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People learn about traffic lights and what their colors mean years before they start driving. However, the yellow light still causes car accidents. The biggest danger with yellow traffic signals is how drivers react to them. Some motorists slow down, while others speed up to clear the intersection before the light turns red. That unpredictability can cause collisions. So, is there any way to prevent these crashes?

Driver decisions at yellow lights cause a lot of accidents

Close-Up View of a Yellow Traffic Light
Close-up of a yellow traffic light | Getty Images

Drivers’ decisions are perhaps the most significant cause of car accidents at yellow lights. That’s because motorists’ actions affect everyone around them. Of course, what makes this traffic signal even more dangerous is that no nationwide standards dictate how drivers should behave.

For instance, some states require motorists to stop at yellow traffic signals. Conversely, other states allow cars to be in the intersection when the light turns red.

Accidents can happen in various ways at yellow lights. Some drivers brake when they see the light change. That might seem the safest option, but it can lead to rear-end collisions. Another issue stems from drivers speeding up to beat the light. That could pose a threat to pedestrians in crosswalks.

Would longer yellow lights make things safer?

A massive effort is underway to find solutions to decrease crashes associated with yellow traffic signals. Increasing the duration of the yellow light might help. That’s crucial because numerous factors determine how soon a driver can stop. First, there’s reaction time as motorists mentally process that the light has changed. Also, there’s the issue of how long it takes to stop completely. Stopping time can vary from vehicle to vehicle, even though the duration of traffic lights depends on the speed limit.

An Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study shows that the number of drivers running red lights decreased by 40% when officials added one second to yellow lights. That tiny change could make a huge difference. Adding to the duration of yellow traffic signals gives drivers more time to react and stop if they are too close to the intersection.

How to stay safe at a yellow traffic light

Changing regulations could make yellow lights safer, but motorists can adjust their driving habits to reduce the risk of car accidents. Here are three things to keep in mind:

  • Consider the yellow light a warning to slow down and prepare to stop. Some drivers treat it as a green light, which is a huge hazard.
  • When turning left on yellow, remember that oncoming traffic has the right of way.
  • Following the speed limit should allow plenty of time to stop at lights.

Traffic lights are an essential aspect of car safety. It’s important to pay attention to not only the lights changing but also the rest of your surroundings. Regardless of how long a yellow light lasts, following the rules of the road will help keep everyone safer.