Traffic Light Sequence

Traffic light sequence

Understanding the traffic light sequence is crucial when you’re learning how to navigate the roads. While it’s common to focus on the less frequent road signs and symbols, it’s vital not to overlook the everyday ones, like traffic lights.

Traffic lights are more than just familiar street furniture; they’re key to managing traffic and preventing accidents. Knowing what each signal in the traffic light sequence means is essential, not just for your theory test but also for practical test.

This guide will walk you through the entire traffic light sequence, including the less common flashing amber lights. We’ll delve into the significance of green filter arrows and emphasise why it’s important to stop at red lights, even when an emergency vehicle is behind you.

Understanding the Traffic Light Sequence

Navigating through traffic lights is a fundamental skill for all drivers. Here’s a straightforward breakdown of the typical traffic light sequence and what each phase signifies:

Traffic lights

Image source: Wikimedia images

  • Red (Stop): This is a clear signal to halt your vehicle.

  • Red and Amber (Prepare to Pull Away): Get ready to move, but don’t start driving yet.


    Flashing Amber (Give Way to Pedestrians): Yield to pedestrians crossing the road. Proceed only when it’s safe.

  • Green (Go): This indicates it’s safe to drive on.

  • Amber (Stop unless It’s Not Safe to Do So): Prepare to stop, unless you’re too close to the lights to do so safely.

And then, the sequence repeats!

While this might sound straightforward, it’s crucial to fully understand these rules to ensure safe and confident driving.

Stopping at a Red Traffic Light

Understanding and adhering to traffic light rules is a fundamental aspect of safe driving. Here’s an in-depth look at what to do when you encounter a red light:

Red traffic light

Image source: kalhh

  • Red Means Stop: The red traffic light is a non-negotiable instruction to stop your vehicle. Driving through a red light is not only dangerous but also a legal offence. It can lead to fines and points on your license. Traffic cameras are often installed at junctions to enforce this rule.

  • Correct Stopping Procedure: When you see a red light:

    • Check your mirrors.
    • Slow down gradually and smoothly.
    • Stop behind the vehicle in front, leaving a safe distance.
    • Engage the handbrake.
    • Shift to neutral.
    • Relax your feet off the pedals to prevent rolling or stalling.
  • Stay Alert and Undistracted: While waiting at a red light, remain vigilant. Avoid distractions such as using your phone or applying makeup, as these activities are not only unsafe but also illegal when behind the wheel.

Where to Stop at a Red Light?

  • The Solid White Line: This line indicates where your vehicle must stop at a red light. Ensure no part of your vehicle crosses this line.
  • Consider Cyclists: Often, there’s a designated area in front of the white line for cyclists. Keep this space clear to enhance their safety. Giving cyclists priority positioning at junctions helps protect these vulnerable road users.

Key Points to Remember:

  • Always halt your vehicle behind the solid white line at a red traffic light.
  • Apply your handbrake and shift to neutral.
  • Avoid any distractions while stopped, such as using your phone or other activities that take your focus off the road.

Red and Amber Traffic Lights

When faced with red and amber lights at a traffic junction, it’s essential to understand and follow the correct procedure:

Red amber traffic light

Image source: Maxim Abramov

  • Red and Amber Together Means ‘Prepare to Go’: This combination signals that green is imminent, but it’s crucial to remember that the red light is still active, which means stop. At this stage, you should not move your vehicle forward or cross the solid white line on the road. Moving early can create hazards for other road users, including pedestrians and cyclists.

  • Preparing for Green:

    • Gear Up: Get ready for the green light by engaging the appropriate gear in anticipation of moving off.
    • Observation Checks: Perform thorough checks by looking in all three mirrors. Pay special attention to any cyclists or pedestrians at the junction.
    • Handbrake and Clutch Control: Keep your handbrake engaged to ensure your car remains stationary. Gradually release the clutch to find the biting point, so you’re ready to move off smoothly when the light turns green.
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Additional Points to Remember:

  • Avoid creeping forward when the lights are red and amber. Stay behind the solid white line.
  • Regularly check your mirrors for a full awareness of your surroundings.
  • Select the appropriate gear and be ready to move off as soon as the light turns green, ensuring a swift and safe departure from the junction.

Flashing Amber Traffic Lights

Understanding the specific rules for flashing amber traffic lights, especially at pedestrian crossings like pelican crossings, is crucial for safe driving:

Flashing Amber Traffic Lights

  • Pelican Crossings and Flashing Amber: At pelican crossings (marked with red and green figures), the traffic lights have a unique sequence. Instead of changing to red and amber, they flash amber, signalling drivers can proceed if the way is clear and safe.

