Top 10 Questions – Yellow Traffic Lights

What Do Yellow Traffic Lights Mean - Photo: Kevin Payravi / wikimedia

What Do Yellow Traffic Lights Mean?

The basic rule is very simple. Red means stop. Yellow means caution.

When answering questions about the yellow traffic light, it can, however, be more tricky.

A traffic signal with a steady circular yellow light tells you that the light is about to change to red. In most states, you are not allowed to proceed into the intersection against yellow traffic lights, if you can stop safely. If you have already entered the intersection, or cannot stop safely before entering, you must proceed with caution.

A common mistake on a written test is to ignore choices that say you must stop.

Before taking the real knowledge exam, check your state’s Driver Handbook. If you find wordings like: “You must stop if it is safe to do so” or “When you see the yellow light, stop if you can do so safely”, you can expect this question to show up on your written DMV test.

Look at the following example:


When approaching a yellow traffic signal:

  • Stop before entering the intersection, if you can do so safely.
  • Slow down and yield to all cross traffic.
  • Slow down and cross the intersection carefully.

The first choice is the correct one.

How Do You Know if You Can Stop Safely or Not?

Even if yellow lights stay on longer if the posted speed limits through the intersection is higher, you should not count on this. Ease off gas when you approach any intersection. A slow speed makes it easier to stop safely, if needed.

Check your rear-view mirrors. As a good driver, you should know the position of vehicles behind you. If someone is tailgating you, press your brake pedal briefly to warn the driver behind you. You don’t want them to slam into you if you must stop at a yellow light ahead. Anytime vehicles are following you too closely, it is not safe to brake hard. You should always brake early and stop smoothly in these situations.

You should follow this rule of thumb:

  • If you travel at 30 mph and are more than 100 feet from the intersection, you have time to stop safely
  • If you travel at 50 mph, you need about 200 feet to stop safely.

Judging the distance to intersections and traffic signals comes with experience.


More common questions on your written exam!

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