Posted on Car Accident Law Blog / What Must a Driver Do at a Flashing Yellow Light?

Page Updated 12/13/2021

What Must a Driver Do at a Flashing Yellow Light?


Intersections and intersection traffic signals can be one of the deadliest combinations.  An intersection is one of the most dangerous parts of a road. Approximately one-third of car accidents occur in the United States, with most of these accidents occurring at red or yellow lights.

This alone raises the question of how well drivers know their local traffic signals and light/ signal phasing. (flashing yellow light, flashing red light, stop sign, red light, etc.) Just because a light turns green, you still must wait till everyone comes to a complete stop, or it’s otherwise safe to proceed through an intersection with or without traffic signals.

What Happens When You Pull Up to a Flashing Yellow Light?

As a driver on the road, you are liable to know the driving rules and follow the law by exerting extreme caution to ensure the safety of yourself and those around you. A green light is not the same as a flashing yellow light.

How Does an Interpretation of a Traffic Signal Light Lead to Accidents?

It’s simple enough to believe that having three colors of lights to follow can eliminate car accidents. However, that is not the case since there are different interpretations of lights. People can interpret a traffic light differently, which can cause accidents with oncoming vehicles.

Ambiguity on Yellow Light v Flashing Yellow Light Traffic Signals

The yellow light warns the driver that the red light traffic signal will come up. Many take this warning and interpret it differently, causing accidents.

For example, a driver in the front sees the yellow light or yellow arrow and might slow down, while the other behind driver sees a flashing yellow signal light and might want to speed up to avoid getting stuck at a traffic light.

Even though the morning is the same, there are different interpretations of traffic signals, and such actions are the leading cause of rear-end collisions in the US. Traffic signals can also take your eye off the road and cause a t-bone accident at the intersection.

Pedestrians are also victims in crosswalks at traffic signals. Traffic lights are dangerous places, so proceed with caution, especially on flashing yellow lights.

Turns During a Red Light

The law may allow you to make a right turn at a red traffic signal or red traffic light in California. However, before making the turn, it is the driver’s responsibility to ensure there is no oncoming traffic or pedestrians in a crosswalk at a red light, green arrow, or red stop sign.

Many drivers fail to make a stop on the red light before turning and head for a sharp and quick turn on a red light, not aware of any incoming traffic or people walking. Such dangerous driving can cause fatal accidents. (Don’t forget a flashing red light signals traffic to proceed with CAUTION)

Speeding Up At Traffic Lights

Some drivers who see a yellow light or transitioning traffic lights will speed up to get through an intersection. Careful drivers will try to slow down quickly to avoid cross traffic, often getting rear-ended by other cars following too closely.

When drivers approach a flashing yellow traffic light,  they must treat the flashing yellow light as a stop sign—because of this, approaching drivers must wait until the light signal phases back to green before proceeding. Accordingly, you must slow down and proceed through the intersection with caution.

Intersections are already dangerous places for road users. Speeding up can increase the risk of getting into a serious injury car accident.

Driver’s Responsibility: Green Light, Yellow, and Red Traffic Signal Lights

Steady yellow light: According to the California Vehicle Code Section 21452, a steady yellow light means that the red light is approaching, thus warning drivers to exert extreme caution and slow down on the marked line.

It is a sign for drivers and their responsibility to slow down and come to a stop just in time for the red light to come up. However, no law states you can’t be in an intersection when a yellow light appears.

Steady red light: The California Vehicle Code Section 21453 states that the steady red light is a sign for all drivers to completely stop on the marked line before entering an intersection or crosswalk. The drivers need to stay on or before the marked line for the entire duration of the red light until it turns to the green signal, an indication to go.

Steady red arrow: With so many different lights and meanings, residents can quickly get confused, leading to traffic accidents at intersections. Endless red arrows are now found across California and require drivers to stop and refrain from entering the crosswalk or intersection until the green arrow appears. A steady red arrow can also come after a flashing yellow arrow, a sign that the red light arrow may come up at any time.

Flashing yellow signal light: These types of lights are handy for making left turns in an intersection. California Vehicle Code Section 21454 requires drivers to slow when seeing flashing yellow signal lights and monitor the oncoming intersection traffic. The flashing yellow light allows drivers to take a left turn at the intersection if it is clear.

Flashing red signal light: Flashing red light acts as a stop sign requiring drivers to come to a halt and monitor the oncoming traffic before they can safely move.

Liability Accidents on Yellow and Red Lights: What Should You Do?

During a yellow, red, or traffic signal blackout, accidents are extremely dangerous. If you are hit at a traffic light, you may be eligible to receive an award of monetary compensation. During such situations, the best course of action is to move to a safe place, contact the police for a report, take pictures, gather details from witnesses, and get yourself to a medical center for tests or treatment.

Reach Out to Ehline Law

To file for personal injury claims against the negligent driver, contact our experienced personal injury attorneys at (213) 596-9642 and get a free case evaluation. Our lawyers will help assess your case, review the evidence, file for claims, and deal with the insurers to get the compensation you deserve. Contact us for more information.

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