Pesky Yellow Lights

Posted on 01 July 2017

Many novice drivers don't know what to do when approaching traffic lights. It's not uncommon for them to be indecisive when traffic lights turn yellow (amber). It is illegal to not stop at yellow traffic lights – unless sudden braking may cause a crash. In New South Wales the penalty is exactly the same as failing to stop at a red light - currently a $433.00 fine and three demerit points.

What causes most of the trouble is simple lack of preparedness on approach to the intersection.

When teaching learners it's always important to impress upon them the need to eliminate surprises. Discuss the concept of 'Stale Green' traffic lights with them. As a guide, (3) factors that may help identify STALE Greens are:

  1. You not seeing the traffic lights change to green.
  2. Numerous vehicles and/or pedestrians waiting at the red light on the cross street.
  3. A solid 'Don't Walk' signal facing the direction you are travelling.

Therefore (3), factors for determining FRESH Greens are:

  1. You saw the traffic lights very recently change to green.
  2. A Lack of vehicles or pedestrians waiting at the red light on the cross street.
  3. A flashing 'Don't Walk' signal facing the direction you are travelling.

Understanding the concept of fresh versus stale green lights will supplement the learner's developing anticipation skills when approaching traffic lights, however preparation is essential.

It is vital to frequently check the internal rear vision mirror when approaching traffic lights to establish how close following vehicles are. It's the ONLY way a safe decision to stop can ultimately be made - If I stop now, will I be crashed into from behind? By checking the mirror frequently the driver is receiving updates about the changing scene and will not be forced into making a split-second or uninformed decision.

Reduce speed on approach to traffic lights and cover the brake pedal (hover over) to reduce reaction time.

If the learner is being tailgated there may be an opportunity to lightly press on the brake pedal to flash the brake lights to communicate with the following driver to increase their following distance. The learner should also increase the crash avoidance space to the vehicle in front if applicable.

Advise the learner to practice predetermining a 'point of no return' on the side of the road. Encourage them to do a commentary drive – If the lights change to yellow when I'm at that tree I'm going to proceed.

The skill of anticipation is difficult to acquire from a book; it's the offspring of experience. Teach and repeat and repeat and REPEAT.

P.S. If there are any topics you would like me to cover feel free to let me know via the Comments or Contact Page.

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