What to do when the light turns yellow?

The answer is simple: STOP. According to the law, every driver has to stop at a yellow light unless he or she is too close to the intersection to stop safely. So, how do you define “too close” to the intersection?

The point of no return

One rule of thumb is that if you are 100 feet or less from the intersection, you have passed the “point of no return” and cannot stop safely before the intersection. Therefore, it is best to continue at your current speed through the intersection, but be cautious as you pass through.

Another rule of thumb involves a little math as well as an understanding of braking. Let’s explore the following situation: You’re driving at 30mph and the traffic light turns yellow. You’re approximately 125 feet from the intersection. Have you reached the point of no return?

Here comes the math: It’s going to take you (a seasoned driver) approximately 1.5 seconds to recognize the need to brake and to begin applying the brake. Your car will travel 66 feet during those 1.5 seconds. Once the brake is applied, it will take your car another 43 feet to stop. Therefore, your total stopping distance is 109 feet. Therefore, you have not yet reached the point of no return and you should stop.

Obviously, you can’t perform that kind of math while driving. So, as you approach an intersection, you need to pick out a reference point along the side of the road that will represent the point of no return. So, if the traffic light turns yellow, you can instantly make the decision to continue or to stop.

Be aware of cars behind you

As a good driver, you should always know if you’re being tailgated. As you approach an intersection, use your brakes to get a tailgater to back off a little bit. You don’t want them to slam into you if you must stop quickly at a yellow light.

The higher the speed limit, the longer the yellow light

Based upon the math we were doing earlier, it would make sense for yellow lights to last longer if the posted speed limits are higher. A common rule of thumb is that for every 10 miles per hour of speed, the yellow light will last 1 second longer. However, don’t count on this. You should always err on the side of safety. If you run a red light, a police officer is not going to care that you crossed the point of no return. His response will be that you clearly need to work on determining its location.

Green = go. Red = stop. Yellow does not equal “gun it”!

Many drivers see a yellow light and start driving like they stole something. Don’t do that. Remember, if you’re crossing into an intersection and the light becomes red, you’re breaking the law. You’re also creating a dangerous situation for cross traffic.

When teaching your teenager how to safely negotiate an intersection controlled by a traffic signal, consider the speed at which you are traveling as well as the distance between your car and the intersection. If you’re following other cars, it’s a good idea to use cover braking in case the traffic light turns yellow and you need to stop.

Running a red light is incredibly dangerous

Although the purpose of this article is how to determine the point of no return, it’s worthwhile to mention (again) how you should always err on the side of safety. Think about it: If your light is red, that means someone else’s light is green. You’re basically playing chicken (or, more accurately, Frogger) with a 3,000 lb missile. What I’m saying is simple: If you’re within the vicinity of your point of no return, stop.

Okay, you’re invincible. But, is it worth the ticket?

Many new drivers, due to their age, are invincible. As we all know, teenagers are immortal. They’re also the smartest of all humans. Therefore, my arguments regarding danger are, admittedly, irrelevant.

However, teenagers are not independently wealthy. Nor are they immune to tickets and jail. So, is running the red light worth getting the ticket? As you are well aware, many municipalities across the United States have started to install red light cameras. These cameras take pictures when the signal switches from yellow to red in order to catch red light runners. Shortly thereafter, the red light runner receives a ticket in the mail.

I hope that the next time you see a yellow traffic light, you don’t think about this article. Rather, I hope you simply stop and enjoy the rest of your drive.

All information and advice contained within this website is to be taken at your own risk. Nothing contained within this website should be misconstrued as professional driving instruction.