  • Sequence at Pelican Crossings:

    • Red Light for Traffic: After a pedestrian presses the button, the traffic light turns red, requiring vehicles to stop.
    • Green Man for Pedestrians: Pedestrians get the green signal to cross.
    • Flashing Amber for Drivers: Once the green pedestrian signal turns off, the traffic light flashes amber. This indicates drivers may proceed but with caution.
  • Pedestrian Priority: The key here is pedestrian safety:

    • Pedestrians who are already crossing during the flashing amber light should be given priority.
    • Even though new pedestrians shouldn’t start crossing at this point, any already crossing should be allowed to reach the other side safely.
    • Only proceed through the crossing if it’s completely clear of pedestrians.

Additional Tips for Drivers:

  • Stay alert for pedestrians near pelican crossings who might be about to press the crossing button.
  • Upon seeing a flashing amber light, double-check for any pedestrians still in the process of crossing.
  • Use your mirrors to ensure it’s safe to move off, keeping an eye out for other road users and pedestrians who might approach suddenly.

Pulling Away at a Green Traffic Light

Effectively and safely pulling away when a traffic light turns green is a key aspect of driving:

Green traffic light

  • Green Means Go: When the traffic lights transition from red and amber to green, it’s your cue to start moving. However, it’s crucial to do this in a controlled and safe manner.

  • Observation and Patience:

    • Monitor Traffic: Keep an eye on vehicles ahead. If they haven’t started moving, wait patiently to avoid a collision.
    • Pedestrian Awareness: At junctions with pedestrian crossings, ensure no one is still crossing or about to step onto the road.
    • Blocked Path: If traffic is congested ahead, it’s better to stay behind the white line until the path is clear.
  • Smooth Departure:

    • Handbrake and Clutch: Release your handbrake only when you’re ready to move. Make sure you’ve found your biting point for a smooth pull-off.
    • Accelerate Gradually: There’s no need to speed away. A gradual acceleration is safer and better for your vehicle’s longevity.

Key Points for a Pulling off Safely:

  • Be vigilant for cyclists and other vulnerable road users who might be near or in the junction.
  • Ensure your vehicle is in the correct gear, and you have found the biting point. Then, confidently release your handbrake.
  • Proceed with caution and consideration, keeping in mind the flow of traffic and the safety of all road users.

What Should You Do at a Steady Amber Traffic Light?

Navigating through traffic lights is an everyday task for drivers, and understanding the significance of a steady amber light is crucial:

Steady amber traffic light

  • Amber Light Means Prepare to Stop: The appearance of a steady amber light typically signals that the lights are about to change to red. The Highway Code mandates that you should stop at an amber light unless:

    • You have already crossed the white stop line when the light changes to amber.
    • Stopping abruptly would create a risk of an accident, such as being too close to the stop line.
  • Making the Right Decision: Determining whether to stop or proceed during an amber light requires quick judgment. Remember, an amber light is not an invitation to speed up.

  • Anticipation and Awareness: As you approach a traffic light, always be prepared for it to change:

    • Mirror Checks: Regularly check your mirrors to be aware of the traffic situation behind you.
    • Safe Following Distance: Maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front. This gives you enough space to safely stop if they brake suddenly.

Key Points for Dealing with Amber Traffic Lights:

  • Stop at an amber traffic light unless you’ve passed the stop line or stopping could lead to an accident.
  • When driving towards a green light, be ready for the possibility of it changing to amber.
  • Constantly stay aware of other road users, including those behind and in front of you, to ensure safe and responsive driving.
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Green Filter Arrow Traffic Light

The green filter arrow at traffic lights is a crucial signal that drivers need to understand and respond to correctly:

Green Filter Arrow Traffic Light

  • What is a Green Filter Arrow? This arrow appears at some traffic lights, either in addition to or instead of the standard green light. When lit, it permits movement specifically in the direction the arrow points, regardless of other lights at the junction.

  • Driving Test Expectations: During your driving test, it’s expected that you recognise and appropriately react to filter arrows. Failing to follow these signals, particularly if it hinders other drivers, can result in a major fault and consequently, a failed test.

Turning Right at a Filter Arrow

  • Common in Right Turns: Filter arrows are often used at junctions where a right turn is involved. Right turns are inherently riskier because they cross the path of oncoming traffic.

  • Normal Green Light vs. Filter Arrow:

    • Green Light: If there’s a standard green light, you may move forward slightly but should only complete your turn when the path is clear. The oncoming traffic has the right of way.
    • Filter Arrow: When the green filter arrow is illuminated, it’s safe to proceed with your turn. The arrow indicates that traffic from other directions is stopped by red lights.
  • Vigilance is Key: Always be alert for filter arrows. They can activate before or after the standard green phase. Even with a filter arrow, it’s important to remain vigilant for pedestrians and cyclists who might be crossing.

