also, be careful not to move forward unless you know you can clear the junction.

In the image driver A has a green light but cannot go forward yet because traffic is queuing at the other side. If they were to go forward and stop in the middle, driver B would be blocked from moving if the lights changed before driver A could clear the junction.

The Amber Light

Perhaps the most misunderstood or ignored of traffic light rules however is the amber light showing alone. Ask people what this means and the likely reply will be: “Get ready to stop” or: “The lights are about to change to red”. The amber light actually means that you must stop; but for safety the law allows some leeway. If you are already crossing the line or to pull up sharply might cause a rear end collision you may continue. Many drivers exploit this by putting their foot down to beat the lights. This can be a dangerous thing to do.

When the lights are on green as you draw near you must always be ready for possible change. A mirror check is your first priority to assess how close any following vehicle is. If something is quite close you will need to reduce speed so that you have more time to react should the lights change. If the lights have been green for some time you should anticipate that they might be about to change. Always ease off the gas, and cover your brake as you get near the stop line so that you are ready to brake should you need to.

Approaching a Red Light

If you are looking well ahead and see traffic lights on red, you should again be easing off the gas well before you get there. There is no point in accelerating towards a probable stop. If you time the approach correctly, the lights may even change as you get nearer and you might be able to carry on through. Good planning such as this will save fuel and reduce wear and tear on your vehicle.

If the lights do change to green just as you get there, be wary. That couple of seconds between light changes hold the most potential for danger. This is when you may encounter one of those ‘amber gamblers’ trying to get through at the last moment.

When you stop at traffic lights, there is no point sitting there with your car in gear and your foot on the brake. Selecting neutral will save wear and tear on the clutch assembly. Using your parking brake will keep your car secure from any roll back, and releasing the foot brake will avoid your brake lights dazzling the driver behind. This is particularly important at night and in bad weather.

To help anticipate when your light will change, you can often watch the opposing set of lights. If you can see them changing to amber, you know that you can get back into gear and prepare to move off before you get the green light.

Traffic Light Sequence

  • Green – Proceed if the way is clear
  • Amber – Stop, unless you’re already crossing the line or it would be unsafe to brake
  • Red – Stop
  • Red & amber – Stop but be ready to go

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