Fresh Green Light – Or Not So Fresh? Anticipating Lights

Traffic Signal Anticipation – Fresh Green Light

When we talk about traffic signal anticipation, we are talking about the traffic lights changing. More specifically when they may be changing from green to yellow. Are you driving towards a fresh green light, or is it stale?

When you’re driving towards an intersection, this is one of the things you need to think about.

It’s good to never be surprised by a light changing to yellow. It’s better to get ready; or to anticipate it.

This is so that you won’t get into trouble.

Types of trouble could include being rear-ended if you suddenly slam on the brakes for a yellow light, or having a problem with an opposing left-turning vehicle.

What Is a Fresh Green Light?

fresh green light

A fresh light is a green light you know for sure is going to stay green. I mean, no light stays green forever.

But we’re talking about an amount of confidence regarding the greenness by the time you drive through the intersection.

One way to tell a light is fresh is when you can see the pedestrian ‘walk’ signal in your direction, advising the pedestrians that they may start walking across the crosswalk.

crosswalk sign

Typically a light like this won’t suddenly go yellow, because the ‘walk’ signal changes to some kind of ‘flashing hand’ for a while before the light goes yellow.

fresh green light



Non- Fresh Green Light – What Is a Stale Green Light?

A stale green light – or an ‘old’ green light – is one that might go yellow soon. If you’re not sure it’s fresh, then assume it is stale.

And be prepared for the light maybe going yellow.

Some ways to tell if the light is stale is if you did not see it change to green.

don't walk signal

In other words, it’s been green for a while; and you’re not sure just how long that while has been.

Different intersections have lights that will stay green for different amounts of time, so it’s not like you can just pull out your stop watch.

Another way to tell is to look for the ‘hand’ or ‘flashing hand’ sign for the pedestrian crosswalk. This is an indication the light is not fresh. It may change to yellow at any moment.

stale green light

Another tip is to look for any vehicles waiting on the adjacent street that would be sitting on the traffic sensorOpens in a new tab.

. The sensor senses the traffic and makes the light change.

You can also look for pedestrians who have pressed the pedestrian buttons. These pedestrians want to make the light change.

Traffic lights don’t just change randomly. They change due to demand from vehicles on the sensor or pedestrians, and sometimes they’re on a timer.

Fresh Green Light – Traffic Sensors On The Pavement

traffic sensors

Traffic sensors are another great reason to stop behind the white line in the correct position. If you don’t, your light might ‘stay red forever’, which is never good.

So, make sure to anticipate the traffic lights for every intersection. If your light is stale, you can cover the brake pedal. If you’re driving and you know for sure you’re approaching a wonderfully fresh green light, then there is no need to cover your brake pedal.

This means your foot is ready to stop the car if the light goes yellow, as long as you aren’t past the point of no return.

How Can I Tell When I’m At The ‘Point Of No Return’ While Driving?

Driving towards a non- fresh green light

The point of no return when driving refers to the point at which you keep going when the light goes yellow.

This means you are at the point where it is either impossible to stop behind the stopping line – based on speed or conditions – or where it would be unsafe to stop based on the vehicle following behind you.

Keep in mind, it is impossible for a large truck carrying a load to stop in the same distance that you can in a small car.

So if there’s a large truck following too closely, make the right decision – that may be to continue once the light is yellow.

Just a reminder, that a yellow light technically means Stop unless it is not safe or possible to stop

Usually if I’m driving and the light goes yellow, and I still have time to think, “Hmm, I wonder if I have time to stop or not,” then that means YES, I can stop. If I’m driving and I don’t even have time to even think, then I’m already past that point.

If you are past the point of no return, just continue at the same speed. You aren’t doing anything wrong, so don’t make it look like you are by drawing attention to yourself.

Consider your speed and the vehicle behind you well before an intersection that you know has a stale traffic light (a green light that you think might go yellow soon), so you’re prepared ahead of time. If you think the light may be stale, hover your right foot above the brake pedal so you can save that extra time. If it does go yellow, your foot will be ready.


We talk about fresh and stale green lights so that we can help anticipate when the light might go yellow. This is helpful for peace of mind.

Additionally, it’s a huge thing to keep you safe and avoid being rear-ended by the vehicle behind you. It’s very important to keep track of that. This way, you can make the right choice if the light does turn to yellow on your approach to the intersection.


Carmen became a driving instructor at the age of 22 in North Vancouver, Canada.

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