Key Points to Remember:

  • Always be on the lookout for filter arrows at traffic lights, as they can significantly impact your driving decisions.
  • Follow the direction of the filter arrow, understanding that it takes precedence over other light signals at the junction.

Frequently asked questions

If you accidentally drive through a red light, it’s important to understand that this is considered a strict liability offence. This means that, regardless of your intention, you are held responsible for the act.

If you’re detected doing so, typically the only way to avoid a penalty is by proving either that you didn’t actually run the red light or that there was a malfunction with the traffic light or camera system.

While you may consider appealing based on mitigating circumstances, such as an emergency situation, be aware that these appeals often face significant challenges, especially if there is photographic evidence against you. Courts generally rely heavily on such evidence, and it can be difficult to contest.

In the event of receiving a penalty, it’s advisable to consult with legal professionals who specialise in traffic laws. They can provide guidance on whether an appeal is feasible and help you navigate the legal process. Remember, the key in such situations is to present a strong and well-supported case to increase your chances of a successful appeal.

When you find yourself at a red traffic light and an emergency vehicle approaches from behind with sirens or flashing lights, it’s crucial to handle the situation carefully.

According to Rule 119 of the Highway Code, your response should allow the emergency vehicle to pass while ensuring you comply with all traffic signs. This means you must still obey the red light.

Despite the urgency an emergency vehicle presents, it’s vital to remember that driving through a red light can be dangerous for both you and other road users. The safest approach is to remain stationary at the red light. Once the light turns green, you can then take appropriate action to safely allow the emergency vehicle to pass.

It’s important to avoid making sudden or unpredictable moves that could lead to confusion or accidents. Always check your surroundings and use your indicators to communicate your intentions to other road users. Remember, the priority is to ensure everyone’s safety while facilitating the prompt passage of emergency services.

When you encounter temporary traffic lights, often set up in areas with roadworks, it’s essential to treat them with the same respect as you would regular traffic lights. These lights are installed to ensure the smooth flow of traffic and the safety of both drivers and road workers.

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Typically, these temporary lights might require you to stop at a sign, rather than the usual road markings. It’s important to be vigilant and look out for any additional signs or instructions that may accompany these lights, as they can sometimes vary from the standard rules.

Additionally, be aware that there are also permanent traffic lights which may be switched off during less busy times of the day. If you approach such lights and they are not operational (no signals showing), you are permitted to proceed with caution, as you would at a normal junction.

However, always be mindful of other road users and any potential hazards, particularly in areas where road layout may have been altered due to ongoing works.

In all cases, the key is to drive attentively and responsibly, adapting to the changes in traffic control while prioritising safety. Remember, the purpose of these lights, whether temporary or permanent, is to maintain order and safety on the roads, particularly in areas that may present unusual or temporary hazards.

Occasionally, you might come across traffic lights that aren’t functioning. Sometimes, there’s a clear sign indicating that the lights are out of order, but other times, you might have to figure it out yourself. In such situations, the regular right-of-way rules don’t apply as no one has automatic priority.

When faced with non-operational traffic lights, approach the junction as if it were an unmarked crossroad. This means you should reduce your speed and be extra vigilant. Look carefully for traffic approaching from all directions. Make sure to check not just the immediate lanes but also adjacent lanes and any blind spots.

Only proceed through the junction when you’re confident it’s safe to do so. Remember, the key here is caution and courtesy. In the absence of functioning lights, it’s crucial to be patient and prepared to yield to other vehicles, especially if there’s any doubt about who arrived first or has the right of way.

It’s also important to be aware of pedestrians and cyclists who might be crossing or entering the junction. In these scenarios, driving defensively and anticipating the actions of others can greatly reduce the risk of accidents. Remember, safety and cooperation are paramount when navigating junctions with non-operational traffic lights.

Being honked at while waiting at a traffic light can be startling, but it’s important to respond calmly and sensibly. If another driver honks their horn, the first step is to check the traffic light signals yourself. You might have missed that the lights have changed to green, or perhaps a filter arrow indicating that vehicles in your lane can proceed has lit up.

However, keep in mind that the honking driver might be mistaken, or they could be honking for reasons unrelated to you, such as alerting another road user of a potential hazard. It’s crucial not to pull off hastily or without checking. Quick, unchecked reactions can lead to dangerous situations or accidents.

In situations where you realise the light is green and it’s safe to go, proceed as usual. If the light hasn’t changed, or if you’re unsure why you’re being honked at, it’s better to stay put and assess the situation further. Remember, it’s always preferable to err on the side of caution.

Also, consider that the honking could be a sign of impatience or frustration from the other driver. In such cases, maintaining composure and not responding aggressively is important for your safety and for maintaining a calm environment on the road. Road safety is a shared responsibility, and being aware and considerate can help ensure a safer experience for everyone on the road.