What Do Yellow Traffic Light Signals Mean?
The basic rule is very simple. Red means stop. Yellow means caution.
When answering DMV questions about the yellow traffic light signal, it can, however, be more tricky.
A traffic light with a steady circular yellow signal 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 signals, if you have enough time to stop safely.
If you have already entered the intersection, or for some reason cannot stop safely before entering, you may proceed through the intersection, but you must do so with caution.
A common mistake on a written DMV test is to ignore any choices that say you must or should stop.
When to Expect Questions about Yellow Signals on Your DMV Test
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”, there is a chance that this question shows up on your written DMV test.
Look at the following example:
When approaching a yellow traffic signal:
- A. Stop before entering the intersection, if you can do so safely.
- B. Slow down and yield to all cross traffic.
- C. Slow down and cross the intersection carefully.
The first choice (A) is the correct one.
The one thing that you should never do is trying to beat the red light. Don’t speed up when approaching a steady yellow signal and enter the intersection at high speed.
How Do You Know if You Can Stop Safely or Not?
Even if yellow signals 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, when it is needed.
Check your rear-view mirrors. As a good driver, you should know the position of any 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.
Whenever vehicles are following you too closely, it is dangerous to slam on the brakes. 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 lights comes with experience.
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