Yellow Light Uncomplicated: 8 Easy Tidbits To Understand

yellow light

There seems to be a lot of confusion about this

Ah the yellow light. Traffic light, that is. Everyone knows about the green light and the red light, I think. But it seems, over time, people forget about the true meaning of the beautiful amber traffic light.

Especially when you simply observe many drivers, who seem to think this means ‘speed up and race through the intersection, never to be seen again.’ Um, no. Let’s talk about this because it’s kinda important. Legally, yellow means, “Stop, unless you can not safely stop in time.”

yellow light

What Does The Yellow Mean?

If you are just driving along and your light goes yellow, it means Stop; unless you can not safely stop in time.

You can read about it here, straight out of the Motor Vehicle ActOpens in a new tab..

What does a flashing yellow light mean

Why would you not be able to stop in time?

If you don’t think it’s safe to stop because the vehicle behind you is driving too closely, then maybe you should keep going. Especially if you believe that by stopping, you would be rear-ended.

However, if you get into a collision, you must prove that it was unsafe to stop for your yellow light.

And personally I’m not sure how you would do that. Maybe with a dash cam.

So, it is best to avoid speeding, anticipate traffic lights changing, and generally be prepared.

rearview mirror

What does ‘be prepared’ mean?

Well, it’s a combination of things. It means covering your brake if you are near the intersection and you think the light might change to yellow.

Covering the brake means hovering your foot above the brake pedal but not actually touching it yet. If the light goes yellow, you’re prepared. You’ll be that much quicker to stop.

cover your brake pedal

The time it takes for your foot to move from the gas (or wherever it was, sometimes it’s nowhere) to the brake, counts.

Being prepared also means being aware of what’s behind you. If there’s a vehicle following too closely and it’s unsafe, do something about it, before the intersection.

You could pull over and let it go. You could change lanes if that’s the right option. Or, you could simply slow the speed of your vehicle if you think it’s too fast, depending on conditions of course.

The car behind can’t control the speed of your vehicle, you do. So, you could slow down a bit before the intersection. This way, if you do stop, you won’t be rear-ended.

rear-end collision

By slowing a bit, you’re getting the vehicle behind to slow a bit, too.

Safety At Yellow Traffic Light Intersections

It’s always good to be prepared. This way, you don’t have to feel like the only two choices are getting rear-ended or driving through a yellow signal light that you shouldn’t.

I don’t need to mention that running a yellow light can potentially get you into huge trouble, too, with an oncoming left-turning vehicle. And those collisions aren’t particularly pretty.

Always check your rear-view mirror well in advance of the intersection. It’s good to check your rear-view mirror frequently, anyways.

Turning Left Or Right & The Light Goes Yellow

If you are turning right or left at an intersection, the same rules apply.

If the light goes yellow on approach, then you should stop behind the white line, as long as it is safe to do so.

right turn left turn only

Turning Right On a Red Light

You may be able to turn right on a red light, or left on a red light if turning onto a one way street.

But legally, you must stop first if you are facing a yellow (or red light) and yield to those with green lights.

If you’re turning left or right at an intersection, and you have already entered the intersection when the light was green, and then it changes to yellow, then it is a different story.

You must then clear the intersection when it is safe, regardless of the traffic light color.

How can you tell if the light will change to yellow soon?

See this: How to tell if the light will change soon

yellow traffic light

Q: If my light is yellow, what olour is the light for the traffic facing me?

What Does A Flashing Yellow Light Mean?

A flashing yellow light basically means you can proceed through the intersection, but with extra caution. Drivers must yield to pedestrians lawfully in the intersection or adjacent crosswalk.

In other words, maybe slow down a bit and be careful, pay extra attention because there may be other traffic around the intersection.

In my experience, yellow flashing lights are sometimes found at intersections when a traffic light is malfunctioning.

be careful sign

Or, simply when the other traffic may be facing a flashing red light, which is basically the same thing as a stop sign.


Yellow means stop. And it’s a hard thing to prove to a judge that your idea to go through a yellow light was a good one. It can be helpful to learn everything you can about yellow lights.

And familiarize yourself with how vehicle speed can affect stopping distance. Intersections are the most common place where crashes occur. For this reason, the yellow light thing is very important.

To be a safe driver you need to know what to do when the light goes yellow. And the right thing to do depends on so many things.

Drive safe!


Carmen became a driving instructor at the age of 22 in North Vancouver, Canada and is an experienced writer, blogger, photographer, artist, philosopher, certified day dreamer and generally complicated human.

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